Michael A. Brown, shown in 2011. (Michael Temchine for The Washington Post)

Ex-offenders vow that they will defeat former council member Michael A. Brown in the April 23 special election for an at-large D.C. Council seat, saying he betrayed them when he voted against a bill to grant them more employment protections.

When Brown showed up at a candidates’ forum in Ward 8 on Saturday, he was greeted by several ex-offenders passing out fliers that said “thumbs down to Michael A. Brown.” Several of the men also confronted Brown when he took a bathroom break during the forum.

“The returning citizens had supported Michael Brown,” said Yango Sawyer, a radio host and organizer of the Returning Citizens Accountability Team.” “But when the bill came up for a vote, Michael Brown voted against, which means Michael Brown did not have the best interest of the most discriminated population in America.”

In November, after one term in office, Brown was defeated by council member David A. Grosso (I-At Large) in the November election. A month later, while Brown was still on the council, council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) attempted to push through a proposal that would have extended new anti-discrimination protections to the city’ estimated 60,000 ex-offenders.

Brown joined council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) and members Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), David Catania (I-At Large), Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) and Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) in voting against the bill.

Sawyer said three organizations hope to target all council members who voted against Barry’s bill. With Brown the first to appear on a ballot, Sawyer said the groups will use his race to test their broader influence in District politics.

“Michael is just one of seven we will be going against,” said Sawyer, who is supporting council member Anita Bonds (D-At Large) in the special election, even though Bonds is also on record opposing Barry’s bill.

Brown was asked about Barry’s bill during the forum. He said he voted against it after several African American small-business owners expressed concern that it could increase the risks associated with doing business in the District.

Though ex-offenders who complete their sentences are eligible to vote in the District, the group has never been known as a particularly potent political force.

But Brown is locked in an intense struggle with Bonds for support in neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River, which have the highest concentrations of ex-offenders.

In an election where turnout is expected to be low citywide, the campaign against him could become an uncomfortable distraction for Brown.

So far the ex-offenders’ reach appears limited, however. In a straw poll taken after the Ward 8 forum, Brown received 26 votes compared to 15 votes for Bonds.

But Ronald Moten, an advocate for the ex-offender community, promised that the community would be more organized in subsequent forums and straw polls.

Moten, co-founder of Peaceoholics and an experienced organizer, said the ex-offender community “will make an example” of Brown

“I can guarantee he won’t win another one,” Moten said. “We will get organized.”