D.C. Council Election Updates: Could Michael D. Brown beat Phil Mendelson?

Taken in Ward 8 today. (Photo: Jenny Rogers)

UPDATE 2:05 a.m.: The Associated Press calls the race for Phil Mendelson. With 90 percent of precincts reporting, Mendelson is up 64 percent to Michael D. Brown's 27 percent.

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Long story short

Phil Mendelson defeats Mike D. Brown

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UPDATE 1:53 a.m.: No, he can't. With 90 percent of the votes counted, Phil Mendelson is projected to hold on to his D.C. Council At-Large seat.

UPDATE 9:02 p.m. Mike D. just arrived! He says it "was a little hard" when he was down in Ward 8, but won't elaborate.

UPDATE 8:57 p.m. Still no sign of Brown at The Big Hunt as of 8:45 p.m. Gathered supporters now number about eight, mostly family and friends (lucky kids at the celebration get to take advantage of the Skee-Ball machines in the upstairs party room).

I'm being detailed over to Vince Gray's party for the remainder of the night, but keep checking this page and TBD's homepage for the latest results on the At-large race.

UPDATE 8:18 p.m. I've just arrived at Michael D. Brown's campaign party, which is upstairs at The Big Hunt in Dupont Circle. The candidate has yet to arrive. Follow me on Twitter for updates.

UPDATE 8:05 p.m. I had been hoping to observe Michael D. Brown as he greeted voters at a precinct in Ward 8, which he told me would likely be his last campaign stop of the day. But Brown didn't tell me which precinct he was visiting there until he was already on his way elsewhere.

Brown says he stopped by Allen Chapel AME on Alabama Ave. SE, sometime between 6:45 and 7:20 p.m. Starting shortly before 7, I had been waiting nearby for him to call me back and tell me where exactly he was. The last time we spoke via cell phone, he said he was already in Ward 8, but was in the middle of dealing with "another crisis." (Earlier in the day, he had to postpone meeting me for about an hour because he had to go rescue a stranded campaign volunteer.) He then asked if he could call me right back.

About 20 minutes later, he did call — somehow my phone didn't ring (not super unusual given AT&T's stellar service in D.C.), but Brown left a message that my phone recorded as having been left 7:20 pm. He said he was already on his way out of Ward 8, heading "back into town," though he might stop at one more precinct in Ward 6. I tried to call him back a couple of times right away, but he didn't pick up. In fairness, he has been driving himself around all day, so there's a good chance he was behind the wheel at the time.

UPDATE 4:49 p.m. Michael D. Brown is pretty ticked off.

When I finally meet up with him around 2:30 p.m. outside Ward 3's Precinct 30, located at Janney Elementary on Ablemarle Street NW, he has a boatload of complaints to share about how the media has been treating him and his candidacy since the results of a poll conducted by the Washington Post came out at the end of August — a poll that showed him, somewhat improbably, ahead of incumbent Phil Mendelson by 17 points.

"I'm so sick of this crap," Brown says. "Why is it that the media has decided that I'm running against Michael A. Brown, and not against Phil Mendelson?"

Well, just for starters, I suggest, how about the fact that his campaign mailers don't include a photo of him, so that voters can tell for sure that he's not the same guy as current D.C. Councilmember Michael A. Brown?

So Brown whips out two of pieces of his campaign literature, a mailer that doesn't have a photo of him, and a flier that does — albeit a smallish one of him surrounded by his family. I note the size of the photo, and he's incredulous. "Is there a size requirement?" Well what about all the mailers that actually got sent to voters, the ones without a photo, or, for that matter, a middle initial to differentiate himself from the other Michael Brown? Doesn't he want voters to vote for him for being him, and not someone else?

"There's no purpose in putting some photo on there," Brown says, adding that there are already hundreds of thousands of mailers that have been sent out that do include his photo — mailers paid for by his opponent, Phil Mendelson. "I'm not hiding from anybody. Just because I don't have $200,000, doesn't mean I'm a bad person." And if Michael A. Brown claims that he's never seen a campaign mailer without a photo of the candidate on it, "it's only because he's only been in politics for a few years," he adds.

Brown says he's been spending his day hitting as many precincts as possible, just like any other candidate. "I want to make it to all eight Wards," he says. At this point in the afternoon, he says he's visited polling places in Wards 1, 3, 4 and 5, and intends to hit Ward 6 next, followed by 7 and 8. No concerns about voters in those latter wards being able to identify him as not being Michael A. Brown after all?

"I've been to Ward 8," Brown insists, saying that he's participated in forums there (I didn't get a chance to clarify which forums he means, and plan to follow up on that). "I marched in the Martin Luther King Day parade."

Brown goes on to rattle off the list of campaign events he's participated in or appeared at. There were the myriad straw polls. The live debates. The mayoral forums where he showed up to meet the voters. He takes issue with the way he's been characterized as someone who "hangs back" at public events ("I went right up to Colbert King! I'll give you his cell phone number and you can ask him!"). He's especially upset with a Washington Post story that describes him as "affable," which he thinks was meant to be pejorative. "They're talking down to me," he says.

Being talked down to is something that Brown, who was elected by a wide margin as one of D.C.'s two shadow senators in 2006, is particularly sensitive to. He even dislikes it when you refer to his title with the "shadow" part included.

"My title is U.S. Senator," Brown says. "Would you call Ruth Bader-Ginsberg the 'girly' justice? To differentiate her from the men justices?"

I point out that he may be stretching the definitions of the unpaid, symbolic position he holds, and he bristles. "I'm not nobody," he says. Which brings us back around to the question of his name.

"They never had a problem with my name until the Washington Post poll came out," he says. "All I've done is campaign using my own name."

The "they" in that first sentence seems to cover both local news reporters and the Mendelson campaign. The sitting At-large councilmember has been forced to spend a considerable amount of his campaign coffers sending out mailers that attempt to dispel any voter confusion. But Brown contends Mendelson's really had to do this because Brown himself has simply out-campaigned him. He argues that if voters really think he's Michael A. Brown, he would be coming in second place in the polls, not first, since Michael A. only earned roughly 20 percent of the vote in 2008, compared to Kwame Brown's 47 percent. (Both Kwame and Michael A. won seats on the council that year, with Michael A. Brown, who changed his registration to Independent, getting the spot reserved for the non-Democrat).

Michael D. Brown is the first to admit that basically none of the current sitting council members would like to see him win an upset over Mendelson today. So in the event he does win, how would he manage to effectively serve alongside a group of people who resent him?

"The same way I took $400 and turned it into $1 million with a company I started at my kitchen counter," he says. "This is what I do. My life has been about starting out with nothing and turning it into something."

UPDATE 1:14 p.m. Well, scratch that, Brown can't meet up just yet. He called back about 20 minutes ago to say he has to go rescue a campaign volunteer who's car broke down with crucial posters and signs stuck inside. So Brown himself is running technical interference for his campaign on election day? "I've gotta take care of my people," he says. Then, he has to stop and eat lunch, a crucial task given his diabetes. So he promises to call back in an hour.

UPDATE 12:26 p.m. Michael D. Brown speaks! Just got off the phone with him. He says he's sorry he hasn't gotten back to me, but he's been "trying to get around to all the polling places ... out campaigning, trying to keep my volunteers fed and watered," he says. He's agreed to meet me at Janney Elementary in Ward 3 in about 15 minutes. Stay tuned.

UPDATE 12:11 p.m. Still working on that video, but am happy to report some partial success on tracking down Mike D. Someone finally answered the phone at Brown's office and said that they just left the shadow senator at Backus Middle School in Ward 5. He was about to leave there when she left and didn't know where he was heading next, but she promised to try to get a hold of him and have him call me. Fingers crossed!

UPDATE 11:21 a.m.  No one is answering the phone at Michael D. Brown's campaign headquarters. I've left messages there and at his work phone number, and have sent the shadow senator two emails to his personal email address. Haven't heard back.

Shortly before 11 a.m., I stopped by Brown's home on Western Ave. to see if anyone there could help me find him. No one answered the door (will hopefully have some video of this up shortly).

Washington City Paper's Lydia DePillis did see Brown earlier this morning outside Lafayette Elementary. She got a quick interview with him on video, check it out here.

Original story:

With the polls showing mayoral challenger Vincent Gray with a healthy lead, the D.C. primary race with the biggest potential for drama on this election Tuesday may well be the At-large D.C. Council contest.

Veteran D.C. Councilmember Phil Mendelson is in the fight of his life against an unlikely challenger: Shadow Senator Michael D. Brown, who for most of the campaign has appeared to be stoking voter confusion between himself and sitting At-large Councilmember Michael A. Brown. The latter Brown, we should make plain, is not up for election this year, and therefore does not appear on today's ballot.

Michael D. Brown hasn't been campaigning in an entirely traditional way. While he has been granting interviews, showing up for the occasional debate (sometimes in person, sometimes not), and paying for robocalls, it's what he hasn't been doing that's notable. He hasn't been spotted canvassing across the city. His robocalls haven't mainly featured his own voice (instead he's been letting former shadow rep. Charles Moreland do the talking for him), and most notably, he hasn't been putting photos of himself on his campaign material.

We couldn't help but wonder: would Brown be out glad-handing today like every other candidate, or would he lay low, banking on voters continuing to be confused about his real identity? And if he did show his face, where would he show it? On Monday, TBD requested a copy of Brown's public schedule so we could catch up with him on this primary election day. It's a fairly standard request; most other major candidates have been circulating their own schedules, because, presumably, they want all the media coverage they can muster. But Brown hasn't responded to our calls and emails.

So I've been out trying to find him. I failed to spot him at his polling place, Ward 3's St. Columba's Episcopal Church, but hey, maybe he voted early. Then Washington City Paper's Lydia DePillis tweeted that he was at Ward 4's Lafayette Elementary School — so he is out campaigning! — but by the time I arrived, no sign of Brown.

I'm off to try some other probable locations, but if you see Michael D. Brown today, be sure to drop me a line either at smathis@tbd.com or @sommermathis on Twitter.

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