For the GOP, not all mayoral elections bring good news

RNC chairman Ken Mehlman is pushing hard for the African-American vote. Developments in a North Carolina race aren't going to help.

Published September 27, 2005 2:41PM (EDT)

Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman, focused on a high-profile effort to woo African-American voters back to the GOP, must have been heartened by the headline in the New York Times yesterday: "Black Voters, No Longer a Bloc, Are Up for Grabs in Mayor's Race." The story was about the New York mayoral election on Nov. 8, and it did indeed carry promising news for Republicans: Polls show that black voters may vote in significant numbers to reelect Republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

But 500 miles to the south, there's evidence to suggest that Republicans hoping to win over African-American voters still have a long road ahead of them: Although Mehlman is working to recruit more African-American candidates around the country, a Republican running in the mayor's race in Durham, N.C., probably isn't exactly the sort of guy he has in mind.

As the News & Observer reported over the weekend, mayoral candidate Vincent Brown "has a long criminal history that includes felony convictions for forgery and a stretch in state prison." According to the paper, "A criminal records search turned up more than 100 charges over the past 15 years that matched Brown's name, current and prior addresses, and the two birth dates he has used. Most of the charges he has faced are misdemeanors: writing worthless checks, simple assault, fraud, trespassing, providing fictitious information to a police officer, possessing a weapon on school grounds, violating probation, failing to pay income tax, and driving while impaired." Over the years, the paper says, Brown has pleaded guilty to 46 misdemeanor charges.

When the paper interviewed Brown last week, he showed up driving a late-model pickup, "though criminal records indicate his driver's license was permanently revoked in 1992 after he pleaded guilty to driving while impaired." When a reporter showed Brown documents that seemed to indicate he had been charged with a felony count of promoting the prostitution of a minor, Brown said, "That's not me. I don't know who that is. This is wrong ... There are so many Vincent Browns." According to the paper, Brown "then said the charges shouldn't matter anyway, because they were dismissed -- information not included on the documents he was shown. Asked how he knew the charges had been dismissed if he was not the Vincent Brown who had been arrested, Brown paused; then he laid out a scenario in which he was a victim of mistaken identity and had to hire a lawyer to help set the record straight. He reiterated that he had never been arrested."

The assistant Durham district attorney who handled the prostitution case -- which was, in fact, dropped after the victim's family decided not to pursue it -- confirmed for the paper that it had the right Vincent Brown.

Brown is running for office on a strong anticrime platform and has stressed the importance of "sound discipline, good father, church family." His message has had some appeal in Durham, but as more revelations surface, some of his supporters are jumping ship. The head of the local GOP says that he's reserving judgment. "We didn't ask him to run. He came to us," Steve Monks, the local Republican Party chairman, told the News & Observer. "Politics can play a role in the prosecution of individuals [by the Durham D.A.] ... and a story in the newspaper, even a reasonably well-researched one, does not constitute proof."

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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