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
A Demanding Race
Anthony Brown Is the Great Hope -- and Great Frustration -- of Maryland
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!"
Is it too much to ask a candidate for lieutenant governor to be the
* * *
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
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
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
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."
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
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.' "
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
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
"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
Conduit to the Top?
So here's the hard math behind the hard feelings that sparked Mfume's
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
"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
More than a few people recognize him from the hoopla that greeted the
soldier-lawmaker returning from war. "Thank you for your service," they
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