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When former At-Large Councilmember Harold Brazil suffered a crushing defeat in the 2004 primary, most political observers figured that would be his last plebiscite. As it turns out, Brazil won a poll last fall that few people noticed. The directors of Bethesda-based Eagle Bancorp Inc. elected him to serve on the EagleBank governing board.
The bank’s leadership was not deterred by the opinion of D.C. voters. Brazil won only three precincts in his Ward 6 home base in 2004. He was stomped by a virtual unknown, Kwame Brown, and outpolled by then 24-year-old Sam Brooks in Wards 2 and 3.
The lingering images of Councilmember Brazil are his performances as the John A. Wilson Building’s unofficial court jester. A few examples from his waning moments: Harold strutting into the room sporting a red Nationals cap; Harold swinging a bat in the council chamber; Harold making a rambling speech about baseball.
EagleBank’s Sept. 30 announcement of Brazil’s appointment presents an almost unrecognizable portrait of the dismissed pol. It is as if the council’s deposed clown was an unqualified success who left the chamber with something more than a personalized commemorative glass bowl.
The release cited Brazil’s “impressive legal and legislative background.” Eagle Bancorp Chair and President Ronald Paul’s statement gushed with pride: “We are honored to have Harold Brazil on our Board,” Paul wrote. “We are fortunate to add this prestigious and outstanding community leader to our energetic and valuable Board of Directors.”
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EagleBank stockholder and Ward 6 activist John Capozzi thinks somebody at the company was snookered by Brazil’s confident flair and fancy business suits. “As a stockholder, I am outraged by this statement,” Capozzi says. “When they use the word ‘prestigious,’ I consider this as someone who is held in high regard by a majority of the people in the community and by businesses in the Washington community.” Capozzi says the results of the 2004 primary and the thought of a sometimes incoherent Brazil moving from the council dais to the boardroom “doesn’t exactly build investor confidence.”
But adding a former politician with a business-heavy Rolodex to a board makes sense to Lewis Sosnowik, a vice president at Koonce Securities in Bethesda who owns EagleBank stock and has been touting the stock to his clients. “He’s a very well-known political figure in the District of Columbia,” says Sosnowik. “Harold is a great catch.”
Electoral humiliation is a nonfactor in Sosnowik’s view. “Your connections for the last 20 years do not evaporate with the loss of an election.” His advice on EagleBank stock: “Buy! Buy! Buy!” On the day the company announced Brazil’s appointment, EagleBank’s stock shot up 5.4 percent.
With two relatively new D.C. branches, Sosnowik says, it was time for the bank to boost the number of District leaders on its board. Brazil is a perfect fit if the bank plans to market itself as a small, hometown operation. During his council home stretch, Brazil could never resist putting on a corny down-home accent and aw-shucks country-lawyer act.
And what bank could resist a guy who won the support of D.C.’s business community by doing its bidding? In his final years on the council, during which he chaired the Committee on Economic Development, Brazil was a virtual rubber stamp for the city’s development and business interests. In theory, he could convince some of his business pals to drop a few deposits on an EagleBank teller. At least then the wealthy elite who helped build Brazil’s 2004 campaign war chest to $650,000 could then withdraw their money—with interest.
EagleBank’s investment in Brazil’s expertise figures to be more modest than that of his spendthrift political backers. He’ll get $200 for each board meeting and committee meeting he attends, according to a company official.
Brazil did not return calls seeking comment.
On the morning of Jan. 28, visitors to the D.C. government building at One Judiciary Square were greeted by a disturbing sign plastered on the front door. A Day-Glo orange Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) placard read: “DANGER: THIS STRUCTURE, EQUIPMENT AND/OR SYSTEM IS UNSAFE AND ITS OCCUPANCY AND/OR USE IS PROHIBITED.” Right next to that warning, a similar orange “STOP WORK” sign greeted the weekend crowd.
The signs were posted by DCRA elevator inspector Audrick Payne. He stopped by the city office for a scheduled inspection of updated elevator fire-alarm systems. The Office of Property Management (OPM) had requested a weekend visit.
The shut-down was a no-brainer for Payne. When he arrived, he asked building personnel to produce the permits issued for the fire-alarm upgrades. No permits were on the premises, so Payne could not conduct a proper inspection. He says that, technically, that made the building unsafe, so he posted the signs and issued $60,000 in fines.
The signs stayed up for just a few minutes. Within a half-hour, according to Payne, OPM officials got in touch with his supervisor, Sidney Lester, who authorized the removal of the warnings.
Lester refused to comment, but DCRA spokesperson Linda Argo calls Payne’s building shutdown out of line. “The violation notice was appropriate,” Argo says. “A danger sign or a stop-work order was not. There was no work going on.” She says Lester overruled Payne when he learned that the violation did not present any immediate danger.
Payne sticks by his actions, saying he isn’t “one of those let-it-slide” inspectors. A May 21 DCRA violation issued by Payne documents that One Judiciary Square was long overdue for routine inspections. “If we don’t have a permit that includes plans showing the contractor was following national fire-safety standards, I won’t sign off on it,” he says.
A self-described agency whistle-blower, Payne knows only one way to play things: “I go by the book,” he says. “The electricians never had drawings and never had a permit. All they did is walk in the building with the new devices and start installing them.”
Brushes with DCRA higher-ups are nothing new to Payne. “‘Payne in the ass’ is what they call me,” he says. He’s also an American Federation of Government Employees Local 2725 shop steward, and thus, he says, there is little risk of his being canned.
Payne knows most inspectors would have looked the other way and scheduled another inspection—especially for a city-government building. “A lot of them don’t have the balls to stand up or speak up,” he says.—James Jones
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