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Brown steers careful course in bid for governor

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.

On some occasions, Gansler also notes that Brown took the lead on military base expansion preparations. Gansler has called that process, known as BRAC for base realignment and closure, "an unmitigated disaster."

Brown said he has been active in many other policy areas. He took the lead in pushing a bill through the General Assembly laying the groundwork for getting the private sector to help pay for large infrastructure projects, such as the modernization of Baltimore's Seagirt Marine Terminal. Health care activists point to Brown's role as leader of the administration's effort to set up "health enterprise zones" to bring medical care to poor neighborhoods.

It has been Brown's other involvement in health care that has brought him the most attention — and not in a good way.

When the state launched its website to implement President Obama's Affordable Care Act, it crashed almost immediately. After months of trying to fix it, the administration finally decided to dump it and adopt software used by Connecticut. Gansler has hammered Brown on the issue, accusing him of mismanagement and wasting state resources while evading responsibility.

Meanwhile, Brown has struggled to explain his role in the decision-making process.

In an interview, the lieutenant governor acknowledged the website launch was a failure and said he shares in the responsibility, However, he insisted that if the state's health effort is measured by the number of people who signed up for insurance — 340,000 — the administration's efforts were a success. He said that while he was not directly involved in the development of the website, he played a role in the fixes that allowed people to bypass the site and get insured.

"I think it was a good recovery," he said.

Brown said BRAC has been a clear success in Maryland. He said it was projected to attract 30,000 to 60,000 jobs by 2022, but the state has already gained 49,000 positions as of April.

"How do you get to unmitigated disaster?" he said.

Some elected officials from the areas most affected by BRAC agree with Brown.

Montgomery County Councilman Roger Berliner, who has not taken sides in the governor's race, said Brown played a positive role in helping to deal with the traffic impact of the relocation of the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center to Bethesda.

"He's been engaged, and the state has been responsive," Berliner said.

Even as he runs on the administration's record, Brown insists that his election wouldn't lead to a third go-round of O'Malley-Brown. Without criticizing the governor, Brown has implicitly accepted the premise that the state's reputation as a place to do business needs improvement. He says he'll work to make Maryland's business climate the best in the nation — in part by getting the message out to state agencies. Unlike Gansler and potential Republican rivals, he isn't dangling the prospect of tax cuts to get there.

He defends as necessary the tax increases of recent years, saying they protected important state programs such as aid to schools, and he chooses his words carefully when asked what's in store. "I don't see a need for raising revenues or taxes in the foreseeable future," he said.

Brown showed confidence as he outlined his plan to improve the delivery of services at state agencies. Is it going to work at the Motor Vehicle Administration, he was asked?

"It's going to work everywhere," he said.

michael.dresser@baltsun.com

Running mate: Howard County Executive Ken Ulman

Anthony G. Brown

Age: 52

Job: Lieutenant governor

Experience: House of Delegates, private practice attorney, 30 years' active and reserve duty in Army

Education: B.A. and law degree, Harvard University

Home: Mitchellville, Prince George's County

Family: Married, three children

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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