Loose Lips

Morning Ride in the Mendomobile

"Trust me. Just trust me." "You always say that, Phil." (Lydia DePillis)

"Trust me. Just trust me." "You always say that, Phil." (Lydia DePillis)

The polls have opened at H.D. Cooke Elementary in Adams Morgan. Councilmember Phil Mendelson pulls up in his 1998 Mercury Mystique, ready to start a crosstown precinct blitz to save his job. He hasn’t had breakfast. And things are already going wrong.

“The crises have already started,” he says—a precinct in upper Northwest didn’t have campaign materials. We hop in a blue van piloted by Ward 7 Committeeman Juan Thompson, careen around Columbia Road, and race off up 16th Street, taking advantage of the open outbound lane.

“Try not to hit any voters,” says Mendelson drily.

Things shouldn’t be this tense. Mendelson only realized his dire straights just last month, when straw polls revealed that masses of voters confused little-known shadow senator Michael D. Brown with sitting at-large councilmember Michael A. Brown.

With a hand from unions and Vince Gray, the Councilmember and his team started executing an emergency anti-confusion plan, which involved email traffic, a robocall from the “real” Michael Brown, and giant signs warning voters, “Don’t Be Fooled.”

Sometimes, though, it’s not that simple.

“It’s a challenge for some people, because they don’t get it,” Mendelson says. “If you don’t think you’re confused, then I’m confusing you by saying, don’t be confused.”

Mostly, it’s just frustrating. And it’s got to be a bit angering, too—Michael D. Brown has claimed that he wasn’t invited to debates, for example, which Mendelson thinks is just an attempt to capitalize on the name mix-up by not making himself overly visible.

“I can’t believe he says this stuff,” he says. “It’s a small thing, but I think it speaks to this intentionality.”

As luck would have it, we ran into Mike D. at our second stop, Lafayette Elementary. The rivals were cordial, but Brown couldn’t resist a swipe as we were heading out.

“Do you want some of my lit? It has issues!” he said. “Maybe you could tack one on your sign, then you’d have issues too.”

As we wind our way through Ward 3—with some sense of urgency, since Ward 3 is Mendelson’s base—the councilmember gets sympathetic looks and handshakes from supporters. Most everyone he talks to voted him, and he spends long minutes nodding quietly in conversations with residents whom he knows by name, about uncollected fines, or a dangerous pedestrian intersection.

But up here in Fentyland, he also gets some flak for backing Vince Gray, who appeared on one of his mailers.

“That was a little edgy of me,” said Mendelson, as if wondering whether that could have been the move that costs him a close race.

As the morning winds on, things get more relaxed. The crises subside, and we don't run into many precinct workers for either of the councilmember's opponents. Mendelson points out bits of area trivia, as if giving a tour—the newly-constructed Chinese Embassy residences on Porter Street (“I can’t believe that they would tear down mediocre buildings and put up ones that are ugly”) and a wrought iron gate off Mt. Pleasant Street that had been put in to keep drunks from peeing in the alley.

But Mendelson isn’t breathing easy yet. After hitting John Eaton School, where his 10-year-old daughter goes, I asked if he was mendo at bancroftstarting to feel better about his chances.

“No. No,” he said emphatically. “One person came out of a precinct having been confused.”

At this stage, every vote counts. At Bancroft Elementary, he chatted enough with a lady wearing a Clark Ray sticker that she promised to put his on instead.

  • Flernty

    Nobody is confused here. We're sending Mendelson packing. Goodbye and good riddence.

  • Skipper

    What's a "Ward 7 Committeeman"?

  • SEis4ME

    Skip, I wondered the same thing. I've never heard of Ward committeemen before.

    I saw Mendelson's name, understood the distinction between the two Brown's and still didn't vote for Phil.

  • http://www.glaa.org Rick Rosendall

    I have seen Flernty's nasty comments, but regardless of what he or she says, it is perfectly obvious that Michael D. Brown has not begun to earn in his own right the level of support he has received in recent polls. He won his Shadow Senator seat because of the same voter confusion. It is especially cynical to seek to benefit from confusion that one denies exists.

    I have found Phil Mendelson to be an extraordinarily hard-working and effective legislator, who pays close attention to the details, listens well, and has an excellent staff. It would be an embarrassment to our city if an opportunist pulls off an upset just because he has a similar name to another popular incumbent.

  • elizabeth

    That would be as in "Ward 7 Democratic Party Committeman/ or- woman"

  • Flernty

    Rick, The words you are looking for are "delicious irony". The fact that I correctly point out that Mendelson is a mendacious pol who touts public safety reforms in his campaign literature while he has done his level best to oppose any common sense reforms as Chair of the Public Safety Committee is only the tip of his deceit. The fact that he is going to lose the way he is, because of the ignorance of the electorate he has so poorly served, isn't "nasty", it's just deserts.

    If Mendelson is so great for this city why is that the only people that support him are progressives who safely live west of the park (like him), pinko journalists, and people who don't know who the hell he is (which include his constituents, apparently)? Why is it that anyone who has had the misfortune to hear him talk out of both sides of his mouth at public meetings are GLEEFUL at his situation today? I have seen his two-faced, blame-game, hypocritical blathering up close many a time. When he can't confuse the issue with double-talk he resorts to accusing the US Attorney or Superior Court for HIS obstruction and HIS failure to keep DC residents safe from repeat offenders, violent juveniles, and gun criminals.

    I may be "nasty" but what do you call a coward who blames the police and prosecutors for his own failures? What do you call a man who is elected to serve the citizens of DC and then simply shrugs his shoulders and says "what can I do" when neighborhoods become shooting parlors? I think that's more than "nasty".

    And BTW, just because I revel in the fact that the Wrong Brown is gonna win doesn't mean I endorse him, because I didn't and don't. Clark Ray deserved a shot here (and he'll likely get another one) but the removal of the pestilence that is Phil Mendelson is worth a Wrong Brown. For one Wrong Brown is not likely to be the Chair of Public Safety and that's where Mendelson does his vile bloody work.

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