District Labor leaders are increasingly nervous that D.C. Council member Michael A. Brown could lose his bid for reelection in November and are strategizing about how to boost his campaign, according to officials familiar with the discussions.
Brown, an independent with a labor-friendly record, has been hit with a wave of stories raising questions about his campaign and finances, including a Washington Post story on Sunday noting that Brown’s license had been suspended five times over the past eight years.
Brown had been viewed as an overwhelming favorite to win one of two at-large council seats on the ballot Nov. 5, one of which is reserved for a non-Democrat. But labor leaders now believe Brown suddenly finds himself in a tough race. Six candidates, including independent David Grosso and Republican Mary Brooks Beatty, are also running for the council this year.
“There are a lot of organizations out there that are really concerned about him,” said one Democratic official, who asked not to be identified to speak freely about the matter. “I think he could lose.”
Though labor leaders concede Brown’s finances now become a key issue in the race, many note Brown has become a reliable vote for their concerns on the council.
Chuck Thies, a Democratic consultant and District media personality, said some labor leaders may be considering Grosso, a former Democrat.
“Unions have a hard choice if they think the GOP can nab the seat: support a loyal, but foundering Brown or shift to Grosso, who has liberal Democratic roots,” Thies said.
But at least one union, the Service Employees International Union 32BJ, is already going to bat for Brown.
On Wednesday, the union will announce it’s endorsing Brown because of his “strong record of support for responsible economic development and for protecting the rights of hard-working immigrants who contribute” to the economy.
“Council member Brown has pushed for responsible contracting laws to ensure that laws to ensure that taxpayers only support the creation of good jobs and quality city services,” said Jamie Contreras, the union’s capital area director. “He also understands that law abiding immigrant workers deserve protection from harsh Bush-era policies that distract police officers from real threats to our communities.”
Geo T. Johnson, president of the American Federation of State County Municipal Employees Council 20, said in an interview his organization will also likely be get behind Brown at a news conference next week.
“He has been 100 percent labor,” Johnson said. “There are always going to be things in one’s background that don’t make sense, tickets and things like that, but the question is how does he deal with the council, that is what my concern is.”
According to officials, some labor leaders worry Brown’s standing may be declining and that he also now does not have enough money to fund a well-organized campaign. Last week, Brown amended his campaign finance reports to reflect $113,950 that he says is missing from his campaign account. That left Brown with only $18,000 in the bank as of Aug. 10, less than a third of what Grosso had in the bank as of August.
If they rally behind Brown, labor groups could help him with election day workers and direct mail advertisements to bolster his image in a tight race. But unlike other local elections, officials do not believe an aggressive get-out-the-vote campaign will be needed because many voters are already expected to show up at the polls to participate in the presidential election.
So far, at least one major local union is staying on the sidelines in the at-large race. Kristopher Baumann, chairman of the local Fraternal Order of Police lodge, said the group will not be making any endorsements in it.
“All of the available incumbents voted to cut 400 police officers” from the budget, said Baumann, adding the challengers also have not “built a record on public safety.”
Four years ago, when he defeated Republicans Patrick Mara and Carol Schwartz in the November election, Brown cruised to victory by amassing significant vote totals in majority black neighborhoods.
But D.C. Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) said Brown should not take anything for granted this year.
“Michael Brown is not that popular, but he is not unpopular either,” Barry said. “There is no question, it will be a tough race.”
Barry added he is supporting Brown and will help him campaign. But Barry suggested there may be limits to his support because Brown headed the council’s redistricting committee last year. Barry said he is still upset that the boundaries of Ward 8 were not redrawn to include a few neighborhoods west of the Anacostia River.
“I am supporting him, but I have to be clear, he and Phil [Mendelson], did not vote to move 8 across the river and integrate the ward economically and racially,” Barry said. “That is unforgivable.”