Brown steers careful course in bid for governor

Lieutenant governor aims to succeed where predecessors failed

June 18, 2014|By Michael Dresser, The Baltimore Sun

Last in a series of profiles of gubernatorial candidates.

As Anthony G. Brown runs for governor, he often appears to be walking a political tightrope.

If the lieutenant governor tips too far in the direction of independence, he risks looking disloyal to Gov. Martin O'Malley, whose firm support has given him a leg up in the Democratic primary race. If he shows too much deference to O'Malley, he risks looking more like a sidekick than a leader in his own right.

So far, if the polls are correct, Brown hasn't tumbled. Surveys this month showed him with a 2-1 lead over Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler and Del. Heather R. Mizeur in Tuesday's primary election.

Brown, 52, is running on a platform that promises both continuity and progress — as he puts it, "a better Maryland for more Marylanders." Behind his mostly upbeat ads emphasizing his personal story, he has put out 16 position papers, many of them building on initiatives pushed by O'Malley, such as encouraging affordable housing and reducing the number of children in foster care.

Brown doesn't apologize for the administration's record.

"Maryland is better today, and Marylanders are better off today, than they were eight years ago," he says. "But we can do better."

Much like O'Malley, Brown revels in the wonky details of governance and will fervently explain the specifics of his proposals on such matters as expanding prekindergarten education. His language and bearing are often evocative of his military background, but political observers say he sometimes comes across as robotic.

Todd Eberly, a political science professor at St. Mary's College, said there's little doubt that Brown has the temperament and the resume to be a successful governor, but he questioned Brown's abilities as a political communicator.

"He's not that comfortable speaking without a script," Eberly said. "I think he likes structure."

Brown's life story is a centerpiece of his campaign. His parents were immigrants, his father from Jamaica and his mother from Switzerland. Brown frequently talks about his late father, who grew up in the slums of Kingston but came to the United States and became a doctor who spent his life treating the poor.

Born in New York, Brown served five years as an Army helicopter pilot. He completed his active duty in 1989 as a captain but has remained in the Army Reserve. After attending Harvard Law School, where he was a classmate of Barack Obama, he moved to Maryland and took a job with a Washington law firm. In 1998, still a relative newcomer to Maryland, he won a seat in the House of Delegates from Prince George's County.

He was serving his second term in the House in 2004 when the Army called him up for a year of service in Iraq, where he served as a consultant to the Iraqi government.

"The military has very much shaped me," said Brown. "It's a very goal-oriented, results-oriented organization."

That experience plays well with many voters. "He served in the armed forces, which is big for me," said Monay Chapman of Baltimore, who has a nephew serving in Afghanistan.

She met Brown as he toured Lexington Market this week with Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who are among the many prominent Maryland Democrats who have endorsed him.

Otis Rolley, a former Baltimore official who is backing Gansler, dismissed Brown's endorsements as a case of the "Democratic establishment" deciding it's his turn. He said Brown's performance as lieutenant governor compares poorly with that of Michael S. Steele under Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

Steele, Rolley said, would "step up and speak out" for Baltimore. He said Brown has not.

"For the life of me, I've not been able to identify any compelling argument to me that he is ready to lead the state," Rolley said.

Brown would be Maryland's first African-American governor and only the third elected nationwide. He brought racial and geographical balance to O'Malley's ticket when the Democrat defeated the Republican Ehrlich in 2006.

Donald F. Norris, chairman of the public policy department at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, said Brown has accomplished more than most lieutenant governors.

"I would give Anthony pretty good marks, considering that he was Martin O'Malley's lieutenant governor and under a huge shadow," Norris said.

Lieutenant governors in Maryland have not fared well in their attempts to win gubernatorial elections. Three, all Democrats, have tried without success. One explanation is the weakness of the office, which has no constitutional duties except to succeed to the governorship in the event of a vacancy.

That ill-defined role has enabled Gansler to insist that Brown has done "literally" nothing in his eight years in office except oversee the launch of Maryland's failed health exchange website.

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