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This Guy Isn’t the Michael Brown You Think He Is: Politics is often a game of playing to the lowest common denominator. Voters in a series of D.C. straw polls are attempting to demonstrate exactly how low. Incumbent At-Large Councilmember Phil Mendelson lost a straw poll last night in Ward 5 to Michael D. Brown, best known for a) not being the Michael D. “Brownie” Brown who presided over the Department of Homeland Security’s attempts to pretend Hurricane Katrina hadn’t happened and b) being Michael A. Brown, another at-large member of the D.C. Council who isn’t even up for re-election this year. Brown, who currently serves as one of D.C.’s two shadow senators, is listed on the ballot without a middle name or initial. Mendelson now faces the challenging task of defeating a popular opponent who isn’t actually running against him. Isn’t Home Rule great? -4

Call it a Convenience Charge: In these troubled financial times, when local governments are struggling to pay the electricity bill to keep streetlights on and laying off teachers and cops, one particularly vulnerable group needs all the help it can get—corporations with near-monopolies over their industry. Fortunately, Montgomery County is on the case. A lawsuit filed by 9:30 Club owner Seth Hurwitz reveals county taxpayers’ tab for building a new concert venue in Silver Spring for Live Nation, which recently merged with TicketMaster to form a veritable evil empire of service charges, has risen from $8 million to $11.2 million. (Meanwhile, Hurwitz says he would have paid for a venue himself.) In fairness to the county, the extra $3.2 million was listed on the contract, but cleverly disguised as “processing charge.” -4

F for Fire Safety: A D.C. school bus catches fire on Langston Place SE, requiring the driver, an adult aide, and several children to escape and destroying the vehicle. Fortunately, no one was injured, though presumably the kids were a little late to class. A “mechanical issue” was likely to blame. Time for DCPS to make auto shop classes mandatory? -3

Race is On: DCPS wins a federal “Race to the Top” contest, worth up to $75 million in grants targeted to school districts that are linking teacher evaluations to student performance and improving schools that haven’t done well in the past. Maryland wins the prize, as well, getting up to $100 million; Virginia, alas, does not, indicating Department of Education bureaucrats weren’t as impressed by the state’s new policies requiring all students to carry concealed handguns to class. +4

Yesterday’s Needle rating: 48 Today’s score: -7 Today’s Needle rating: 41