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Perhaps you’ve heard: D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown has a sweet ride—and you’re paying for it.
Earlier this year, LL reported that Brown and Mayor Vince Gray, having apparently decided that change begins in the motor pool, had both secured new official vehicles for themselves. The lease for Gray’s Lincoln Navigator would cost taxpayers $1,941 a month. Brown, apparently unwilling to settle for the lowly Chevy Tahoe that had carried Gray when he was council chairman, secured a Navigator for $1,963 per month. The damage is significantly more than many of the two men’s constituents pay for rent. More to the point, it was hundreds of dollars more than the highest price LL was able to find when he browsed available lease offers online.
At the time, a Brown spokeswoman duly reported that her boss—who will soon be meting out deep budget cuts to the cash-strapped city government—was “appalled” when he learned of the price.
That surprised pose was undercut yesterday when The Washington Post‘s Mike DeBonis published months’ worth of Navigatorgate correspondence obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. It turned out Brown’s minions had been pressuring city officials to bring them a car that was “fully loaded” with a moon roof and rear entertainment system, along with a specific black-on-black color scheme. The same city that will soon be cutting back on kids’ programs and other good causes, it turned out, had secured a second ride after the luxury-loving council chairman turned up his nose at an initial model that whose internal upholstery came in the wrong color.
Brown’s office tells Washington City Paper that “the chairman takes full responsibility” for the debacle. But what, exactly, does full responsibility entail? The willingness to have egg all over one’s face in public? That particular choice isn’t really up to Brown anymore. On the other hand, if he really wants to take responsibility, his next move is simple: Take out a checkbook and reimburse the city’s empty treasury for the cost of your automotive grandiosity.
The $24,000 cost for a single year of Brown’s spare Navigator is small potatoes compared to the council chairman’s $190,000 annual salary. For that matter, so is the $48,000 cost for a year of both the black-on-black Navigator Brown prefers and the unfashionable gray-on-black model the District is still leasing despite the Chairman’s declaration of its aesthetic unsuitability. But that money could still buy a lot: playground equipment, library books, a bunch of summer youth employment jobs. In fact, the cost of the two cars comes very close to adding up to the $48,715 that the Metropolitan Police Department—which may soon be shrinking its rolls thanks to the budget crunch—offers as a starting salary.
By writing a check to cover his boo-boo, Brown would offer an object lesson in real responsibility-taking on the part of a pol who claims to be serious about the budget. So, come on, Chairman Brown. Pay us back. And then enjoy your ride, entertainment system and all, guilt-free.