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Two Michael Browns Stir Confusion at the Polls
Little-Known Candidate Wins Shadow Senator Race

By Yolanda Woodlee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 16, 2006

Michael Brown got more votes than Adrian M. Fenty in Tuesday's election -- but not for mayor.

And it wasn't Michael A. Brown, the lobbyist who challenged Fenty; it was Michael D. Brown, the unknown political consultant running for an equally low-profile political seat: shadow senator.

It's more than middle initials that separate the two Browns. One Brown (A) is black; the other Brown (D) is white. One (A) is bald; the other (D) has a full head of hair. At 53, D is 12 years older than A.

Michael D. Brown got 59,223, or 73 percent, of the votes cast in the Democratic primary for shadow senator, compared with Fenty's 57,361 in the mayor's race. Michael A. Brown, the mayoral candidate who dropped out last week but whose name still appeared on the ballot, got 584 votes, or less than 1 percent.

Michael A. Brown said some voters were confused. Since the election, people have congratulated him for winning the shadow senator nomination, and others have asked: "You got more votes than Fenty; why didn't you win?"

That's exactly the question asked by Michael D. Brown, the owner of a small communications firm who has worked in national politics. "If people thought they were voting for him, he'd be mayor," Michael D. Brown said. "Why did I get 75 percent of the vote? He didn't have that kind of support."

At political forums attended by both Michael A. Brown and Michael D. Brown, the shadow senator candidate was referred to as "the other Michael Brown."

Michael D. Brown defeated Philip Pannell, a popular African American political activist, who got 20,199, or 25 percent, of the votes. The two men were vying for the seat held since 1990 by Florence H. Pendleton (D). The shadow senator is an unpaid lobbyist for D.C. statehood.

Michael D. Brown spent $949 on his campaign, which included hanging 2,200 black-and-white signs with his name in large print across the city. The former mayoral candidate spent $272,455 on his truncated effort and blanketed the city with bright yellow-and-brown signs.

Michael D. Brown insists he did not enter the race to take advantage of name confusion.

"Of course he took advantage," said Pannell, who is president of the Ward 8 Democrats. "Anytime I lose my [predominantly black] ward by 72 percent to some white guy, how do you think I feel? People are coming up to me saying: 'I'm sorry you lost. The thing about it was Michael Brown was running.' I was beaten by a name more so than a person."

Sandra Seegars, who worked the polls in Ward 8, said she was constantly explaining that Michael D. Brown was "not the same person" as the mayoral candidate. "They said, 'I don't want him for mayor, but he'll be okay for shadow senator.' "

Some people didn't learn the difference until too late.

Tiphany Adams was watching the returns on television with friends in Anacostia on Tuesday night when she said: "I didn't know Michael Brown was running for shadow senator." A friend quickly responded. "She said, 'He's not. That's a white man. I said, 'Well, I guess I voted for the wrong man.' "

Pannell thinks that happened in many wards. He said residents wanted to give Michael A. Brown "a consolation prize" after he dropped out of the mayor's race.

Michael D. Brown said that he knows his name gave him an edge but that it doesn't explain why he won overwhelmingly across the city.

"It was name recognition and then it was being first on the ballot," Michael D. Brown said. "I'd be a liar if I said my name didn't help. People went down the list and said, 'Michael Brown, that's a name I recognize.' "

Tommy Wells, who won the Democratic nomination for Ward 6 council member, could face the same problem. In the general election, his Republican challenger is Tony Williams. Not the mayor, but Antonio "Tony" Williams, a former senate aide and Stanton Park activist.

And Michael D. Brown (not to be confused with Michael D. Brown, the former Federal Emergency Management Agency director) might get some more opposition from Pannell in November. Joyce Scott, a political activist in Ward 8, said her telephone has been ringing since Tuesday night because people are "shocked and flabbergasted" about Pannell's loss. They want to launch a write-in campaign for him.

Pannell's not so sure. He said he's "a good Democrat" who is not eager to challenge a fellow party member. He's also skeptical about running for political office again.

"If I try again, it'll be just my luck, [the opponents] will be named Jesse Jackson or Martin Luther King."

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