Thanks to a per curiam opinion handed down by the D.C. Court of Appeals today, Michael Brown, managing director of government affairs at Edwards Angell Palmer & Dodge, will hang on to the at-large seat he won on the D.C. Council in November.
Despite a challenge filed in late November by the D.C. Republican Committee over Brown’s Independent party affiliation, the court ruled that the definition of “affiliation” stretches only to encompass a candidate’s voter registration.
Under the D.C. Home Rule Act, only three at-large members of the council, including the chairman, may be from the same party. With the Democrats’ overwhelming majority in Washington, that essentially means two at-large seats are reserved for non-Democrats—Republicans, Independents, and others. While Brown had changed his party affiliation from Democrat to Independent in May, many of his campaign materials listed him as an “Independent*Democrat.”
In a letter submitted to the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics on Nov. 20, Charles Spies, of counsel at McKenna Long & Aldridge who represents the Republican Committee, accused Brown of being a “sham” Independent.
“The problem for Mr. Brown, however, is that the D.C. Home Rule Act is written to promote real minority representation, not sham self-proclaimed ‘independent’ Democrats who nonetheless attend the Democratic convention, call themselves a Democrat on TV, and brag of their Democratic affiliation in their biographies,” Spies wrote.
Spies went on to say that allowing Democrats to change their party affiliation “in name only” would end up costing minority parties their voice in District government.
The court’s ruling, handed down by Judges Vanessa Ruiz and Michael Farrell and Senior Judge Frank Nebeker, also says the elections board sold short its own role in certifying candidates. Previously, the board had said that its role was limited to deciding whether candidates met the qualifications for holding office and that it was not able to hear specific challenges to a candidate. But the court says the board does have that power.
In that regard, Spies tells the BLT, the D.C. Republican Committee “considers the opinion a win because minority parties can hold the board accountable” by filing challenges to a candidate’s eligibility.
Michael Brown did not return calls for comment.