Kwame Brown

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At the Peter Nickles confirmation vote yesterday, At-Large Councilmember Kwame R. Brown said not a word as his colleagues debated, and when roll-call time came, he voted “present” on two votes on the matter.

LL, at the time, called him a “wuss.”

Later that evening, LL caught Brown on his cell phone and asked him to explain himself. Here’s the conversation:

Brown: I think [Nickles] is qualified. The question is, the tactics that he uses to avoid having people come down to the council is something that was very problematic, and I wouldn’t have voted absolutely no. I had a long conversation with Peter. He assured me that, you know, that as we subpoena and as we ask the witnesses that he would make sure that we have access to all the information that we need. I said, “Peter, I’m not gonna vote for you just because you told me that today. so I can’t commit to vote for you. But I do need a commitment from you that, as we move forward, if you are nominated and you have enough votes to actually be nominated, that we can count on a different environment, as I need to get information from the executive that meets the law.” And he committed to do that.

LL: All of your colleagues made these nuanced points, as well, and they voted one way or another.

Brown: Well, they made their nuances. Phil said he wasn’t qualified. I don’t think that I agree that he’s not qualified. Someone else said that, you know, they didn’t like that fact some of this is about baseball tickets. To me, this is not about baseball tickets. This is not about anything. This is the mayor’s nominee that he sent down and the question becomes, you know, is he a hindrance to how I do my job? Because all I’m here to do—-not to like people, not to get along with people, but to do the will of the people.

LL: What was your answer to that?

Brown: That I absolutely would get the information that I need and, to be quite honest with you, the last two months, I’ve been getting more information out of the deputy mayor’s shop because Peter has said, “Give Kwame the information.”

LL: So why not vote yes?

Brown: Because just because you did something one time doesn’t necessarily mean that you have my ultimate confidence that the relations will continue to happen. But I told you, I had the conversation with Peter today, and my conversation I had with Peter today was about subpoenas. Because that’s the issue I have, around subpoenas. When the council subpoenas someone, I expect that that is upheld and not put on the back burner or ignored or say that you don’t have to come. To me that was the ultimate reason why I would have voted no. That was my biggest concern, because to me that is wrong, and I can’t do my job if I don’t have the information.

LL: OK.

Brown: And the only power we have is subpoena power. Now once he agreed that that would not happen again, and that he would look to make sure that if subpoenaed, we have all the information we need to make a decision, then that looks like, OK. But that doesn’t mean I’m gonna vote yes for you. So I mean, you could have said, ‘No, he’s not qualified,’ but I disagree with that. I could have said, ‘Yes, he’s the best thing since sliced bread.’ Well, i disagree with that, too.

LL: Well, I would just point out that all of your colleagues has nuanced positions where they saw good points and bad points and what they did is they put their feelings on the record at the council meeting. And you didn’t say a word about anything, then you voted present.

Brown: Well, once again, that’s where I am. That’s the reason why I did it. I’ve got a statement going out, so everyone will have exactly what it is and where I am on it.

LL: You had how many people vote for you on Nov. 4?

Brown: 148,000. [LL note: It was actually 171,318.]

LL: 148,000 voted for you on Nov. 4….People voted for you so you’d take a stand on matters such as this.

Brown: What do you mean, ‘take a stand’? I think I did. I think I did take a stand.

LL: You didn’t take a stand! You didn’t vote!

Brown: I mean, just like we have a president-elect who made many present votes, this was not a vote about—-you know, people wanted to make this about the mayor and the council. This was about a nominee. A nominee that either they should be nominated or they shouldn’t be nominated. That’s what this was about. And, you know, people had other issues that they were trying to deal with. I think it’s responsible not to dive into the, you know—-Do you like the mayor? Agree with the mayor or not? I thought it was responsible to look at the man and his qualifications and what he’s done. The issues that you have that would cause you to vote no—-[that you would] address those issues with him are reasons why you wouldn’t vote no against him to see if they would be addressed or be improved in the future and, to be quite honest with you, that’s what we normally do on most nominations I have had. I have a hearing, the nominee comes by and sees you if you if you have problems. You tell him exactly what your issues are, but they’re the mayor’s person and you want to support them, and here’s the issues you have. They commit to you that they would work on those issues and make them a priority of theirs and then you don’t even have a long discussion on the dais. This was just different because there seems to be a frenzy around the mayor and Peter Nickles. But outside of that, it’s just a normal nomination process like you’d have the director of DPW or the deputy mayor of economic development. This is how it’s normally done. Now this one was one that was just like some sort of showdown and everybody wanted to see who was gonna buck the mayor and all this other stuff. But I tried to look past that, to look at what’s on the table and why would I vote no, and is that going to be addressed?

Photo by Darrow Montgomery