Anthony G. Brown barely made it to the Maryland House of Delegates in 1999, winning his first Democratic primary by 155 votes.
He was a newcomer to Prince George’s County, lacking deep roots or connections. Once in Annapolis, the man who hopes to be elected governor Tuesday bucked the tradition that freshman lawmakers stay in the shadows. He eagerly spoke up for his constituents and pushed through bills.
The young African American legislator rose quickly through the ranks. During his second term, he became majority whip, helping assemble veto-proof majorities for bills opposed by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R). Suddenly, the newcomer was an insider.
“I was more of the backroom guy,” Brown said. “Literally counting the votes and convincing legislators that needed to be convinced.”
Intensely ambitious, Brown found himself wooed by both 2006 Democratic gubernatorial hopefuls. He joined what turned out to be the winning ticket led by Martin O’Malley. The job by definition put Brown into O’Malley’s shadow, although the governor gave him more responsibility than previous deputies had received.
Brown’s tenure as lieutenant governor was bookended by two projects, both of which offered opportunities for Maryland to stand out from other states: Preparing for an influx of jobs at military posts because of a congressionally ordered base realignment, and leading the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
The base project was deemed a success — “the one bright light through the recession,” O’Malley said. The health-care effort was marred by the failed launch of the state’s online insurance marketplace, which Brown has said was not his direct responsibility.
Brown also helped build public support and whip votes for O’Malley’s landmark legislative efforts, including gun control, allowing casinos and legalizing same-sex marriage. And he took on projects he felt personally connected to — combating domestic violence, helping veterans and improving life for children in foster care.
But even his closest allies have difficulty naming one signature project that defined his time in office. They say his legacy was transforming the role of lieutenant governor from ceremonial — kissing babies, cutting ribbons and attending funerals — to one that’s focused on legislation and policy.
House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) said he has worked with four lieutenant governors, including some who didn’t get along with their bosses and were not given any piece of the power.
“I can tell you,” he said, “Anthony has been the more active lieutenant governor of any of them.”
When O’Malley took office in 2007, Maryland was behind in preparing for the expansion of several military bases. Tens of thousands of new workers were headed to the state — bringing spouses and children, more traffic and the potential to strain public utilities.
Brown was a logical pick to oversee preparations, a
Harvard-educated lawyer and an Army reservist who spent 10 months in Iraq helping to rebuild that country’s infrastructure. The group he oversaw organized community meetings, visited bases and churned out hundreds of pages of reports and a matrix of tasks to complete, including working with property and landlord associations to expand lists of housing near bases, reviewing local water and sewer plans, even coordinating carpooling programs for the newly arrived.
It was a thankless job involving stakeholders known to be uncompromising — state bureaucrats, county and municipal leaders, and military officials, said Del. Kumar P. Barve (D-Montgomery), who worked with Brown on some of the legislation.
“It’s an endeavor that can very easily bog down into battling fiefdoms,” Barve said. “He didn’t allow it to get that way.”
Brown says the expansion brought tens of thousands of jobs and workers to the state. “I tell you, if no jobs came to Maryland, that would be a front-page story,” he said. “BRAC was a success and, therefore, very little attention.”
O’Malley next tapped Brown to oversee implementation of the newly enacted Affordable Care Act of 2010 as co-chair — along with the state health secretary — of the just-created Maryland Health Care Reform Coordinating Council.
“I intend to do everything in my power to ensure that we do it better than any other state in America,” Brown said after the council’s first meeting.
The lieutenant governor championed a package of health-care reform legislation, including one piece that established a health insurance exchange where individuals and small employers could shop for private coverage. The board created to oversee the exchange did not include the lieutenant governor.
At that point, Brown says now, his direct involvement with the exchange was done.
His attention shifted to other issues, such as expanding the state’s ability to partner with the private sector on projects like the building of the light-rail Purple Line through Montgomery and Prince George’s counties. Brown also geared up to run to replace O’Malley, who by law is prohibited from seeking a third term.
In May 2013, Brown formally opened his gubernatorial campaign. In late September last year, he won the endorsement of Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), who said, “On October 1 . . . we know that in Maryland we have a health exchange that’s ready to go because of Anthony Brown.”
But the health exchange Web site was nowhere near ready. Work had stalled as hired contractors had fought, and internal audits flagged numerous problems. About two weeks before the expected launch, exchange officials warned the O’Malley administration of potential problems. Brown later testified that the gravity of those problems was not conveyed.
Determined to make Maryland a showcase for the national health-reform effort, O’Malley decided not to delay the launch. The site crashed within minutes of going live and barely functioned for months.
At a debate in early June, Brown said for the first time that he should have taken a more direct role in overseeing the online exchange.
“In retrospect, I’d go back and say: ‘Appoint me as a member of the health benefits exchange, maybe even the chairman of the exchange,’ ” he said. “But that’s not the role that I served.”
When Brown became majority whip in 2004, he went to Capitol Hill to see how Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) did the same job in Congress.
Back in Annapolis, Brown set up a chain of command: One Democrat on each House committee would take soft vote counts of fellow members and pass that information along. He would monitor levels of support, meet with concerned delegates and identify legislative hot spots that needed to be addressed.
Some lawmakers find the legislative process boring, but it is one of Brown’s passions. While he can be guarded about his personal life and interests, Brown has championed many bills that provide clues to what he really cares about.
Brown still loves talking about the first bill he drafted, which required condominium developers to give prospective buyers financial information including how much money is being held in reserve and what percentage of owners are paying dues. Brown’s own experience on a condo board convinced him of the need for such a bill.
“This is my proudest accomplishment,” Brown gushed in an interview as the legislation was signed into law in 1999. “It was my idea. I drafted it out by hand.”
In 2008, when Brown was lieutenant governor, his cousin Catherine Brown was fatally shot by her ex-boyfriend in Montgomery County. Brown led the push to pass Cathy’s Law, which requires judges to take guns away from domestic abusers who are served with a protective order.
“I learned that no family is immune to the horrors of domestic violence,” Brown wrote in a column. “I wish I could say that Cathy’s story was unique, but sadly, there are too many Marylanders who are no longer with us because of domestic violence.”
Brown also worked to build support for O’Malley’s strict gun-control legislation. Vincent DeMarco, president of Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence, credits Brown for attending forums, often with unfriendly audiences, and hosting a news conference with law enforcement officers who supported the restrictions.
“He was one of the most important people in making that law a reality,” DeMarco said.
A veteran himself, Brown became O’Malley’s point person on military and veterans issues. He pushed for better job training and support services for veterans and advocated for the 2013 Veterans Full Employment Act. Despite these efforts, the unemployment rate for Maryland veterans has crept up in recent years.
Brown also traveled through the state, often visiting churches on Sundays, to encourage people to become foster parents or adopt. In doing so, he often shared his own story about adopting his son, Jonathan, as a baby in 2000.
No Maryland lieutenant governor has ever been elected to the top job, perhaps because the deputy post does not easily lend itself to building a strong political base. After eight years in office and a long campaign, many voters say they still don’t feel that they know Brown. In June, a radio interviewer pushed the candidate to better introduce himself: “How much do we know about you, Anthony Brown, as a human being?”
Brown, who is 52, ticked off his human traits: Former first-base coach for his son’s Little League team. Loves listening to his daughter play violin. Enjoys Red Stripe beer (his father was from Jamaica) and Swiss cheese and chocolate (his mother is from Switzerland).
“I don’t own a Swiss watch,” Brown said. “But I am pretty punctual.”
Brown’s prickly side was on display during the Democratic primary in the spring, when he clashed bitterly with Gansler and fended off a challenge from the left from Del. Heather R. Mizeur of Montgomery County. He has kept both former candidates away from his general election campaign, despite offers of help and polls that show he has only a single-digit lead over Republican nominee Larry Hogan, a businessman from Anne Arundel County.
Democrats throughout the state have closed ranks around Brown, concerned about the tight race and the possibility of jeopardizing their standing with him.
One of the few who seems willing to criticize Brown is Mizeur, who wrote a Baltimore Sun column that accused him of backtracking on a promise to partner with her on new policy ideas. Instead, Mizeur wrote, Brown has focused on attacking Hogan. Still, given the tightness of the race, Mizeur urged Democrats not to join a fledging effort to launch a write-in campaign on her behalf.
“While I reject his campaign tactics, I still embrace the man that is Anthony Brown,” Mizeur wrote.
As Brown makes a last-
minute push to win voters, he can appear stiff and scripted, speaking in bulleted lists instead of the poetic lyrics O’Malley often delivers. He has tapped national Democratic leaders, including President Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton, to campaign for him, and has launched a massive and methodical get-out-the-vote effort to boost his chances at the polls.
Again and again, Brown reminds Marylanders that he’s a Democrat — the party that has fought for marriage equality, expanded access to birth control, higher wages for the working class and stricter controls on guns. He questions Hogan’s repeated promise not to try to roll back Maryland’s gun or abortion laws, noting that the Republican has a history of more conservative stances.
“Look, what Maryland voters need is a governor who has the courage of their conviction,” Brown said at a debate this month. “You have to have the courage of your convictions, stand up for what you believe.”