“When I go out to [knock on] doors, people say, ‘Michael, thank you so much for fighting for affordable housing, thank you for fighting for jobs,’ ” Brown said at a recent debate in Georgetown. “And I am going to continue to do that.”
It’s a defense Brown has at the ready when opponents chide him for failing to pay his mortgage, taxes and rent on time or criticize him for the investigation into the $113,950 allegedly stolen from his campaign account. That series of controversies has made his reelection bid the District’s most watched contest this year.
A review of Brown’s council record shows that he has steadily focused on maintaining — and in some cases expanding — the city’s social safety net by strengthening housing and other welfare programs.
But those efforts have been partially overshadowed by his financial missteps and his controversial plan to legalize Internet gambling. The proposal was approved, but critics quickly lambasted Brown for how it was enacted. The ensuing uproar led the D.C. Council to repeal the measure, delivering a public setback to Brown.
Social service advocates and activists, however, have found an ally in Brown during the annual debate over how much the city should budget to help the disadvantaged. They say Brown’s willingness to fund programs for the poor — and raise taxes on the wealthy to pay for them — is rare in the John A. Wilson Building, despite the government’s liberal reputation.
For much of Brown’s term, many of his decisions have played out amid his not-so-subtle signals that he hoped to one day run for council chairman or mayor. But with his reelection bid now threatened by his personal follies, including five suspensions of his driver’s license over eight years, he hopes his record can be his bulwark.
“Everyone has their own political agenda, legislative agenda, but I think mine has been very, very clear relative to who I want to help, and I will continue to do that,” said Brown, son of the late commerce secretary Ronald H. Brown.
On the council, Brown has developed a reputation as an affable colleague. That collegiality has helped him get into the leadership ranks: In June, despite persistent questions about his personal affairs, members selected Brown to serve as president pro tempore, a mostly symbolic second-in-command to Chairman Phil Mendelson (D).
But some council members and former Brown staffers have said privately that Brown, who is also a lobbyist at a D.C. law firm, at times fails to put in the hours needed to craft smart legislation or build lasting alliances.