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On Monday afternoon, campaign workers and supporters of Michael Brown received an email asking them to come to an “urgent” meeting the next day.
“Attention:” the email began, “Councilmember Michael A. Brown has called a meeting for April 2, 2013 at 6:30pm. He kindly asks that ALL Volunteers and Staff be in attendance.”
The email came from Debbie Smith-Steiner, who was helping organize Brown’s campaign. When LL called Smith-Steiner Monday to see what the meeting was about, she said: “Oh, I have no idea. [I’m] trying to figure it out myself.”
Smith-Steiner said she thought the meeting was probably going to be “just a rally-type thing” because the April 23 election is only three weeks away, a kind of “let’s get this thing going” type of event. She said Brown had given no indication about what he wanted the meeting to be about. “The only thing he said was, ‘I want all staff there.'”
Other Brown supporters LL spoke with echoed Smith-Steiner’s belief that the meeting was to be a pep rally. When LL asked Brown Monday night via text message what the purpose of the meeting was, Brown replied: “We have not had a meeting in a while.”
And they won’t have a meeting again, as Brown shocked his supporters as well as the local political scene yesterday by quitting the race. He met very briefly with supporters in a conference room at American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees headquarters in Adams Morgan last night to tell them that he was dropping out because of unspecified family issues.
Brown then came out of the office building on Kalorama Street NW where AFSCME and his campaign headquarters are housed, crossed the street, and handed LL (who had been kindly asked to leave the meeting before it started and was waiting outside) a statement announcing he was dropping out. As he walked off, he told LL he wasn’t going to have any additional comment and LL shouldn’t bother to “follow” him.
After several more minutes, Brown’s supporters began slowly trickling out of the office building. None of them wanted to comment, and some looked slightly shellshocked. Markus Batchelor, who was running Brown’s website and social media efforts, assumed the role of the de facto spokesman for the campaign. “This came as a surprise to all of us,” Batchelor said. “We were very confident of our prospects on the 23rd.”
Batchelor said Brown did not provide specifics as to why he was dropping out. He did say that whatever the issues were, Brown had initially “thought he would be able to go on” but said that he’d now decided he couldn’t.
LL spoke again with Smith-Steiner today, who says she’s still in shock: “I had no idea it was coming.”
The degree to which Brown’s supporters were caught off-guard by his decision to quit underscores how abrupt the decision was made. Brown’s campaign was in full work mode, Smith-Steiner said, adding that she was often at the campaign office from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. For his part, Brown’s been a regular at campaign forums and has shown every indication he intended to finish the campaign.
Two weeks ago, Brown was telling LL that his campaign was much better organized than his failed re-election bid in November. “I plan on winning,” Brown said.
As for what Brown’s supporters are going to do next, Councilmember Anita Bonds tells LL that some of them have already called her and said they want to support her candidacy. “I feel blessed for that,” says Bonds, who likely stands to benefit most from Brown’s departure.
Smith-Steiner says she plans to sit the race out, though she’s been getting calls from supporters asking whether it would be possible to continue the Michael Brown campaign without the actual candidate. (His name will still be on the ballot.) Smith-Steiner says she’ll need to ask Brown whether he’d accept the job if he somehow managed to win the election after dropping out, but says she’s open to the idea of continuing the campaign.
“Wouldn’t that be something?” she says.
File photo by Darrow Montgomery