- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 12, 2006

What can Brown do for you? Lobby for D.C. voting rights and possibly sit on the D.C. Council next year, that’s what.

Democrat Michael D. Brown last week won his general-election bid to serve as the District’s shadow senator in Congress. After winning 84 percent of the vote, his primary responsibility will be to drum up support in Congress for D.C. voting rights.

But Michael D. Brown is not to be confused with Michael A. Brown, the lobbyist who dropped out of the District’s mayoral primary.

Also last week, Michael A. sent out an e-mail asking for donations and support as he considers running for the Ward 4 D.C. Council seat soon to be vacated by Mayor-elect Adrian M. Fenty.

Michael A., who grew up in Shepherd Park and lives in Chevy Chase, dropped out of the mayoral primary in early September, surprising campaign workers and political analysts. He also formed an exploratory committee for the possible Ward 4 bid that month.

Whether he has a shot at the Ward 4 seat remains to be seen, and any endorsement from Mr. Fenty, the current Ward 4 member, would be a shock.

After bowing out of the mayoral race, Michael A. chose to endorse council Chairman Linda W. Cropp, Mr. Fenty’s main competitor.

“We cannot watch a political novice, a man without the necessary courage or strength, attempt to steal this race from someone who has seen this city through its worst times,” Mr. Brown said at the time, referring to Mr. Fenty.

The special election for Mr. Fenty’s seat and the Ward 7 council seat, currently held by council Chairman-elect Vincent C. Gray, will be held in the spring.

• Road woes

Some state legislators aren’t happy with the Virginia Department of Transportation’s plan to close nearly 100 maintenance centers across the state — especially if one of the targeted facilities is in their district.

Their view is that the change will hold up road repairs during the winter.

VDOT wants to eliminate 91 maintenance sites across the state by 2008 and hire private contractors to maintain the interstates, department officials announced last week. About 50 workers would be eliminated, spokeswoman Sandy Myers said.

Officials say the plan is part of a strategy to reduce costs while still providing the same level of service. The changes could save $4 million to $6 million per year and boost efficiency by having facilities in the areas they serve most.

“Every parent ought to have an interest in this,” said state Sen. Mark Obenshain, Harrisonburg Republican, who was concerned about school buses traveling over pothole-riddled roads.

In a recent letter to VDOT Commissioner David Ekern, Mr. Obenshain pointed out that each winter, poor road conditions lead to several school closures. Without a maintenance facility nearby, more closures are likely, he wrote.

Most of the major changes won’t begin until spring — after prime snowfall season — and Mr. Ekern has scheduled 12 public meetings statewide later this month to explain the changes.

The Virginia General Assembly passed a law this year mandating that all maintenance services be outsourced by July 1, 2009, and the changes are a step in that direction.

• Independent streak

Candidate James H. Webb Jr. spent a lot of his campaign trying to convince Democrats that he was one of them, but he may owe his win to those who didn’t buy it.

The majority of self-described centrists and independents in Virginia favored Mr. Webb in his razor-thin victory over Republican Sen. George Allen that helped give Democrats control of the U.S. Senate, according to an Associated Press exit poll.

Mr. Webb’s ardent opposition to the war also helped him win over both Democrats and centrist voters.

In Virginia, more than half of voters weren’t happy with the way President Bush is running the country or the war in Iraq. Centrists were even more discontent, with about two-thirds saying they disapprove of the president and the war. About 62 percent of independents said they didn’t approve of the war, while just under half weren’t satisfied with Mr. Bush.

About 44 percent of Virginia voters considered themselves centrists, and of those, 60 percent supported Mr. Webb. And of the quarter of voters who said they were independents, 56 percent voted for him, according to the poll of 2,011 Virginia voters conducted for the AP and television networks by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International. Results were subject to sampling error of 3 percentage points, higher for subgroups.

Thomas Martinchek, 43, a corporate lawyer in Norfolk who considers himself an independent, said he voted for Mr. Webb because “he’s a good moderate.” But the war, and its effects on the economy, were important.

“The hundreds of billions of dollars this war is costing us could better be spent here at home, or at least [on] reducing the deficit. It’s wasted resources,” Mr. Martinchek said. “On top of that, it’s just a mess over there.”

Virginia wasn’t alone. One-fourth of voters nationwide were independents, and they voted heavily for Democratic candidates as the Republican Party lost its grip on the center. In 2000, independents favored Mr. Allen 3-to-2 when he unseated two-term Sen. Charles S. Robb.

Gary Emerling contributed to this column, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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