City Paper is not for tourists
Like most of the D.C. political world, LL went from giving Sulaimon Brown almost no attention to giving him way too much.
Brown’s story arc is by now familiar: He went from a joke of a mayoral candidate to a local semi-celebrity, after accusing Mayor Vince Gray of improperly plying him with cash and job promises during the election.
The apex of Brown’s popularity came Monday, when he held court for several contentious hours before a D.C. Council committee that’s investigating the various hiring screw-ups of the early days of the Gray administration.
Ever mindful of the massive media attention he was to receive, Brown wore sunglasses and refused to take them off, saying he had stayed up late preparing for his testimony and didn’t want the press to snap pictures of his tired eyes. (Sure enough, a giant photo of Brown’s mug and sunglasses made the front of The Washington Post’s Metro section on Tuesday.) The glasses, along with Brown’s belligerent behavior—which included calling two councilmembers “delusional,” one “racist,” and the mayor a “crook”—led many to speculate that Brown was on drugs. (LL told Brown this after the hearing, and he took off his glasses to show that he was not, indeed, high.)
That kind of shtick, paradoxically, strengthens the case that Brown must have been promised a job, as he says. Otherwise, who would hire such a man?
But antics aside, Brown’s testimony failed to produce any new proof of his allegations. That leaves plenty of circumstantial evidence of potential wrongdoing by Gray’s campaign aides, but nothing that presents a real threat to the mayor.
And that means Brown’s time in the spotlight is likely coming to a rapid end. Unless the feds or Congress unexpectedly take his allegations against the mayor seriously, Brown’s moment of glory seems to have passed, and he’ll likely soon fade back into obscurity.
And that’s a good thing.
Of all the characters in District politics, Brown ranks up there as one of the most bizarre. At times mild-mannered, good humored, and reasonable, Brown is also an attention hound who has delusions of grandeur, seems mildly paranoid, has trouble with the truth, and most importantly, has consistently proven himself to be his own worst enemy.
It’s clear from watching Brown this last year or so that the last thing the man needs is more attention. Give him a platform with lots of TV cameras nearby, and the bad Sulaimon comes out. Talk to him one-on-one, and he approaches something close to normal.
So let’s be happy for Brown that the days of his mug appearing in newspapers are likely coming to an end. But let’s also take one final moment to recap his strange career.
Brown’s name first shows up in the archives in a 2006 Post story about former Mayor Adrian Fenty’s first campaign, which foreshadows the drama Brown would have with Gray.
The 2006 version of Brown is described as a “disgruntled” former Fenty campaign volunteer who filed a complaint with the Office of Campaign Finance after noticing that Fenty’s campaign filings didn’t add up.
“Brown acknowledged that he quit the campaign after Fenty treated him ‘with arrogance and disrespect,’ insisting that he accompany Fenty to a campaign event even though Brown had a chest cold,” the story says, adding that Brown was also upset at not getting a paid position in Fenty’s campaign.
Fast forward a few years, and Brown is one of the first to announce his intention to challenge Fenty’s re-election bid. But Brown had a hard time being taken seriously. Cherita Whiting, who by a stroke of fate just happened to be the other witness at Monday’s hearing, tells the story of Brown being a pest at Gray’s November 2009 birthday party. Whiting says she showed up with her father, go-go legend Chuck Brown, when Sulaimon Brown ran up to give Chuck his card.
“I told Sulaimon my daddy’s here for Vincent Gray,” says Whiting. “I snatched the card out of my dad’s hand and threw it on the ground.”
Brown, who spent most of his time as a candidate showing up at debates to bash Fenty, would have similar luck getting the attention of the media during the race—that is, until he yelled at LL.
Brown had tried to crash the last debate between Fenty and Gray in Georgetown a week before the election. He sat at the candidates’ table and refused to leave until organizers threatened to call the police. After the debate, Brown chastised LL for disparaging his chance of winning, before getting into a Mercedes with Maryland plates and driving away.
LL ran the plates and found the Mercedes was registered to Brown, who also had a Maryland driver’s license. When LL asked about the car and license, Brown swore up and down they weren’t his. LL’s subsequent blog post about Brown’s license and car was the most media attention Brown got the whole race. He wound up getting only 209 votes, the fewest of any candidate and 39 less than “write-in.”
(In the subsequent council investigation, it came out that Brown listed his Maryland driver’s license on a background check form. When LL teased Brown on Monday, asking if he’d like to revise his statement on his driver’s license, Brown laughed, then said, “No, I plead the fifth. Just joking.”)
After the primary, Brown all but disappeared. Until February, when the Post reported that he had a $110,000-a-year job as a health-care finance auditor. That led to all kinds of questions from reporters. The mayor said Brown was qualified for the position.
Not 24 hours later, Brown was fired and had to be escorted out of his office by police, setting off a media frenzy. When Gray called an impromptu news conference, Brown crashed it and tearfully told reporters an article by LL had contributed to his ouster, a view Brown still holds today. (It turns out, according to testimony from Brown’s former bosses, that Brown was dismissed for harassing female co-workers.)
So LL figured he and Brown would no longer be on speaking terms. But a few weeks after being fired, then leveling his explosive allegations in the Post and becoming a media sensation, Brown apologized to LL for his September outburst, and he’s been in semi-regular contact since.
LL even arranged to buy Brown a drink after his testimony Monday. But just as they were leaving the Wilson Building, Brown, pleading fatigue, begged off. So LL and Brown hung out outside for a bit, relieving the past year, while some well-wishers shook hands with Brown. One told him he believed every “goddam word” Brown had said during his testimony.
When LL asked what Brown’s plans for the future include, Brown said: “Get back on the horse, keep riding.”
Good luck cowboy, and so long.
Thomas says he’s innocent. If the allegations are true, however, Thomas’ political career is most likely kaput. But he wouldn’t be the only one with some explaining to do.
The A.G.’s civil suit against Thomas also makes the D.C. Child & Youth Investment Trust Corporation—a non-profit set up by the city to administer grants for kids’ programs—look absolutely incompetent at managing District funds.
According to the suit, Thomas’ scheme went like this: He set aside $400,000 in 2007 for the CYITC “for youth baseball programs.” The complaint says he then directed CYITC to give the money to the Langston 21, a non-profit, which according to its website is “designed to provide accessible and affordable modern golf facilities and programs.” (LL is no Tiger Woods, but he’s pretty sure golf and baseball are different sports.) Thomas had Langston 21 put $316,000 of that money into two bank accounts he controlled, the suit says. He used $60,000 of the money to buy an Audi, allegedly.
But it’s hard to imagine Thomas would have been able to get away with those alleged shenanigans if anyone at CYITC had been paying close attention.
The lawsuit has quite a few clues that Thomas and Langston 21 were connected.
For one, all of Langston 21’s paperwork came directly from Thomas’ office. Thomas’ staff would also email CYITC questions about payments of the grant money on Langston’s behalf.
For another, the lawsuit says one of the allegedly bogus invoices Thomas sent CYITC had “HLT/LSDBE” listed as an equipment supplier. “HLT Development” is one of the names of Thomas’ for-profit corporation, and HLT are Thomas’ initials. HLT Development, by the way, won about $225,000 between 2004 and 2006 from the parks department for running the same kind of programs Langston 21 told CYITC it was doing.
Also, simple addition would have shown that something was hinky with Langston 21’s records. According to the lawsuit, one invoice listed nine items that Langston 21 said it was buying in support of their youth programs, for a total of $60,000 on the nose. The list includes 70 travel bags for a total of $3,500, and 300 “training cards” for a total of $2,985, among other items. The problem is, if you add up each individual item, the total is only $58,472.50. Later, Thomas’ staff would send over another invoice for Langston’s expenditures that they said totaled $100,000, but when you add up each item, the total is $109,200. CYITC apparently paid the money without asking questions.
CYITC’s president and CEO, Ellen London, did not respond to a request for comment.
As the legal battle against Thomas continues, councilmembers will likely be deciding just how much exposure they should risk to his increasingly toxic political brand. While they’re at it, they should probably take a hard look at the CYITC as well.
Got a tip for LL? Send suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Or call (202) 650-6951.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery