Correction to This Article
A photo caption with an Oct. 28 Style article on Anthony Brown, Democratic candidate for Maryland lieutenant governor, incorrectly said that he is the only black contender for statewide office in Maryland. It should have said he is the only black Democrat running for statewide office.

A Demanding Race
Anthony Brown Is the Great Hope -- and Great Frustration -- of Maryland Democrats

By David Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 28, 2006; C01

Anthony Brown is many things in addition to being a black man -- Iraq war veteran, Harvard man with two degrees, whip in the Maryland House of Delegates, Prince Georgian. Then came a bright morning last month.

At a unity rally in College Park, Kweisi Mfume took the microphone. "When the Democratic ticket of four nominees for statewide office in 2006 still looks like the one in 1956, we have a problem!" thundered Mfume, who lost the U.S. Senate primary to Rep. Ben Cardin.

One rank below the white men running for governor, senator, attorney general and comptroller is the Democrats' dash of diversity: Anthony Brown, the candidate for lieutenant governor.

Mfume didn't mention Brown, the fifth nominee. "We have a problem!" Mfume repeated.

Is it too much to ask a candidate for lieutenant governor to be the solution?

* * *

The story of Anthony Brown and his shooting-star rise features competing themes. You could label them "The Declining Significance of Race" and "The Enduring Importance of Race." Two ideals in tension. Two realities in coexistence. The unresolved tragedy of America.

Such is the burden of the talented politician of color, battling on a white playing field, whether he is Barack Obama, Harold Ford, Cory Booker, Michael Steele or Anthony Brown. Here is Brown, 44, one Friday evening cutting the ribbon on a campaign field office in Baltimore. This son of a Jamaican father and a Swiss mother has lighter skin than most in the boisterous crowd -- one exception being, of course, the head of the Democratic gubernatorial ticket, Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley.

Introducing O'Malley, Brown leads the packed roomful of campaign volunteers in chants against incumbent Gov. Robert Ehrlich of "No more years! No more years!" His eyebrows shoot up in delight and furrow in fierceness. His hands sculpt shapes in the air. His hair is clipped almost military-short.

He does not fail to mention that he served nearly a year in Iraq, as a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve. But he slips that in while making another point.

"I learned a lot of lessons while I was in Iraq," he says. "I learned that no matter where you live, whether you live in Baghdad, whether you live in Brandywine in Prince George's County, we all want the same things for our families. Isn't that right? Quality education, affordable health care, a better way of life for ourselves and our children and our children's children. But what we want most of all, no matter where you live in this world, we want a government whose leadership puts the people first!"

It's a favorite riff that takes various forms on the stump. The point is that all peoples are united in the things that matter most, from Hagerstown to Baltimore to Largo to Salisbury. It's almost as if Brown were suggesting the color of his skin -- not to mention his other identities -- mattered less than the content of his campaign. What a concept.

But of course race matters, especially for a party that has yet to elect an African American to statewide office. It was the Republicans who made racial history when Michael Steele was elected lieutenant governor four years ago. Now he is running for U.S. Senate, picking up endorsements from some black Democrats along the way.

Cheering Brown in the Baltimore crowd is Reggie Scriber, a city worker and campaign volunteer, getting his first good look at O'Malley's running mate. "He brings a strong perspective especially from the African American community, and he also gives us hope that all races and people will be participating in this governorship," Scriber says.

Standing behind Brown as he speaks is Nathaniel McFadden, majority leader of the state Senate and member of the "Committee of 10" black senators sounding off about the ticket's lack of minorities. "Anthony is at the head of the class now in terms of the African American future for the Democratic Party," McFadden says later.

And yet, listen to a couple of Brown's white political mentors, taking up the other dueling theme.

"While he's a proud African American -- though I do joke with him: Does he think he can deliver the Swiss vote? -- he's also what they call in the music business a crossover candidate," says Stephen Sachs, former Maryland attorney general and semi-retired partner at WilmerHale, the richly pedigreed Washington law firm where Brown once worked.

"Anthony is not running as a black lieutenant governor candidate," says Tim Maloney, a Prince George's lawyer and former delegate. "Anthony is somebody who transcends all that."

Confused? So are some voters. At a campaign stop in Frederick, where Brown and two aides are virtually the only people of color, farmers Frank and Bess Gladhill press Brown to heed the needs of agriculture.

After parting from the candidate, Bess Gladhill looks excited. "I thought that was Osama!" she says.


" Obama," she corrects herself, referring to Barack Obama, the Illinois senator, who supporters say could become the first black president. Obama was a year ahead of Brown at Harvard Law School. "He looks like him," says Gladhill.

There is a passing resemblance.

Promise and Prejudice

Race didn't matter on the comfortable north shore of Long Island where bright young Anthony Brown first dreamed of becoming a leader. Except when it did.

Roy Brown, a doctor to poor and working-class white and black patients, imbued his five children with classic immigrant values: Education and hard work make dreams come true. To serve yourself, serve others.

"We lived by example, rather than sitting down and preaching to them about racism," says Brown, 82 and still practicing. "The example was there, that color was not important."

Yes, but:

The father found few medical schools in New York would admit a black student; he got his medical degree in Zurich, where he met Lilly, his wife.

Anthony was a stellar student at mostly white Huntington High School; when he became student government president, the title had a new modifier -- first black student government president. "He was a person you would be impressed with, and that could make you really be colorblind," recalls Jerry Boden, a white friend from high school. "It was never 'He's a smart black guy.' It was 'He's a squared-away individual and I like being his friend. He's going to go far in life.' "

Yes, but:

Brown wondered why in junior high he was kept out of a fast-track math program for two years, until his mother complained. When he later became convinced it was because he was black, he worried about the implications for black boys across the county.

"It was really troubling for me when I was with white people who for some reason felt that they could exhibit their prejudice in front of me, as if I weren't black," Brown recalls. "And the humiliation, and how troubling that was. But then also being with a group of black kids who could do the same thing, and how troubled and bothered I felt, because I thought about my mother and my mother's side of the family, and other people."

More often than not, he says, "I spoke up or found myself terminating relationships."

In his Harvard freshman year, he read "The Declining Significance of Race," William Julius Wilson's seminal study about how class and other factors affect the progress of minorities. And he got a lesson in the enduring importance of race. Before, he had stated the facts when asked his background: black father, white mother. Now, a fellow student told him he couldn't sit on the fence; he had to pick. Brown understood he was black, and that mattered in America.

One day in the library, he looked out the window and saw some students in ROTC uniforms. The military had always appealed to him. The tradition, the discipline, the patriotism. It occurred to him how many of the nation's leaders and newsmakers had military backgrounds, and he, too, aspired to be a public servant, a politician. He skipped class and signed up.

After graduation, during his five years of active duty as a helicopter pilot in Germany, race didn't matter much. "It's that Army-of-one concept," Brown says. For those who would try to pin a single identity on him, he says "soldier" gets closest to his essence. "Those five years have defined me more than anything in my life," he says.

Back in Cambridge for law school, Brown found the Army's color-blind ideal replaced by a campus roiling over lack of diversity on the law faculty. He joined the Black Law Students Association and appeared as "Mr. October" in a fundraising calendar, "The Black Men of Harvard Law," posed like a macho warrior in a leather flight jacket in front of a helicopter.

"I began to think about on whose behalf I want to make a difference" is how Brown describes his emerging social consciousness.

He also fell in love with the co-chair of the Women's Law Association, Patricia Arzuaga, raised in the Bronx by blue-collar parents who were natives of Puerto Rico. Graduating in 1992, the couple got engaged and landed jobs in Washington. But where in Washington to live?

They read an eye-opening article in the New York Times Magazine called "The New Black Suburbs," and it featured a place called Prince George's County. Racial and sociological history were being made there, incomes and education levels rising as the black population became the majority.

"This was new, this has not been seen before, and to be a part of that!" recalls Brown, who lives with Arzuaga and their children, Rebecca, 11, and Jonathan, 6, in Mitchellville. "I want to raise my kids in a community where they are surrounded by people who look like them and are doing very well."

Plus, Prince George's had this added attraction: As a place where most people were moving in from somewhere else, a newcomer could forge a political future.

Conduit to the Top?

So here's the hard math behind the hard feelings that sparked Mfume's outcry.

African Americans make up about 20 percent of the state's vote, which is partly why Maryland has been such a true-blue state for so long. But four years ago, Democrat Kathleen Kennedy Townsend picked a white man as her running mate, while Ehrlich picked Steele.

Skeptics ask: Are Democrats taking this key constituency for granted?

Party defenders reply: Democrats have put African Americans in Congress and in charge of Prince George's County; they're poised to do the same next month in Montgomery. Blacks fill leadership positions in the House of Delegates and the state Senate. There are no black Republicans in the General Assembly.

Yes, but: There's a black Republican who's been at the state executive level building a power base the last four years.

So African American Democrats aren't impressed with Brown's mere presence on the ticket. They want assurances that Brown will be able to do something for his people.

"We are past the lieutenant ranks," said state Sen. Nathaniel Exum, one of the Committee of 10.

Brown says he "insisted" on having "a full partnership" with O'Malley. He pledges to take a leading role on health care, economic development and higher education and serve as a conduit to the legislature, where he served eight years. "Martin O'Malley didn't ask me to run with him just because I'm a darker face on the ticket," he says. "He ran with me because of the breadth of experience that I bring to the job."

And yet he is a darker face. Color doesn't count, and it does.

When he is promoting the ticket to African American groups, Brown highlights O'Malley's record of appointing minority decision-makers in Baltimore and raising the minority share of city contracts from 14 percent to 31 percent, according to the campaign. Brown promises any administration he is part of will spread that wealth statewide.

Elaborating on these bona fides, Brown chooses his words with self-conscious care:

"I'm just really excited in the opportunity that the African American community has in a lieutenant governor candidate within a party that truly promotes the values that are so important to the African American community," he says. "I think in many ways that wasn't available to Michael Steele. I think his heart and his head were in the right place on many issues, but unfortunately for him, he was a member of a party whose approach to government is inconsistent with the interests of the African American community."

Sounding the Call

Brown sat out the 2005 legislative session and found a different kind of action: Iraq.

This turned out to be a good career move, though Brown says he didn't plan it that way.

He had been in the reserves, drilling in Upper Marlboro, when he heard a unit needed a JAG officer. He raised his hand. "While no one ever relishes going to war," he says, "you train as if you're going any day. As a result, there is something that develops inside you that says, 'When we do deploy forces, I want to be a part of that.' "

Brown was assigned to advise a ministry for displaced families, traveling to Fallujah, Basra, Tikrit. Frustrated at the war's slow progress, he thinks the country should begin withdrawing troops.

Upon his return, party honchos told him, "Listen: You went to Iraq. This country's at war. This is going to be a benefit to you."

Soon came the courtship with O'Malley, and the counsels from African American leaders about the racial stakes. By December he became the veteran from Prince George's who, yeah, come to think of it, was black, on the statewide ticket.

Now it's evening rush hour and Brown is shaking hands at the Largo Metro station. He retains the gale-force eagerness of the student council politico.

More than a few people recognize him from the hoopla that greeted the soldier-lawmaker returning from war. "Thank you for your service," they say.

It was the same earlier in the day in predominantly white Western Maryland. Everybody loves a soldier.

This seeming unity of outlook heartens Brown.

Across the state, "it's no different," he says between trains delivering black commuters to their black suburb. "People talk about the 'diversity of the ticket,' and 'You're the only African American,' and 'What does that mean?' " he says, sounding impatient. "You know, no matter where you run . . . people essentially want the same thing."

There's that riff again, the declining significance of race. And yet Brown also appreciates race's enduring importance. The competing themes remain suspended, unresolved, in Brown's life, in Maryland politics, in America at large.

Four years ago, after Townsend picked a white running mate, Brown declared: "I think the Democratic Party is failing African Americans here. It's a real problem."

We have a problem.

Now, outside the Metro station, in the next breath following the riff, Brown acknowledges, "It's important to have a diverse ticket," then quickly adds: "It's also important that it's about experience and competence and qualifications and what you bring, because, at the end of the day, we as statewide candidates are going to represent this state in its entirety."

© 2006 The Washington Post Company