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Rejected D.C. politicians tend to lie low.
Two of the 2004 election losers, former Ward 7 Councilmember Kevin Chavous and former Ward 8 Councilmember Sandy Allen, haven’t been seen around the John A.Wilson Building for some time.
But a couple of months ago, LL spotted former At-Large Councilmember Harold Brazil strolling the halls of his old political playground. Brazil told LL that he had no official business there; he was “just reminiscing.”
Brazil’s nostalgia has now gotten the better of him. He says he is “seriously considering” running for the Ward 6 D.C. Council seat if Councilmember Sharon Ambrose retires.
Brazil should spare himself the embarrassment.
His 2004 re-election campaign ended in a first-class ass-stomping by a virtual unknown —At-Large Councilmember Kwame Brown. Another challenger, then-24-year-old Sam Brooks, beat Brazil in Wards 2 and 3. Brazil was crushed despite a huge fundraising advantage, the strong support of the business community, and the endorsement of the city’s political establishment.
Former D.C. Council Chairman Sterling Tucker has witnessed his share of political defeats and counseled some former colleagues after the fall. He was surprised to hear Brazil’s name in the mix for 2006. “You can lose and still be a winner in the public’s eye,” Tucker says. “[Brazil] left with the public’s view as one who has lost his energy and his focus. Unless he’s been active in Ward 6, one might still think that.”
Ward 6 activists say they haven’t seen or heard much from Brazil lately.
That said, D.C. politics aren’t the same without Brazil. Who else can be counted on to ramble from the dais for five minutes without pulling together a single coherent thought? Even when he was a lame duck, his hambone antics cut the tension as the council seemed ready to explode over the late-2004 stadium debate. Brazil’s confident stride into the chamber wearing a fancy lawyer’s suit, a goofy smile, and a red Nationals cap was always good for a laugh. During one session, he even brought a baseball bat.
No one has stepped up to replace Brazil in his role as the council’s unwitting court jester.
But if District politicos are in need of a chuckle, Brazil is forever at the ready. Here are the reasons cited by Brazil for plotting a Ward 6 try.
•Ward 6 needs a strong successor to Ambrose.
“If she stays in there, fine. Then we’re having good representation,” Brazil says. But if Ambrose retires, “[T]here will be a vacuum of leadership.”
“Vacuum” is one of those words Brazil should avoid. His 2004 defeat signaled that voters had finally figured out what political insiders had known for some time: The charming and dynamic politician of the ’90s had become an empty suit. His campaign banter was characterized by such vacuous statements such as “Ain’t we doing good?” and “We’ve had some great times, haven’t we?”
When he chaired the Committee on Economic Development, Brazil mostly carried water for Mayor Anthony A. Williams—a tactic that was rewarded with a 2004 endorsement from the mayor. After an event where the mayor backed Brazil, the candidate was asked about the arguments he would use to stop the growing momentum for his challenger Brown. Said Brazil: “The voters are smart. They’ll flirt around at the dance, but they’re going to leave with the one that brung them.” Brazil’s argument that his “leadership” was key to the city’s economic revival never worked with voters.
•Ward 6 needs someone who doesn’t need the job.
Brazil always took the part-time aspect of being a councilmember seriously. His June 10, 2005, outside-income report shows he earned $150,000 from his personal-injury law practice during the previous year, up from the $55,000 he reported in 2004, when he was running for re-election. Brazil says the slip-and-fall business is still a cash cow. “It’s going well,” he says. “It’s not an issue of money for me.” And he says a $92,520 council salary is no big payday for a big-time lawyer. “Maybe it was 20 years ago, but it is not a lot of money these days.” Winning election to the council would yield only a measly 62 percent raise.
Note to Harold: Most of the people in Ward 6 still consider $92,520 a pretty good part-time gig.
•A council that could experience a lot of turnover in 2006 needs a steadying influence.
“You need both the infusion of new blood and ideas, and you need some stability and experience. You need a balance,” Brazil says. “I guess that potential calling is what made me look at the race.”
With at least five councilmembers running for higher office and one likely retirement, Brazil sees himself as a vital link to the good old days. The council could be radically reshaped after the 2006 election, and Brazil believes a potentially large group of newcomers needs someone with institutional memory to help lead the way.
Maybe he can find some trick to resurrect the Brazil of the ’90s.
When Brazil first won election to the Ward 6 council seat in 1990, he was viewed as a welcome change to a body dominated by veterans of the civil-rights movement. He became one of the council’s “young Turks,” the handle given to Brazil, Ward 2’s Jack Evans, and Chavous. Brazil was a headline-grabbing conservative then, who argued that the District’s days of political graft and unbridled spending had to end.
Brazil puts himself in a different league from the candidates vying to replace Ambrose. Namely, D.C. school-board member Tommy Wells and former D.C. Council staffer Keith Perry. Coca-Cola executive Curtis Etherly is also expected to run.
In an echo of his failed re-election bid, Brazil says none of them can match his proven record. “If I ran, I believe I could supply the high level of leadership,” he says.
•He can show the Washington Post who runs this town.
“I had a formidable foe in the Washington Post,” Brazil says. “Hopefully, they’ve inflicted enough damage that they won’t do that again.”
In 2004, the Post highlighted efforts by Brazil loyalists to get a former aide a job in the Williams administration. According to the Post account, Brazil backers thought it was important to move Aimee Occhetti out of the office because of her close personal relationship with the councilmember. Both Brazil and Occhetti denied the report.
The Post also reported that Brazil asked staff members to do legal work for him. The D.C. Office of Campaign Finance (OCF) investigated and found no wrongdoing. “They raised it, and then when the [OCF] vindicated me it was kind of hard to find it in the paper,” Brazil says.
Somehow, Brazil expects voters, and potential opponents, to forget all of that.
There’s always the theory that Brazil is considering the race just to see his name in the papers. He wouldn’t be the first former D.C. politico to gain some satisfaction in just being mentioned as a candidate. Maybe Brazil should consult with former D.C. Councilmember Bill Lightfoot, who spent years making the local newscasts by suggesting that he might run for mayor.
“I think my name is well-known enough that I don’t necessarily need to do that,” Brazil says.
In his case, name recognition might just be a disadvantage. Brazil failed miserably in his home base of Ward 6 in the 2004 race, carrying only 3 of 17 precincts. Overall, he was outpolled by 10 percent in the ward he hopes to represent. For most candidates, that would be enough to call it quits.
Not Brazil: “I’m talking to past supporters, some people who know me, neighbors,” he says. “And they are encouraging me to run.”
Brazil’s actual performance as a candidate and as a councilmember seems to be a minor consideration in his decision. His prime motivation for mounting a political comeback and serving the people of Ward 6 is too solid to challenge with facts.
“If it is in your blood,” he says, “it’s hard to get out.”
At 10 p.m. on Sept. 1, from a front porch in Columbia Heights, LL saw what looked like the first official act of D.C. Council Chairman Linda Cropp’s mayoral campaign. Two young men placed yard signs near the road that read “Piensen Cropp,” Spanish for “Think Cropp.” Daylight revealed that English versions of the sign were all over town, including among the shrubs at the John A. Wilson Building.
The guy planting the signs in tree boxes was neither a Cropp supporter nor connected to her mayoral campaign. “I’m just looking to make some extra cash,” he said.
That’s a good thing, because the signs’ disclaimer revealed that they were the work of a political action committee (PAC) called Think D.C. Coordination between a candidate and a PAC is a no-no under the city’s campaign laws.
The PAC was formed Aug. 19 by political consultant Maurice Daniel, former chief of staff for Democratic U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush of Chicago. Daniel also served as former Vice President Al Gore’s political director. He is now a political consultant who runs a direct-mail firm.
Daniel says he bought a home in the District three years ago and has admired Cropp’s work from afar. “I don’t think I’ve ever had a conversation with her,” he says.
He says “Think Cropp” is intended to make voters consider D.C.’s recent success and contemplate the importance of the 2006 election. “We’re saying, ‘Think about it.’ We’re saying, ‘Think Cropp.’ She has the experience, the background, and the vision to be an effective leader,” Daniel says. “The point is to have deep consideration about who our future leaders are going to be, not just the flavor of the month or what is popular.”
Daniel says those comments are not in any way a jab at Cropp’s most visible rival—Ward 4 Councilmember Adrian Fenty.
“This has nothing to do with any other candidate,” Daniel says. “It is just a tease.” Fenty had no comment on the signs, and Cropp did not return calls seeking comment. A Cropp campaign aide says the chairman was not aware of the Think D.C. PAC.
Daniel says the PAC is considering putting the “Think” in front of other candidates as the 2006 election season nears. “This is not just about Linda Cropp,” he says.—James Jones
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