Breaking News: Tommy Wells Endorses David Grosso

Breaking News: Tommy Wells Endorses David Grosso

Tue, 10/02/2012 – 7:56pm

HillRag.com, The District Beat

By

Martin Austermuhle

David Grosso, Sharon Ambrose and Tommy Wells at this evening’s Grosso fundraiser on Capitol Hill. Photo: Andrew Lightman

At a press conference outside the Wilson Building in early September, Councilmember Michael Brown (I-At Large) laid down a challenge to his opponents in the November 6 race. "Now it’s time to talk about issues,” he said. “For folks that have been playing around in the sandbox, it’s time to step up and grow up. I look forward to talking about issues that matter in the District of Columbia that residents really care about.”

It was clear that he was talking about substantive issues like affordable housing, economic development, crime, and education. Who could blame him? Brown is reliably progressive, and voters want to know where the candidates stand on the issues, especially in one of the races that’s shaping up to be surprisingly competitive.

But despite his pleas, Brown’s primary challengers—independent David Grosso and Republican Mary Brooks Beatty—haven’t been willing to indulge the troubled incumbent. (Independents A.J. Cooper and Leon Swain and Statehood Green Anne Wilcox are also running.) To them, after all, the issues defining the At-Large race are Brown’s issues themselves.

And who could blame them? Given the troubles faced by some of the city’s most famous legacy politicians over the last year, making Brown’s personal problems the focus of the campaign is both good strategy and fair game. Separating the political from the personal simply isn’t something that D.C. incumbents can be afforded any longer.

Brown’s Troubles

Brown has helped make the case against his own re-election. First he came close to getting knocked out of the race altogether when the D.C. Board of Elections voided 1,500 of the 4,700 signatures he handed in, leaving him within 200 signatures of the minimum. Next, he announced that a former staffer had allegedly stolen money from his election account—$113,000 worth, all told.

Then came a Washington Post revelation that Brown’s drivers license had been repeatedly suspended over the last decade for unpaid traffic citations, and a more recent report that staffers from his 2008 campaign broke with him over his inability to manage his run for council that year. Added to past stories of unpaid taxes and late mortgage payments, the revelations painted Brown as not only bad with details, but spectacular bad—and repeatedly so.

Maybe he just had a tough few weeks, right? Maybe, but when everything is added together, it becomes hard for Brown to separate his issues from the issues. And while he’s wanted to pretend that his issues aren’t weighing on his campaign and his candidacy, his opponents have wanted voters to think just the opposite.

“No one should be surprised by the disclosures of money being mismanaged by Michael Brown,” intoned Grosso. “He has been plagued with fiscal mismanagement issues during his entire career.”

“Throughout his time in office, Councilmember Brown has demonstrated a loose commitment to professional ethics and accountability. This week’s news on his voided petition signatures and poor management of campaign finances is no exception,” said Beatty in a statement. She didn’t stop there—the GOP contender asked Brown to drop out of the race and launched a website listing five reasons why he should do so.

To Grosso and Beatty, that Brown has had trouble paying his taxes, settling his traffic citations and even managing his own campaign account is a larger indictment of his capabilities as a legislator and steward of the public’s money. If he’s able to lose $113,000 of his own money, they’re hinting, what’s to stop him from losing a bunch of yours?

Brown’s Troubled Future

But will any of this matter come Election Day? Brown is an incumbent, and he won’t have to fight to get people to the polls—it is a presidential election, after all. Brown has also nailed down the support of nine local unions, which ensures that he’ll have at least some organized support come November 6. His name and family history still carries some weight, too—many people fondly remember his father, Ron Brown, so much so that Shadow Senator Michael Brown has regularly tried trading on the fact that some people think he’s the other Michael Brown.

Still, his persistent troubles and the theft of his campaign funds are certain to hurt him. His staff is small, his re-election website devoid of content and there’s much less visual evidence around town that he’s actually running. While Grosso’s staff says it has printed and hung some 4,000 campaign signs and Beatty’s staff can account for 300 of its own, Brown’s have seemed almost nonexistent. Additionally, unions don’t necessarily decide elections: a number of unions backed Tom Brown against Councilmember Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7), only to see her win in April’s Democratic primary.

Additionally, Brown has lost support—and what support he has is much less willing to go to bat for him the way they might have under other circumstances. Former Brown supporter and council alumnus Bill Lightfoot has jumped to Grosso’s side, and Councilmember Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) may have given the most tepid endorsement when he said, "Michael Brown is not that popular, but he is not unpopular either.”

Grosso, on the other hand, is backed by former Ward 3 councilmember Kathy Patterson, former council candidate Bryan Weaver and activist Marie Drissel. He has also picked up a key endorsement from Councilmember Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), who touted Grosso’s ability to help clean up the city’s government.

“We have a crisis of ethics in our elected government. I have no doubt David will bring integrity and honesty to the Council. To get good government, we have to vote for it,” he said.

Given Brown’s weaknesses, Grosso has a good chance to take this one. He’s been campaigning for a year, has a strong base among the progressive voters in his home base of Ward 5 and will perform strongly in Ward 6, especially with Wells’ endorsement and the fact that his campaign is chaired by former Ward 6 councilmember Sharon Ambrose.

Many Ward 4 voters could have soured on Brown over his support for the disastrous online gambling proposal, and they could see Lightfoot’s switch as a sign that Brown’s local political career should be brought to an end. Wards 2 and 3—which regularly see the highest turnout—could well be swayed by whomever the Washington Post decides to endorse. Given its criticism of the online gambling bill and his recent financial troubles, it’s a safe bet that it won’t be Brown.

And while Grosso still runs the risk of losing votes to Beatty—it wouldn’t be the first time that two well-meaning challengers split support and let a troubled incumbent back into office—he still benefits by how the November 6 ballot will be structured. Given that the two top vote-getters will win the available At-Large seats, Grosso has been able to sell himself as a challenger to both Councilmember Vincent Orange (D-At Large) and Brown, both of whom have faced ethical and political troubles in recent months.

An important milestone will be the October 10 campaign finance report, which will determine both how much people are willing to open their wallets for the troubled incumbent—and whether he’ll be able to run an effective get-out-the-vote operation on Election Day.

Martin Austermuhle is the Editor-in-Chief of DCist.com and a freelance writer. He lives in Columbia Heights.

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