Michael A. Brown has now completed as lousy a week as any incumbent D.C. Council member seeking re-election could have. Early last Tuesday, he disclosed in campaign finance filings more than $110,000 has gone missing from his campaign accounts. On Sunday, the Washington Post’s Tim Craig, reported on his checkered driving record and, yesterday, on doubts among some of his supporters.
His opponents, obviously, are going to be taking advantage for the next seven weeks. Today, the campaign of Republican opponent Mary Brooks Beatty unveiled a website titled “Step Down Michael Brown,” citing the recent headlines and other missteps. Independent challenger David Grosso has issued a litany of critical news releases and media quotes.
Brown, meanwhile, is hunkering down. He has refused to answer questions about his driving record, and regarding the campaign money, he is in an awkward position. Brown claims that his former treasurer, Hakim Sutton, stole the money from his campaign account. Sutton’s lawyer said last week in an angry statement that those claims were “absurd” and that Brown himself engaged in “skulduggery and debauchery.” The matter is under police investigation while observers speculate why, if things are as open-and-shut as Brown has suggested, Sutton hasn’t already been arrested.
The good news for Brown is that none of his opponents have anywhere near the name recognition he does. Today Brown unveiled endorsements from the Hotel Association of Washington, D.C., the Washington Teachers’ Union, Metropolitan Washington Council AFL-CIO, and several other labor groups — “a testament to Michael Brown’s strong record on the council,” spokesman Asher Corson said. And, for what it’s worth — probably not a lot — Brown still has his colleagues on his side. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) said today praised Brown as a “constructive, contributing council member.”
Brown’s campaign, such as it is, will be trying to change the narrative in the coming weeks. “We believe that voters care about issues that impact their own lives, not discussions about Michael Brown’s life,” Corson said. “Instead of distracting voters, we want to talk about substantive issues like jobs and housing.”
But while Brown remains a prohibitive favorite, even Mendelson acknowledged, “It’s hard for a candidate when they’re constantly on the defensive.” And his campaign has been badly hindered by the missing money. As of the last filing deadline, Brown had less in his account than either Beatty or Grosso, meaning less resources available to send mailers, robocalls and advertisements trying to refocus his message. Meanwhile, he’ll be fending off his opponents seizing on the bad headlines in their own ads, mailers and robocalls.
Besides Election Day on Nov. 6, there are two particular dates to mark on your campaign calendars: On Oct. 10, candidates will make new campaign finance disclosures. Brown will have to show whether he’s been successful in convincing donors that his troubles are behind him and whether he’s rebuilt his war chest to outspend Beatty and Grosso. Ten days later, those three candidates will appear along with Democratic incumbent Vincent Orange at a League of Women Voters debate at Catholic University, where — under questioning from WTOP’s Mark Segraves and myself — Brown will have a chance to convince voters that his jobs and housing ideas outweigh the doubts his opponents will be planting their minds.