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Who’s ready for some awkward symbolism in a city that’s considering slashing services and raising taxes to bridge a $600 million budget deficit?

How about this fact: The District’s two top elected officials are cruising around in Lincoln Navigators that cost taxpayers nearly $2,000 a month to lease, each.

Ta-da!

To be precise, Mayor Vince Gray‘s 2010 Lincoln Navigator costs $1,941 a month, according to a contract requested from the Department of Public Works. The SUV is leased by the “executive protection unit” of the police department. The contract describes the ride as “fully loaded,” with a leather interior, navigational and entertainment systems, and a “power tailgate.” The lease is for one year, with the option for two additional years. According to a footnote in the contract, the lease payments would drop to a more reasonable rate of $782 a month the second year, and $671 a year by the third. Navigators appear to be official mayoral vehicle of the District; former Mayor Adrian Fenty used to commute from his home to the Wilson Building in one, while using his Smartcar to get around once at work.

Council Chairman Kwame Brown, meanwhile, drives a 2011 Lincoln Navigator that costs $1,963.28 a month. Brown’s contract does not mention whether his ride is “fully loaded,” but LL hopes it is, based on what he’s paying. Brown’s contract also appears to show the monthly rate decreasing greatly after the first year.

Taxpayers also paid an extra $1,600 fee to expedite the delivery of Brown’s Navigator. DPW spokeswoman Linda Grant says her agency ordered the vehicle late and “wanted to have it here in time for the swearing-in ceremony.” LL is sure all D.C. taxpayers are pleased to pay their share of that $1,600 fee to make sure Brown could ride in style from day one.

Grant didn’t have an immediate answer as to why the contracts are so expensive. LL tried playing around on the Internet, but couldn’t manage to convince anyone to lease him a car for anywhere near as much as the city’s paying. The most expensive rate he found was about $1,200 a month on a 24-month lease. That would still cost less, over two years, than the leases DPW sent over. Also, in the category of ‘just sayin’: In the contracts Grant sent LL, it appears the city leases Chevy Malibus for $210 a month.

Brown’s spokesman Traci Hughes says the chairman was “appalled” at the cost of the Navigator’s lease, when he was informed by Hughes as she sought comment after LL inquired about it. The Wilson Building rumor mill was working overtime last week, saying Brown had requested an SUV that looked exactly like the mayor’s. Hughes says that’s not true. Brown was only asked if he wanted a town car or an SUV, she says, and he replied that he wanted a black SUV with a black interior. Hughes says Brown has just received his own copy of the contract and is trying to determine if it would be more expensive in the long run to back out of the deal, or just swallow the cost.

A spokeswoman for Gray says she’s checking to see what his office thinks of his high-priced ride.

Close followers of city politics may recall that Brown owns his own (or did as of last summer) 2003 Lincoln Navigator. “I like cars. There’s no question that Kwame likes cars … I try to get the best value I can for the dollar I spend on my car,” Brown told Post reporter Mike DeBonis in a piece focused on the sad state of Brown’s personal finances.

Even closer followers may remember that when Gray was chairman he, at least initially, didn’t use the city-funded car provided for him. LL knows that Gray occasionally drove (and once almost hit LL with) a black Chevy Tahoe SUV as chairman, which according to DPW, costs $1,025 a month. Grant says the lease on the Tahoe is over, and the car is “in the process” of being returned.

As of Friday morning, though, it was still parked outside the Wilson Building. Does that mean District taxpayers are still paying for it? And if so, why couldn’t Brown just drive the Tahoe to save the $1,600 fee for expedited delivery of the Navigator? LL is still working on solving those and other mysteries. Stay tuned.

Update: In contrast to Brown, no one seems to be appalled on Team Gray. Behold, the slightly tone-deaf statement from Gray’s spokeswoman Doxie McCoy:

The current monthly lease agreement for the SUV is $1,941.00, which is the government rate and not a consumer rate. The selection and procurement for the Mayor’s vehicle rest strictly with MPD.  Incidentally, according to MPD, this vehicle is comparable to the vehicles used by Mayors Fenty and Williams.

Photo by Alan Suderman