The boost in wards 7 and 8 that gay D.C. City Council candidate Clark Ray may receive from his endorsement by Rev. Willie Wilson could be negated by confusion over the name of the newest candidate to enter race, according to some political observers.
Michael Brown, who was elected D.C. shadow senator two years ago, has declared his candidacy for the at-large Council seat, joining Ray in an effort to unseat incumbent Council member Phil Mendelson. Brown, who is white, has the same name as D.C. Council member Michael Brown (D-At Large), who is black and widely known in the city and enjoys strong support in wards 7 and 8.
When Michael Brown, the shadow senator, beat gay D.C. Democratic activist Phil Pannell for the shadow seat two years ago, Pannell and his supporters expressed concern that many voters throughout the city — but especially voters in wards 7 and 8 — confused the two Browns and believed they were voting for the Council member.
Council member Brown is well known as the son of former Democratic Party Chairman Ron Brown, who also served as U.S. Secretary of Commerce in the Clinton administration. The Council member’s popularity in his own right as well as his association with his father, has created a political premium on that name, political observers have said.
Pannell said this week that unless Ray takes steps to differentiate between the two Browns, shadow senator Brown will likely capture votes that would have gone to Ray and possibly some that would have gone to Mendelson.
Shadow senator Brown told the Blade on Monday that he regrets any confusion that may arise over his name but didn’t know what to do to correct the situation. He called requests that he put his photo on his campaign posters unfair and unacceptable.
“Nobody puts their picture on their sign,” he said, noting that neither Ray nor Mendelson have photos of themselves on their campaign posters. “I don’t see why I should be obligated to actually go out of my way to try to make it as easy as possible for people to run against me.”
Shadow senator Brown, a political campaign consultant and former Democratic National Committee staffer, said he strongly backs LGBT civil rights and strongly supports the city’s same-sex marriage equality law. He’s running on a platform calling for D.C. statehood.
Ray and Mendelson said they aren’t worried about possible confusion over the two Browns’ names.
“I am so focused on getting my message out, and the folks who are going to vote for Clark Ray are not going to vote for Michael Brown,” Ray said.
Ray added that he would likely point out at campaign forums and public events that his opponent Michael Brown is not the Council member.
Ray said his loss to shadow senator Michael Brown in a Ward 3 Democratic Committee straw poll last week was an anomaly due to Brown’s longtime involvement in the Ward 3 Democratic Committee and a voting system weighted by a membership requirement for voting. Mendelson came in first in the Ward 3 poll.