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At-Large Councilmember Harold Brazil had reason to feel buoyed the final weeks before voters went to the polls Sept. 14: A poll commissioned by his campaign and conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research had Brazil with a nine-point lead over energetic challenger Kwame Brown. The survey of 498 D.C. residents likely to vote in the Democratic primary showed Brazil with 42 percent of the vote, Brown with 33 percent, and Sam Brooks with 5 percent.
“Brazil leads significantly among voters west of the Anacostia River, but he also holds a slight lead among voters east of the river,” reads a memo from Greenberg researcher Michael Bocian, from the poll conducted Aug. 18 and 19. The bill for this political forecasting hasn’t arrived yet, but the Brazil campaign expects the price tag to be approximately $10,000. Greenberg billed $24,750 for more extensive polling back in February.
Perhaps Brazil deserves a manufacturer’s rebate: The 14-year incumbent lost to Brown in all eight wards, west and east of the Anacostia River, by a 22-point margin overall.
LL’s no statistician, but that’s hardly within the 4.4 percent margin of error.
As it turns out, the Greenberg polling wasn’t the only high-priced miscalculation for Brazil. After blowing through a whopping $535,000 in contributions reported as of Sept. 6 for his re-election bid, the Brazil 2004 campaign is about $20,000 in the red, according to campaign sources.
Just how did Brazil turn into the Howard Dean of local politics—big spending and small returns? According to LL’s calculator, Brazil spent $27.45 per vote cast for him; Brown spent $4.19.
Raising large amounts of money early is a strategy often employed by local candidates to discourage electoral challenges. Ward 2’s Jack Evans and Ward 4’s Adrian M. Fenty both deflected any Democratic opposition by stockpiling more than a quarter-million dollars each in their campaign war chests.
Overflowing campaign coffers might be a deterrent to challengers, but they send the opposite signal to local political hustlers. Especially if the campaign has a vagabond campaign manager, few loyal supporters and volunteers, and a candidate who hasn’t seen the basketball court at a neighborhood rec center, in, well, four years.
That description works for Brazil’s ’04 debacle. And, come to think it, it also fits Mayor Anthony A. Williams’ re-election disaster of 2002.
By June 10, Brazil had collected nearly $400,000 for a race in which he faced two young newcomers with little cash. D.C.’s political opportunists lined up for the chance to shake the Brazil money tree:
•Former Williams counsel Max Brown, now president and CEO of strategic-communications firm Group 360, had billed Brazil a little over $45,000 by June 10, a point at which the at-large campaign hadn’t even really heated up. Brown’s invoices included $17,250 for “Web-site phase 1,2 & 3” and $6,000 for “consulting” during the last three months of 2003.
•Gino Gates of Gatescom Consulting had charged Brazil $15,000 for general consulting work by the same time. Gates had been brought in by local operative Joe Louis Ruffin Jr., who says he received a small cut of the Gatescom fees. Gates totaled $18,000 for the entire campaign.
•Julie Copeland of Copeland Research in Richmond, Va., had charged the Brazil campaign $2,500 for research by the June 10 filing. Copeland billed $8,822 in the end.
•Bob King, the local monarch of marshaling the senior vote, had billed Brazil $2,000 for that purpose before the first ice-cream social ever took place. King got paid $6,000 for his total effort.
LL could go on and on with the scores and scores of local “field operations” workers who all pulled a Cuba Gooding Jr. from Jerry Maguire: Show me the money. Who’s going to tack up signs or hand out literature at Metro stations gratis when there’s so much campaign cash to throw around?
Certainly no one who worked for Brazil.
As of Sept. 6, the last financial filing before the primary, Brown’s Group 360 had charged $104,423.54 to Brazil 2004. Brown says that figure includes consulting fees, as well as the cost of printing and postage for mailings. And there’s more to come, say those familiar with the campaign.
According to Brazil campaign insiders, Brown directed much of Brazil’s effort, including the search for a campaign manager. City-council campaigns don’t attract James Carville types. Either incumbents tap loyal staffers who agree to leave their council jobs for the summer months, or they rely on the political drifters who are available for a few months of work every other year or so. Early on in the campaign, Brazil relied on Ruffin, who had worked as his campaign manager for the 2000 election.
Ruffin didn’t stick around campaign HQ for too long, however. Among the few things he did was bring in another political consultant, Aisha C. Mills, who charged Brazil $10,000 for her work. An event Mills organized at Zola raised over $100,000 for the campaign, according to the Brazil campaign. “I was a fundraiser for him for one event,” Mills told LL earlier this summer.
So this spring, Brazil 2004 found itself without a full-time campaign manager. Brown brought in Darden Copeland, a 26-year-old with some experience running congressional campaigns but no local connections. Copeland’s entrance meant the exit for some consultants, such as Gates and Ruffin. Brown remained involved in the campaign strategy, communications, and mailings.
“We worked as part of a team on all aspects of the campaign,” says Brown.
All aspects, that is, including damage control: In June, the Washington Post published two front-page exposés attacking Brazil’s ethics.
Instead of responding to Post allegations that he misused his council staff, Brazil eventually went negative on his No. 1 challenger, an undertaking that included a big assist from consultant Brown.
According to those close to the campaign, Max Brown masterminded Brazil’s message, including two attack pieces on Kwame Brown mailed to voters in the final weeks. “He has NEVER cast a vote for ANY elected office in DC, and he only voted three times in Virginia,” reads a line in one of the mailings. Another piece of literature handed out late in the campaign connected Brown to Ward 8 council hopeful Mayor-for-Life Marion S. Barry Jr. The futility of the circulars attests to a cardinal rule of politicking: Negative ads driving at issues often prevail; negative ad hominem ads often fail.
Brazil’s lavish spending contrasts with the methods of the victor of the at-large race, Kwame Brown. Brown mostly relied upon the political know-how of consultants very close to him: his father and brother.
As of Sept. 6, father Marshall Brown had collected nearly $11,000. Brother Che Brown had billed a little more than $14,000 for payments and reimbursements. The Brown campaign also paid $4,400 to political consultant Cheryl Benton.
Otherwise, the Brown campaign seemed to rely on a few supervolunteers: Campaign spokesperson Kevin McGhaw, for example, never received a payment for his full-time work, according to Brown’s campaign-finance reports.
•In popular culture, Chinese intervention in American politics generally has bad implications: Think 1962’s Manchurian Candidate, in which the Communists plot to assassinate a U.S. presidential candidate.
So what underhanded plan is afoot now that the Chinese government is paying for Councilmember Brazil to visit?
On Oct. 14, Brazil and some of his council colleagues plan to travel to China courtesy of the new Hu Jintao government and Beijing Mayor Wang Qishan. According to a tentative list, other councilmembers on the Orient Express include Ward 2’s Evans, Ward 5’s Vincent B. Orange Sr., Ward 6’s Sharon Ambrose, and At-Large Councilmember David A. Catania. Chairman Linda W. Cropp decided not to go on the trip.
Mayor Williams, Department of Housing and Community Development Director Stanley Jackson, and Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Eric W. Price will also be in tow.
Mayor Williams certainly has been racking up the frequent-flier miles: Last week, Williams flew to Paris for the Mondial de l’Automobile, which, en anglais, is the Paris Auto Show. It was his second trip to the banks of the Seine this year.
Is he negotiating a Citroën plant on South Capitol Street, in case this whole baseball-stadium plan falls through?
According to the D.C. Office of the Secretary, the Asia trip is actually to renew the sister-city relationship between D.C. and Beijing, as well as between D.C. and Bangkok, Thailand. Twenty years ago, D.C. began its kinship with the Chinese capital. And 40 years ago, D.C. created a sister-city relationship with Bangkok. The Chinese government will pay for accommodations and other expenses while the D.C. delegates roam around China. The airfare for the delegation will be paid by the mayor’s office and the council.
The 10-day itinerary to Beijing, Shanghai, and Bangkok includes “government-to-government meetings,” “business sector meetings,” and other cultural exchanges. The memorandum of understanding between D.C. and Beijing includes provisions such as “[B]oth parties shall assist seminars to discuss the finance, design, and development of affordable houses and to examine different models of tenant or owner management of this housing.”
Has the luxury-condo boom hit the Chinese capital, too?
LL looks forward to the groundbreaking of Walter Washington Estates in Beijing soon.
•Politicos ousted from the governing body of the local Democratic party usually make as little noise leaving as they did coming. Not so A. Scott Bolden, the recently defeated chair of the Democratic State Committee. Instead of hitting the phones to solemnly thank supporters and commiserate, Bolden penned a 1,700-word parting proclamation titled “The 2004 Primary and the Future of the Democratic Party.”
The manifesto makes no secret of Bolden’s aspirations to someday govern the District of Columbia. “For those of you who have written my political obituary for 2006, I hope you consider rewriting your draft and go back over your analysis. These results will have no impact on any of my future political decisions,” wrote Bolden in a multipage letter to the city’s Democratic apparatchiks after his loss in the primary. “The democratic electorate knows of the phenomenal success of the Party over the last two years.”
Hmmm. Is that why the “democratic electorate” bounced not only Bolden but all of his cronies off the Democratic State Committee? Take a look at the results. Bolden ran as part of the Victory 2004 slate, which faced off against the Running Against Bush slate. Running Against Bush, a group vowing wholesale changes in how the party is run, wiped out Bolden’s Victory 2004 people in every seat they contested.
Most pundits would interpret those results as a rejection of Bolden’s leadership. Bolden’s multipage statement, however, offers a different explanation: “It is simply illogical and yet, this is politics and sometimes nothing makes sense.”
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