A tale of two Mike Browns in Lake County politics
By Rich Bird Post-Tribune correspondent May 9, 2012 4:44PM
Mike B. Brown, photographed at his Merrillville, Ind. home Wednesday May 9, 2012., pulled off a political upset by defeating the incumbent in the Lake County Recorder primary race Tuesday. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media
Updated: June 11, 2012 10:15AM
CROWN POINT — Did Mike Brown, the candidate for recorder, intentionally run on the name recognition earned by former recorder and Lake County Clerk Mike Brown?
The candidate says no. Incumbent Recorder Michelle Fajman and party boss Tom McDermott Jr. say yes. And the clerk with the same name? Well, as someone who backed Fajman in the election, he’s just sorry if anyone cast a ballot without knowing who was who.
Democratic candidate Brown’s unofficial 457-vote primary win over Fajman — the vice chairman of the county’s Democratic Central Committee — has many saying he played the “name game” to deceive voters, and she’s first in line.
“This person won on the name game,” Fajman said. “Now the voters will have to live with this for the next four years.
“It’s a sad day in Lake County because the voters were duped by this kid who has no experience and no understanding of how to run an office. He happens to have the right name, and he shortened it up. I have no respect for him or the people who put him in the race.”
However, the 28-year-old former bailiff from Merrillville denies that claim, and says he looks forward to uniting Democrats against the Republican nominee, Pamela Drangmeister, in November.
“In my opinion they didn’t take me seriously, at first,” Brown said. “The primary is over, so let’s get together.”
According to the Lake County Board of Elections, Michael B. Brown filed his declaration of candidacy for recorder in the Democratic primary election at 11:54 a.m. on Feb. 10 — exactly six minutes before deadline.
Brown said his last-minute entry in the race was financial. As a bailiff in the juvenile court system, he had to quit his job in order to run.
“I had to put my two weeks notice in, and I couldn’t afford to do it any earlier,” Brown said. “I had to work as much as I could to afford as much as I could. I’ve been making $32,000 a year for the last five years. I didn’t have the funds to compete with Andy (Sylwestrowicz) or Ms. Fajman.”
As a former election supervisor for the county, Fajman doesn’t buy that.
“People filing at the last minute are there to play a game. If you were a legitimate candidate, you would have filed on the first day or the first week. That’s the way it’s always been and the way it always will be.”
At the time he filed, Brown requested that his name appear on the ballot as Mike Brown, and signed his name as Mike Brown.
Six days later, Brown filed his statement of organization for “Citizens for Mike Brown,” listing himself, Michael Bryant Brown, chairman. He signed his name on the form as Michael B. Brown.
On April 27, Brown filed his preprimary campaign finance report under his full name, listing his nickname as Mike, under the signature Michael Brown
Brown’s campaign finance report lists one donation, one expense, and one loan.
The donation of $1,000 came from attorney Adrian Guzman of Lake Station. The whole amount went to pay Quality Impressions printers of Crown Point for yard signs and fliers. Brown himself made a $100 loan to his own committee.
Brown said he met Guzman when they both worked in the courts.
“He was a prosecutor in the prosecutor’s office,” Brown said. “I met when him when I was 21. He’s a private attorney now. I consider him a real good friend, and I got to witness him professionally in court for several years. He’s always prepared, and he’s always been honest to me. He took a chance on me and campaigned hard for me.”
Guzman could not be immediately reached for comment.
Fajman contends it was the backing of another former deputy prosecutor that put Brown in the race.
“I believe it was Roy Dominguez,” she said, referring to the former Lake County sheriff who lost in his bid to unseat 2nd District Commissioner Gerry Scheub on Tuesday. “The only places you could find Brown signs were right next to Roy’s. They want to deny it, but it’s my opinion.”
Brown doesn’t deny that he knows or respects Dominguez. In fact he’s the first to admit the connection.
“Almost 10 years ago, when I was 18, I dated Roy Dominguez’s daughter,” Brown said. “Through that association from years past, everyone assumes he put me in the race. He didn’t His daughter, she’s married now. Out of respect for them I didn’t want to impose.”
Dominguez also said he had nothing to do with the campaign, although he’s not surprised his name has been attached.
“No, I had no connection,” Dominguez said. “Mike Brown is his own man.
“They blamed me for John Garcia running against George Van Til. They blamed me for Estelle (Ramirez-)Montalvo, and that I threw in Darren Washington. I learned a long time ago that you can never control what others say.”
Fajman said she doesn’t have any recourse other than to finish the job she started.
“I will continue to run the office like I always have for the next six months … and we move on,” she said. “I know there’s better things out there for me. (Mike Brown) is a sham candidate, but he needs to get out there and prove he can do what’s right. Hopefully he get out there and show his face for once.
Democratic Party Chairman McDermott backed Fajman, his No. 2 in the party, and said it was hard to see his friend lose to a combination of low turnout, poor ballot placement in a five-way race, constant attacks from those candidates and a deceitful campaign on Brown’s part.
“I feel bad for her,” he said. “She’s a really great person, and she did a great job as recorder. That’s what should matter, but it doesn’t. You haven’t seen the last of her. I know Michelle. She’s tough.”
And while he doesn’t approve of the “old-school” strategy Brown apparently employed, McDermott said his position requires him to put that aside and back the candidate in the general election.
“That’s my job as chairman,” he said. “I have to keep the train moving forward. It’s happened before that a candidate that I backed got beat, but I have to be the leader. I have to show everyone how it’s done. If I lose it, we lose the whole party.
“I absolutely think he deceived the public. No doubt about it. He didn’t campaign actively. He used the same exact design that Mike Brown, the real Mike Brown, used. He deceived the voters. In my opinion his strategy was lay low. It worked. What can you say?”
As for the “real” Mike Brown, over in the clerk’s office, he won’t be waiting in line to congratulate candidate Brown on the victory.
After running successful campaigns for recorder in 2004 and 2008, he was picked by the party to fill a vacancy in the clerk’s office, to which he said he is now dedicated.
“One of the problems with county government versus city government, we have term limitations,” said Clerk Mike Brown, 54, of Gary. “I didn’t want people thinking I was running for the recorder’s office after running for the clerk.
“My intention is to run in 2014 as the clerk and nothing else. I’ve been saying that. I do not have ambitions to go in another direction. I am very disappointed that someone, anyone, voted for Mike Brown and thought it was me. I’m sorry it happened.”
Fielding that kind of negative feedback on the first day of a general election campaign might be enough to send some folks into hiding. In candidate Mike Brown’s case, he said it’s time to get out more.
“I’m going to take this opportunity to get out in Lake County and show myself,” he said. “I want to do what’s best for the Democratic party and show that we’re bonded and united. I’d like to thank the voters for trusting in me. I promise I won’t disappoint them. They elected a public servant, not a self servant.”