With Orange favored to retain his seat, the challengers are focusing on unseating Brown, who holds the seat reserved for a non-Democrat.
Brown has been hobbled by reports that he failed to pay his rent, taxes and mortgage on time and that his driver’s license was suspended five times in eight years.
All but one of the challengers is making a first bid for citywide office, complicating efforts to build name recognition. Each voter selects two candidates in the at-large race.
With the most campaign money in the bank and growing support in Northwest and Capitol Hill, lawyer David Grosso appears to be the strongest challenger to Brown, the son of late commerce secretary Ronald H. Brown.
Grosso, a District native, was raised by a mother who took a vow of poverty to protest war and social injustice. Although he was shaped by progressive causes — and a 20-year-old arrest for marijuana possession — he went on to be a council staffer and an executive at CareFirst.
“I am not a politician,” said Grosso, 42, who lives in Brookland. “I am just someone who wants to make a difference in my city.”
Grosso’s campaign has reopened the debate over whether the city charter should mandate that two of the council’s 13 seats be reserved for non-majority party members, which for three decades has helped lift third-party or independent candidates into office.
Brown tested the spirit of the charter in 2008, abandoning his long-standing affiliation with the Democratic Party and successfully campaigning as an independent. Grosso and another candidate, independent Leon Swain Jr., are also former Democrats, which has annoyed other candidates.
“It shows a deficiency in their character because they are gaming the system,” said candidate A.J. Cooper, an independent who is the policy director for the D.C. Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. “If you are a Democrat, then run as a Democrat.”
GOP candidate Mary Brooks Beatty argues that the council will never “curb the abuses of a one-party system” until there is more political diversity on the body.
“I just don’t see how someone who says they are for good government would go around the rules,” said Beatty, who previously worked at a bipartisan women’s leadership organization and a conservative-leaning environmental advocacy group.
Beatty got into local politics when she joined her neighbors to fight what they viewed as a nuisance liquor store on their block. She eventually became an advisory neighborhood commissioner who worked to bolster development on H Street NE.
Beatty, who describes herself as a “fiscally conservative, socially progressive Republican,” faces a steep climb in a city where just 6.5 percent of voters are registered Republican.