Our content is reader supported. Things you buy through links on our site may earn us a commission
Skip to content Skip to sidebar Skip to footer

The Good Fight

Before running for the Maryland House of Delegates in 2006, I was proposed an offer by a legislator from a different state. He suggested that in exchange for sleeping with him ten times, he would give me his seat.

Otherwise, I would have to work for about a decade before I was able to campaign for myself. This happened fifteen years ago and his estimation of the waiting time was conservative.

Following this, I journeyed to New Hampshire to work for Jerry Brown’s presidential campaign, being only qualified as I owned an American car and was willing to accept room and board

. On the first day, my shift began at six in the morning and ended late at night, when another member of the staff came into my room, smoked a joint and spoke about the tasks for the next day.

I chose to quit after three days, relocated to my mother’s home and finally read Ulysses.

In Maryland, each House district is represented by three delegates and this district, situated just above the northern tip of the District of Columbia, is one of the most liberal in the US.

Multimember districts were used in the British parliament for a long time as a measure of protection, which is why the two incumbent delegates in my district were running as a “slate”.

The contest for the third of each voter’s three votes was going to be between me and several other challengers.

ReDefeat Bush was the most popular bumper sticker two years ago and now it has changed to Impeach Him.

As the Democratic voters outnumber the Republicans by more than two to one, the winners of the Democratic primary in September were guaranteed a win in the November election.

Despite my lack of experience and connections, I was nonetheless a weak candidate for the election.

I had been living in the region for only four years and my neighbours were strangers to me; plus, I was not very sociable and would rather read a book than hand out business cards.

(I had been instructed by the legislator who offered me his seat in exchange for sex to fill a shoe box with cards before running for office.) I had gone long periods of time without a phone and only got email in the late twentieth century.

I had misaligned teeth and my right eye would wander when I looked left. I had no religious affiliation, would mumble something about a “oneness of all people and things” if pushed to state my religion.

I had a two-year-old son and I wanted to dedicate an hour each day of campaigning to taking him swimming.

(Oliver was determined in the pool, no matter how high the water level was.)

It was estimated that I needed to raise about $80,000 to run a viable campaign, yet I couldn’t accept corporate or PAC contributions, even from liberal PACs, due to my history as the director of a government watchdog group.

I was also not willing to spend our savings to try and win a job that only paid $43,500 a year.

I was not in the best of shape, but no one had to know this.

I was mentioned in the paper and had appeared on TV multiple times, which may have come across as impressive despite not seeing any clips of me slouching and rolling my eye back.

My step-grandmother had a stake in the New York Times, and in my meetings with the Sierra Club and other organizations.

I could throw out the implication that I had a large amount of money, contacts, and a major supporter if I climbed up the ladder to a spot in Congress.

I am tall and good-looking in the right environment, and the best part of knocking on thousands of doors while canvassing was that I could meet people face-to-face without having to stoop, slouch, or crane my neck.

I chose to run in the election because the other challengers were not seeming to be as strong.

Calvin, a member of the town council who had recently switched to Democrat, gave a monotonous performance at the first debate. Frank, a lawyer, was absent from the debate and was therefore eliminated from consideration

. David, the son of a retiring state senator, attended political events with his girlfriend, boasting of living in the district for nearly two decades. Mona, an advocate for better sex education in public schools, was a burly fifty-year-old woman.

When I shook her hand and felt her strong fingers, I remembered that she had formerly been a man, and was in the running to become the first transgender state lawmaker.

At an event for the AFL-CIO, she spoke loudly about anal sex. When we met for a second time, she nearly kissed me on the lips before planting a kiss on my cheek.

Ken was a 26-year-old corporate lawyer with bright red hair, and his last name being near the end of the alphabet made it challenging for him to be elected in the liberal district.

Additionally, his law firm had defended Bernie Ebbers of WorldCom who had been convicted, and Ken himself specialized in corporate fraud defense.

However, his campaign website included letters of support from the Sierra Club and NARAL, even though they may not have been aware of his other work.

Additionally, he had done pro bono work and volunteered his time for those same groups, seemingly unaware or ignoring his non-pro-bono work for corporate America.

I was feeling pretty good, as it was unreal to me that I had been working in Annapolis to reveal corporate misdoings and government wrongdoings.

I had gone after bigger offenders before, like instigating an FBI investigation into political contributions from a racetrack proprietor to the senate president.

And uncovering the fact that a delegate from my area was employed by a PR agency that represented many pharmaceutical companies while chairing the House committee on health care legislation. I knew I could take on Ken anytime.

His surname was not brilliant, and the brown lawn signs I considered using were not attractive and hard to spot.

Ken’s surname was complicated to recall and it would be listed beneath mine on the ballot, which reminded me of Nabokov’s assessment of a person’s name being “a madhouse of consonants.”

Ken called and urged me not to enter the race. He mentioned the need for campaign finance reform and guaranteed that he would be a defender of the public against corporate misconduct.

I despised him more with every word, but not wanting to get into an argument, I told him I thought he could be a brilliant delegate and I wished him luck

Subsequently, Ken’s mentor, a delegate from the local teachers’ union, asked me to refrain from running and took me to breakfast.

Recalling the advice my grandfather had given me when I first started working in Annapolis (“You’re not a lawyer and don’t know what you’re doing, so just be confident as hell”),

I told the mentor that I was the only competitor in the race with knowledge of state government, the only one with a strong relationship with the Washington Post, and that I was guaranteed to win.

The mentor’s eyes widened when I said I’d leave my job to campaign full-time. Two weeks later, the Post published an article about my campaign–making me the only rival so honored–on the same day Ken was officially backed by the teachers. Had he been their lawyer, too? I had once been a teacher but they may have been more impressed by Ken’s commitment to spend tens of thousands of his own money to win the race.

Without a guru and no one whom I particularly liked or trusted to serve as my campaign manager, I, a Democrat who had little faith in other Democrats, eventually hired my former assistant, Aryah

. He was a twenty-six year-old with the same “I love it because I hate it” approach to politics. Aryah’s first task was to follow me around as I went to people’s doors to ask for their vote, then poke fun at my performance.

I was clearly anxious, spoke too quickly, and felt embarrassed to even ask for an email address. Aryah’s response was to encourage me by pointing out how I was trying to help others by speaking about the benefits of electing James Browning.

His words provided me with enough confidence to start believing in this “Browning guy” myself.

This was further solidified when I approached a woman whose house faced a prominent intersection and she revealed to me she had been a lobbyist for AT&T.

Rather than being taken aback, I used the opportunity to highlight how AT&T had been prevented from entering the Maryland telecom market due to the unfair practices of Verizon and Comcast. This resonated with her, and she even asked me for a sign to put up.

I once hiked 500 miles on the Appalachian Trail from New Jersey to New Hampshire. The scariest part of the journey was the fear of encountering a bear or a snake.

On the other hand, when campaigning, my biggest worry was getting hit by a car or being bitten by a dog. The hike was made easier with a water purifier to make murky water safe to drink

. On the campaign trail, I was frequently offered bottled water but made the mistake of accepting an orange soda with a little red umbrella, only to realize that it made me look ridiculous.

Both experiences gave me a masochistic pleasure, as I enjoyed the challenge of walking for days in the sun if it produced a unique memory.

Eventually, visiting door-to-door became my favorite part of the day, much more than having to dial for donations or argue with the graphic designers I hired, who sometimes seemed to struggle with understanding language.

On my journey from the east of the district and Ken’s trek from the west, it took a month before we crossed paths.

Everywhere I looked, I saw purple flyers and Post-it notes with his handwriting that promised that, with hard work, he would gain your vote.

Although some of them were signed by his father or his fiancée, a few of the voters were not fooled and expressed their displeasure at being told that Ken lived with his “girlfriend”.

At this time, I was the candidate with a wife and a toddler on my flyer and I began to hope that the non-believer would win the family-values vote.

Voters said they had a lot of good candidates who all had a similar stance. All of them advocated for environmental protection, health care access, and a Purple Line to connect our region to Prince George’s County.

This new transportation system would be beneficial since our region has some of the worst air quality and traffic in the country.

The existing Metro system allows a government worker to travel between the suburbs and the capital in thirty minutes, compared to the ninety minutes it would take the same maid if she were to take the bus.

Each candidate had their own version of the Purple Line, but Ken’s proposal was underground and too expensive to build. My plan was more cost-effective and would run next to a hiker-biker trail, which angered some people since it would need to cut down several thousand trees and seize several homes.

When they asked what would happen to the trees, my response was that the collective good should outweigh the good of the few, even if that meant impacting some of the wealthiest and politically influential citizens in the district.

Living in close proximity to the hiker-biker trail, the woman in charge of making endorsements for the local Sierra Club chapter had endorsed Ken, and I needed to try and persuade the voters that the Sierra Club was in fact against the Purple Line.

And thus, against air pollution. In a manner of speaking that was similar to George Orwell’s “doublespeak”, Ken’s proposal to address the region’s transportation issues was to “support increased transportation funding for roads”

And, being the endorsed candidate of the Sierra Club, he would “crack down on sprawl and uncontrolled development in Montgomery County”.

In essence, the Sierra Club was backing a candidate whose law firm defended polluters, who was against the Purple Line, and who opposed the Sierra Club’s own plan to limit sprawl by pushing forward with more road construction.

I was not interested in engaging in negative campaigning; I saw myself as a white knight in the race, and I didn’t want to compromise my relationship with Ken.

Additionally, his own mailings were not doing him any favors; for example, one resembled an interview with a Playboy centerfold, which was dubbed “the worst thing I’ve ever seen” by the campaign manager of one of my county councilmen. Therefore, I opted to stay on my horse and keep the race clean.

Politics can be viewed as a show business for the unappealing, and state politics is like a performance for those who can’t retain their dialogue.

There is an understood secret in Annapolis and other state capitals that many legislators have earpieces through which aides, who have read and understood related legislation, inform them of what to say in the House or Senate.

I was aware of how even the most unqualified candidate in Annapolis can become a powerful figure, so I was still determining when and how to outwit Ken a month before the primary when I encountered Frank, a lawyer who had not attended the first debate.

He was short and blond, with a big, Clinton-like head and a deep voice, although he had no prior experience in this field and was yet to obtain any influential endorsements. His red, white, and blue signs were scattered across the district, but they do not vote.

When Frank asked me how much money I had raised, I answered “about forty,” mostly from my family, as he had accumulated more than $117,000.

Then, the following week Ken had reported collecting $119,000, two thirds of it from himself. At that point, there was no point in targeting him as it could result in a loss of votes and the race would be handed to the well-funded Frank.

Additionally, Mona had raised almost $100,000, most of it from herself, so I was up against three contenders spending double what I had.

I saw a chance to come out on top–win the debate and earn the backing of the Post, trusting the savvy citizens of Montgomery County to make the best choice.

Years ago, I had gone to Portland, Oregon, and wasted my earnings from hustling pool on video poker.

During my campaign, I had made a lot of mistakes and foolish statements in speeches and in the media, understanding that people are usually looking for something to chuckle about.

At the last debate, Frank and Ken said they were good people with great plans. I declared that my two-year-old had started asking for money for my campaign and got the only real laugh of the evening.

I was triumphant in the debate, yet failed to win over the crowd after it because I was chuckling with some of my followers while Frank appeared to shake every hand in the room

Ken quickly left, shooting me a helpless glance like a bald pooch that had been kicked in the stomach.

I took a half day away from my campaign to celebrate my birthday. To mark the occasion, my wife and I went to a Mexican restaurant for lunch, then had sex in a parking garage.

I was just about to proclaim that this was the best birthday I had ever had, when I realized I might be punished for this statement – possibly by losing the campaign.

Therefore, my wife decided to come door-to-door with me for the first time that summer, and she was a better spokesperson than I was.

That night, she informed me that she might be pregnant. Sure enough, the test results came back positive, and we were expecting a second child.

We had talked about having another, but not this quickly and not while I was away from home so much.

Our son Oliver had been saying no to me at bedtime for two months, and even tried to close the door on me when I came home during the day.

Now that we were expecting another, I really needed to win the campaign – otherwise, we would have two children with no income. My wife then said: “Now you really have to win.”

I had no other option than to knock on people’s doors from four to eight hours a day and spend the remainder of my time responding to calls and requests for donations.

I noticed that Ken and Frank were continuously sending mailings, and I encountered their paid canvassers in various locations.

I was warned that it takes multiple “touches” for people to be aware of the candidate’s name, but I had the financial means to do only four mailings.

Ken had many resources such as robocalls, family, paid canvassers, mailings, and apple-shaped postcards that I was aware of, which exceeded fifteen.

There was an article published by The Post featuring Mona and her transition from male to female, and I started to fear that I would also lose to her.

I had nearly completed my list of 6,000 houses when I reached the green town house in Rockville that faced a bustling intersection.

I had hoped something interesting would occur, but the man just shook his head and shut the door in my face.

With seven days left until the primary, I returned to Chevy Chase, where the loudest part of my Purple Line campaign would be.

An elderly woman opened the door and said, “I was going to vote for you until I received your letter saying you were dropping out of the race.” I was taken aback. I asked if she still had the letter, and she welcomed me into her living room full of scattered papers. I got on my hands and knees and searched for the bogus letter from myself.

I wondered who had sent out the letter and how many other people had received it

. We never found the letter, and the woman may have been confused (though it’s common for elderly voters to receive fraudulent mailings and notifications such as “Don’t forget to vote on Wednesday,” when the election is actually on Tuesday).

Did this shady ploy cost me the election?

The Post showed their support for myself, Frank, and one of the incumbents from Oklahoma who was the mayor of Chevy Chase.

People who had been disregarding me all summer reached out to help and became a part of my upcoming victory. Frank and I discussed what we would do when we won.

The irony of the situation was that my platform was centered around campaign finance reform while I was running against two of the most financed challengers in Maryland

. To make matters worse, on the morning of election day I got a call informing me that the electronic voting machines were down and people were not able to vote

. Consequently, numerous people went home without being able to cast their ballot and some had to write their choices on scraps of paper to hand over to the election judges.

The cards required to activate the machines were delivered by mid-morning, but the turnout stayed low for the rest of the day.

The highlight of the campaign for me was taking Oliver to the polling stations, then switching off my phone and heading to the park.

I had already done all the hand shaking, smiling, and talking that I could. The idea of being unemployed and having a second baby on the way made me want to give up, although Ken kept going by calling my neighbour at 3pm to ask for their vote.

The comparison between us was that while I was chasing my son around the playground, he was still actively campaigning.

Additionally, all my staff and volunteers were handing out pictures of our family, telling people to vote for me, while the teachers had the day off to work the polls, asking people who they had endorsed.

Ken ended up in third place, followed by Frank, Mona, and myself in sixth. I could scarcely believe my bad luck and asked myself what else I needed to do to win other than strive for a successful career and be an active contributor to society.

It didn’t take me long to get my answer. Two weeks after the primary, my father-in-law received a call from the FBI, informing him that his retirement fund of three hundred thousand dollars had been misappropriated by his financial advisor.

Ken’s firm specialized in defending financial planners charged with fraud and mismanagement.

Had I known of this loss ahead of time, perhaps I would have taken his candidacy more seriously. It was a mistake that many book-smart, street-dumb Democrats make; being right isn’t enough to win an election if you don’t have the resources to let people know you’re right.

Running for office had shown the public my flaws–all the forced grins, feeble attempts at jokes, and inability to stand my ground–but it had also caused chaos in our home.

Ants had infiltrated our kitchen and car, and an unsettling sight occurred when I turned on the shower: ants were swarming up the wall. My shoes had all worn out, our phone was off due to lack of payment, the television was malfunctioning, and our internet was disconnected at the same time for different reasons.

I had been reading books for amusement and was not in a rush to get the phone line reconnected, as I was not keen on hearing from people who were calling to persuade me to run once more.

Around two months in, my partner and I experienced a miscarriage four weeks after her primary. I felt guilty for having made her go through the rigors of the campaign while carrying a baby. If it hadn’t been for our son Oliver, I likely would have stayed in bed for days.

He would repeatedly request snacks, get out of his crib, and tell me that “someone broke the tracks” when he had scattered his train set around the room.

My response would be, “No, you are accountable for the destruction of the tracks, so we will make sure to fix them.”

I have altered the monikers of my adversaries.

Might Interest You

One of the most common ways to ward off plagiarism is to alter the structure of the text without changing the content.

This can be accomplished by rewording sentences and replacing certain words to keep the meaning intact. Additionally, it is important to maintain the markdown formatting for the sake of clarity and readability.

Leave a Comment