Council Chairman Kwame “Fully Loaded” Brown‘s standing among his colleagues appears to be pretty low these days. Navigatorgate obviously battered Brown’s image with the public, but it appears it’s also emboldened councilmembers to treat their leader like junior high students treat substitute teachers.
There’s talk at the Wilson Building that Brown just doesn’t have, and likely never will have after Navigatorgate, the level of respect councilmembers had for Mayor Vince Gray when he was chairman. Gray may be neck deep in his own problems right about now, but there was a general consensus that he was pretty good at holding the council together at his old gig.
The heartburn over Brown’s leadership could be the kind of idle talk that comes whenever a new boss takes over, or it could be true, and Brown’s at risk of losing control.
Rule of three, show us the way:
1) Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells held a hearing last week on SUV procurement that thrust Brown’s Navigator problems back into the news. LL hears Brown was downright pissed at Wells’ decision to have a hearing, which lead to unflattering news stories about Brown’s brief affair with luxury SUVs potentially costing the city upwards of $30,000. At the hearing, Wells took shots at Brown with references to “leaders” whose actions have undermined “the confidence of city’s residents and beyond.” Then Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans piled on, talking about how he wouldn’t be “caught dead” in a taxpayer-funded ride. Were Gray still the chairman, there probably still would have been a hearing, but the tone might have been much softer. (Not to mention, would Gray have ordered up a fully loaded SUV as chairman?)
2) Two days before Wells’ hearing, during a legislative meeting, Ward 5 Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr. and Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham had a spat in public view on the council dais. The topic: setting a date for a hearing that would allow a new craft brewery in Thomas’ ward to offer tastings when it opens this summer. LL don’t know how such a routine administrative matter wound up being fodder for an embarrassing cat fight, but it did, with Thomas threatening to force a vote on emergency legislation unless Graham set a specific date for a hearing.
“I would ask that you withdraw this,” Graham said of Thomas’ legislation after Graham promised to hold a hearing in early April.
“I would ask for a date certain, please,” said Thomas.
“I don’t have a date,” Graham replied.
“We can help, we can take a two minute delay and you can get me … I mean I’m serious about this. This affects the ability of a business to survive in the District of Columbia. And if that’s the case then I’ll just have my colleagues vote it up or down,” said Thomas.
A few moments later, an exasperated Graham said: “Why are you hammering away at this in this way,” When Thomas tried to interrupt, Graham cried: “Let me finish!”
To which Thomas replied: “Oh, I’m gonna let you finish.”
Yikes. LL heard that when their microphones were off, Graham and Thomas engaged in an even more heated exchanged that involved several naughty words.
Did this kind of exchanges happen when Gray was chairman? LL confesses to not having finished watching every archived hearing from the Chairman Gray era, but it did seem like Graham and Thomas cared not one iota for how bad their row made Brown look as chairman. It’s hard to imagine they would have acted the same way when Gray was leading the council.
3) After Wells’ hearing, interim at-large Councilmember Sekou Biddle‘s campaign released a statement calling on Brown to reimburse the city for the full cost of the Navigatorgate imbroglio. Brown has offered to reimburse the city for his use of the car, but is resisting paying back the full costs. Biddle, who is currently on the council thanks in no small part to Brown’s efforts, is obviously trying to assert his own independence, and his actions should be viewed through the appropriate political lens. But it’s telling that Biddle thought the rewards of bashing one of his political patrons outweighed whatever ire was sure to come his way from the chairman’s office.
LL has a call into Brown and will update as needed.
One final note: it doesn’t look like there’s too many bright spots in Brown’s near future. Brown’s already acknowledged that a looming Office of Campaign Finance report on his 2008 campaign’s finances is likely to hold more bad news for him. And there’s a very real prospect of Biddle being replaced by Vincent Orange or Pat Mara, both of whom would make Brown’s efforts at creating a harmonious council a lot more difficult.