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Name confusion is the talk in the at-large Democratic primary race

The so-called "Michael Brown effect" apparently is having an impact on a D.C. Council race. Michael D. Brown is running for an at-large seat against incumbent Phil Mendelson and others. But there's another Brown -- Michael A. Brown -- who is already on the council, and Mendelson claims his challenger is capitalizing on the confusion.

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By David Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 2, 2010

This can only be good for the "Michael Brown" brand, which took such a beating five years ago, when Michael D. "Brownie" Brown didn't do such a heckuva job dealing with Hurricane Katrina.

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Now the District's entire political establishment quakes in awe at the mesmerizing power of the run-of-the-mill moniker. To hear city pols tell it, all you have to do is put "Michael Brown" on the ballot, and voters will stampede to elect that candidate.

"It's a little flattering," said Michael A. Brown, an at-large member of the D.C. Council, who is not up for reelection this year.

"I've always run under the name of Michael Brown. I just don't know any other way to do it," said Michael D. Brown, who is being accused of misusing the might of his own name.

He is not the same Michael D. as the former Federal Emergency Management Agency chief. He is one of the District's two shadow senators, an unpaid elected office dedicated to lobbying for D.C. statehood. Now he is running to become the council's second at-large Michael Brown.

"Michael Brown is not Michael Brown," said Phil Mendelson, an at-large member running for reelection.

Mendelson and his supporters, including his council colleague Michael A. Brown, have watched with growing alarm as Michael D. Brown did better than they thought he deserved in recent ward straw polls. Michael D. even won the Ward 5 straw poll. A Washington Post poll this week showed Michael D. leading Mendelson 38 to 21 percent among Democratic voters and 41 to 29 percent among likely voters. A third candidate, Clark Ray, a former D.C. Parks and Recreation director, trails with 7 percent of Democratic voters.

The Mendelson camp has a simple explanation for how his 12 years on the council and 20 years of community service before that could be threatened by an affable self-made businessman and political consultant who entered the race about 10 weeks ago with no money and no endorsements: the Michael Brown effect.

"We're taking it very seriously," Mendelson said at a sidewalk news conference this week with Michael A. and D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray, a candidate for mayor.

The conference had been scheduled to boost Gray's candidacy, but it was quickly transformed into a bid to help save Mendelson's job. The sun was hot and all three men were sweating.

"It's very clear there's confusion," Mendelson said. "It's very clear that voters think the Michael Brown who is standing next to me and who is supporting my reelection is on the ballot against me. And that is not the case."

He mentioned the possibility that the D.C. Council at-large race could become the recent U.S. Senate primary in South Carolina all over again, when the relative unknown Alvin Greene won the Democratic nomination.


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