Brown on a deliberate march toward goal years in the making

Erin Cox
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun
Stuffy or stilted? No, says Democrat Anthony Brown. Just deliberate.

Democrat Anthony G. Brown can readily list the criticisms of his public persona, but he finds the characterization a bit perplexing.

Stiff, stuffy, stilted.

"I'm always amazed how people say, 'Well, he seems so scripted.'" Brown said. "As if I wake up intending to be scripted."

"I'm just a deliberate person," he says.

Brown has been running to replace Gov. Martin O'Malley since the pair won re-election four years ago, counting off each week in a tally that is over 200 now. A lawyer with a high-powered resume — Army colonel, Harvard Law School, Iraq veteran — Brown has been the Democratic Party establishment's pick for months. National Democrats have invested more than $1 million in his historic bid to become Maryland's first African-American governor.

What's not according to script: Brown's in a race that's much closer than expected.

Critics say he's been too cautious to lay out a clear, engaging plan for what he will do in Maryland, and that posting policy proposals on a website isn't the same as connecting with voters. Supporters say Brown's carefully controlled campaign reflects the personality of a man shaped by the military and intensely focused on reaching his goals.

Brown is deliberate with his words — what he says and what he doesn't — and with his plans, his time, his actions. But that doesn't make him stiff, he said.

"You actually could sit down with me and have a beer, and it might be an enjoyable conversation," said Brown, 52.

He was born into a biracial immigrant family in the Long Island town of Huntington, N.Y. Brown and his fraternal twin, Andrew, were the youngest of five children of a Jamaican physician and Swiss homemaker.

"My father was viewed as someone who was a professional, a doctor, and there were high expectations," Brown said. "As his son, even in the earliest day, people said, 'Hey, we have high expectations for you. That you'll do good things and big things and not just for yourself.'"

Brown was the first African-American student council president at Huntington High School, the only African-American in many of his Advanced Placement courses, just the second from the school to be accepted into Harvard. He opted first for the United State Military Academy at West Point, but quit as a freshman — too much military too soon, he said. He applied to Harvard a second time.

"It was always intelligent discussion when Anthony is around," said Jerry Boden, who grew up three houses down and is still Brown's best friend. "We would sit in the kitchen with Dr. Brown, hours and hours sitting around the table talking, discussing topics of the day."

Today, Brown doesn't participate in idle conversation. His icebreaker at social events is the directive "tell me about yourself." He gets his hair cut twice a month at the barbershop on Andrews Air Force base, partly because his old barber spent too long chatting about national politics while working on his hair.

At Harvard, Brown joined the Army ROTC while an undergraduate studying government. After he graduated in 1984, he was stationed in Germany as a helicopter pilot and served five years on active duty before entering the reserves and returning to Harvard for law school,where he met his first wife.

When he moved to Maryland after law school for a federal clerkship, one of the first things he did was join the local high school PTA and volunteer to chaperon Friday night dances even though he didn't have children yet.

He was representing financial companies in the Washington office of the prestigious law firm Wilmer Hale, on track to become a partner. But he told friends he really wanted to go into politics.

He applied to be on the board of the Prince George's Community College and a few years later decided to run for the House of Delegates. Before the election, he went to see Michael E. Busch, then chair of a powerful committee.

Busch was so impressed he lobbied to get Brown assigned to his committee, then created a special work group for the freshman delegate to oversee. "He was my No. 1 draft pick," Busch said. When Busch became House speaker, he made Brown majority whip.

During his second term, the Army Reserves called Brown to Iraq in 2004. He deployed to Baghdad for 10 months, working as a senior consultant to the interim Iraqi government, and leaving behind his two children, Rebecca and Jonathan, then 9 and 4.

Brown's twin told The Baltimore Sun in 2005 his brother's stint in a war zone was no accident.

"Anthony is not one to blindly jump into things," said Andrew Brown, who at the time worked in the film production industry in Los Angeles. "He does look at all the moves he makes, career-wise, even family-wise; [they] are really geared to move him and his career forward. It's no secret that his desire to go to Baghdad in a big respect was politically motivated."

Asked recently about his brother's comments, Brown replied, "That's why I don't have my family available to the press." He said he would never have chosen to leave behind his kids and go to such a dangerous place for political gain.

Yet his deployment enhanced his political currency. Supporters encouraged him to run for attorney general. But O'Malley asked him to be his running mate.

Brown said he considered not taking it, worried that it would be a dead-end political move without responsibilities. Today, Brown says he considers "surviving" his tenure as lieutenant governor as the greatest obstacle he has overcome.

In 2009, Brown and his wife ended their 16-year marriage. The lieutenant governor faced the challenge of dating with a security detail. A mutual friend suggested he consider an attractive widow and Comcast lobbyist named Karmen Walker.

When Walker suggested they go to a restaurant he didn't know, he went there days in advance to scope it out. He said he knew they would hit it off when she called at 7:01 p.m. to say she would be arriving late, at 7:03 p.m. "That's my style for late," he said.

In the State House, O'Malley carved out three policy areas for Brown to oversee: economic development, higher education and health care. Brown was co-chair of a panel charged with advising the state government on setting up the Maryland health exchange as well as other health policy.

But when the exchange went terribly wrong, it was O'Malley who stepped in to lead the way to fix it. Maryland's online insurance marketplace crashed the day it was launched. The state struggled for months to repair the broken website, then decided to scrap it entirely and try another version. Federal auditors looking into problems with the exchange have subpoenaed documents as part of their probe.

Brown's political rivals have pummeled him for the failed exchange. For nearly a year, he has given the same answer when challenged about it: He bears responsibility, just like everyone else involved.

Critics say the answer leaves a lot to be desired.

"It was his explicit responsibility. Maybe he didn't have the technical competence to do the job, but then he should have found someone who did," said Matthew Crenson, political scientist professor emeritus Johns Hopkins University.

Brown has been running a campaign based in part on dire warnings about how bad it would be for Maryland if Republican Larry Hogan were elected. He says the O'Malley-Brown administration has led the state in the right direction with its emphasis on investments in education and other areas, balancing budget cuts with tax increases. Brown says he'll continue to invest — he points constantly to his plan to eventually make half-day public pre-kindergarten available to everyone — but has pledged not to raise taxes.

Some who back Brown have expressed displeasure with the large number of negative campaign ads he has run. And last week, he drew criticism for ads that featured Baltimore police officers, leading the department to investigate whether officers broke its rules against appearing in uniform in political ads.

While the O'Malley-Brown record is popular among many Democrats, Brown isn't doing as well as expected. In an overwhelmingly Democratic state, he holds a 7-point lead, according to a Baltimore Sun poll this month. A quarter of his supporters say they might change their minds.

Winning the office he has sought for so long will depend on whether his backers are motivated enough to vote.

At the Ebenezer A.M.E. megachurch in Fort Washington last month, Brown had a front-row pew reserved for his sixth visit since 2007. Ebenezer is one of 72 churches on his Sunday circuit.

Brown, who is Catholic, worked the offering line as if it were a parade route. Throughout the service, he enthusiastically followed the Rev. Dr. Grainger Browning Jr.'s instructions to "give a brother a holy high-five."

At one point, Browning drew the congregation's attention to Brown, who was given a standing ovation.

"This is not an endorsement," Browning said, before praising Brown's work to prevent domestic violence and mortgage foreclosures. "I'm just telling you what he has done for Ebenezer."

Browning bellowed to the crowd, "Someone should say amen!" Everyone did.

ecox@baltsun.com

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