News & Politics

DC “Shadow Senator” Says He’ll Run for Council Seat

Michael D. Brown says he’s “tired of being ignored” as a glorified statehood activist.

Michael D. Brown admits being a "shadow senator" doesn't get results. Photograph by Benjamin Freed.

The list of candidates seeking the at-large DC Council seat currently held by mayoral candidate David Catania keep growing. The latest entrant? Michael D. Brown, a figure known to keen followers of the District’s political nitty-gritty, but probably not as well to the average voter.

Brown—not to be confused with jail-bound former Council member Michael A. Brown—is one of the District’s “shadow senators,” elected to lobby for DC statehood on Capitol Hill. But it’s an unpaid and largely forgotten job, facts that Brown finally admitted when he made a surprise appearance Friday morning at the DC Board of Elections to pick up ballot-access petitions.

“I’m tired of being ignored,” says Brown, who’s held the shadow position since 2007.

Instead, Brown says he realizes he can be a much more effective—and better compensated—advocate for statehood from a Council seat. (Outside of his thankless advocacy role, he makes his living in the direct-mail business.)

“We should have one Council member dedicated to statehood,” he says.

He may not be a household name, but Brown says many voters know him thanks to his 2010 Council bid against Phil Mendelson. Mendelson, fearing voters would confuse his opponent with then-Council member Michael A. Brown, plastered the city with fliers featuring photos of Michael A. Brown endorsing him, beside a photograph of Michael D. Brown.

“Phil Mendelson, God bless him, spent $250,000 convincing people there’s two of us,” Brown says.

There’s one more thing Brown needs to do to run for Catania’s seat: drop his lifelong Democratic Party affiliation to satisfy the DC charter’s requirement that two of the Council’s four at-large seats be held by non-majority parties.

“I’m an independent Democrat,” Brown says.

Incidentally, that’s how Michael A. Brown, who held one of the non-majority seats when he was on the Council, used to describe himself.

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.