Brown Runs an Uphill Mayoral Race

"The support of the so-called two front-runners is as soft as Jell-O. I don't buy it, " says Michael A. Brown, who is seeking the Democratic nomination. (By Nikki Kahn -- The Washington Post)
By Yolanda Woodlee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 5, 2006

Michael A. Brown's sister, Tracey Brown James, says she remembers it clearly: She and her brother were putting up stickers for a D.C. mayoral candidate one day 32 years ago when Michael turned to her and said, "I want to be mayor someday." He was 9 years old.

"It's one of those weird things where you remember exactly what you were doing," James said. "I can even remember we were at the bottom of the block of Orchid Street. I think we were both too young to contemplate what that meant."

The anecdote serves Brown and his family to show his passion to become mayor of Washington, an ambition so strong that he doesn't worry that he is considered a long shot in the Sept. 12 Democratic primary.

Brown, a lobbyist at Alcalde & Fay, a national government relations and public affairs firm, was almost born into politics. He is the son of Ronald H. Brown, a civil rights activist who was U.S. commerce secretary in the Clinton administration when he died in a plane crash in April 1996.

"We've lived our lives in politics with the good, bad and ugly . . . and the tragic," his sister said. "But just like my dad, with Michael, when you have a commitment, you have to do what you have to do."

Brown, 41, is among five major Democratic candidates for mayor, but campaign polls show him trailing far behind the front-runners, D.C. Council member Adrian M. Fenty (Ward 4) and Chairman Linda W. Cropp. Brown, like council member Vincent B. Orange Sr. (Ward 5) and former Verizon Washington president Marie C. Johns, shows single-digit poll numbers.

Brown dismisses the polls and says he measures his popularity on the positive vibes he receives at candidate forums. "The support of the so-called two front-runners is as soft as Jell-O," Brown said. "I don't buy it."

Forging ahead, he focuses on affordable housing and education as key priorities if he wins. Perhaps Brown's most unusual position was a proposal last month to halt the construction of a $611 million baseball stadium along the Anacostia River waterfront. He proposes refurbishing RFK Stadium instead.

He describes the baseball issue as part of a problem in priorities. He said city leaders seem to "think you only have to have a bunch of rich people in the city."

Brown cuts a striking figure, a 6-foot-4 man with a shaved head who captures attention with his ability to walk into a room and shake every hand he sees.

He has been leading what he calls a "taking it to the streets" campaign. Last week, he was at 14th and U streets NW, handing out free hot dogs to passersby. "You know you got my vote," Doretha Lindsey of Southeast Washington told Brown as he embraced her.

"I saw you on TV, and you impressed me the most," said Katherine Johnson, a Capitol Hill resident.

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