City Paper is not for tourists
District law specifically prohibits the city from buying or leasing sport utility vehicles—except for security or public safety reasons—raising more questions (if that’s possible) about the pricey Lincoln Navigators the city leased for Council Chairman Kwame “Fully Loaded” Brown.
The council passed the “Government Sport Utility Vehicle Purchasing Amendment Act of 2002” in, well, 2002. It became law on March 25, 2003. It’s now D.C. Code 50-203, in case you were wondering.
As you can see from the text, it’s pretty clear legislation: “Except for security, emergency, rescue or armored vehicles, all passenger automobiles … purchased or leased by the District government shall have an Environmental Protection Agency estimated miles per gallon average of not less than 22 miles per gallon, and shall not be a sports utility vehicle.” (Lincoln, by the way, says on its website that Navigators get 14 mpg in the city and 20 mpg on the highway.)
Former at-large Councilmember Carol Schwartz sponsored the legislation, reportedly because she was concerned about the growing numbers of gas-guzzling SUVs the city was purchasing. (Schwartz was also behind raising taxes and fees on privately owned luxury SUVs in 2004, citing their outsized contributions to air pollution and street damage.)
But it looks as if this law has been ignored for a long time—long before Brown got his Navigators. LL’s only been on the scene a short time, and doesn’t know much about the rides of D.C. government big wigs going back the last decade. But LL does know that former Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee had a chauffeured SUV (and presumes interim Chancellor Kaya Henderson has the same) and is pretty sure City Administrator Allen Lew has access to an SUV. Also, Mayor Vince Gray, when he was chairman, drove a city-owned Chevy Tahoe SUV on occasion. And former Mayor Adrian Fenty had both a city-funded Navigator and a more efficiency-friendly SmartCar (which the D.C. government still owns, and it sits forlornly on the side of the Wilson Building).
So it looks like the Department of Public Works, which is responsible for the city’s fleet, has been ignoring District law for a while. LL has reached out to DPW spokeswoman Linda Grant and will update as needed. If it is indeed true that the DPW hasn’t been following the law, it’ll be more unwelcome news for longtime DPW Director William Howland. Howland had a direct hand in acquiring the luxury rides for Brown.
The mayor, you’re no doubt aware by now, is currently chauffeured in a pricey Navigator. That contract goes through the police department, so LL supposes that there’s a case to be made that it’s a permissible lease because of security reasons. (Though, when LL first started reporting in 2006 and was chasing Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley around the windy city, Daley was chauffeured in a town car. Just sayin’. No word on what new Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel will drive; probably something with lots of weapons on the roof.)
But for Brown, the security excuse won’t fly, because the SUV was clearly optional. Back when LL first broke the news of the price of the Navigators’ leases, Brown’s office said he was given a choice between a town car or an SUV. Brown said he wanted an SUV. And the rest, as they say, is history.