Michael D. Brown on the issues
My not-a-column today concerns Michael D. Brown, the shadow senator and at-large D.C. Council candidate who is being accused of trading on his name -- which he shares with a sitting at-large council member -- to earn a lead in the polls.
Brown is outspoken about statehood, but his views on other city issues are less well known. I wanted to know how the poll leader stood, and I spoke with Brown for about an hour Wednesday night. A lot of what he said couldn't make it in the paper.
So here's the less-abridged shadow senator:
On his political philosophy: "I'll always be an activist at heart. I'm a middle-of-the-road kind of liberal Democrat. I've been an institutional Democrat, very dedicated to the four principals of the Democratic Party."
On his local political idols: "If it doesn't sound too pretentious, Julius Hobson, Hilda Mason -- those people who stayed on the council but still could be activists, never lost their activist soul. I don't know if I have the character of a guy like Hobson who would walk into a department store and say, 'You're either going to hire African-Americans or I'm going to shut you down.' I'm not that strong. But I have their spirit but not their intestinal fortitude."
On his potential colleagues: "I think [David A. Catania (I-At Large)] does a good job. I think that, umm, uhh, I like, uhh, Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3). I think she's true to her core values. I've seen her take some tough positions, but she stands up for constituents. There's so many personalities I like. ... But, umm, uhh, I like Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7)."
On his annoyances with local government: "It's a country club. ... They don't allow enough input from citizens in the District. I think the whole buddy-buddy system, it's been a real awakening for me because I also worked in federal government. I always worked at the national level. ... There's way more corruption at the local level than there is on the federal level because it's easier."
Why he's running: "Because of all the media coverage I've gotten, I'm one of the most popular guys in D.C. ... I work really hard at being the statehood senator ... but I wasn't getting any support and I realized that statehood was something that needed the support of the city council and not just the rhetoric of the city council."
On his mayoral preference: "You know what? I don't know. It's such a tough thing for me. It's a personal thing. Fenty has stood in my way since I've been elected. He makes sure we don't get any money. He really doesn't support us. ... I know what Vince did [endorsing Mendelson] was a political move on his part. But I've supported him all along."
On the IMPACT teacher evaluations: "I've been calling it an educational Trojan Horse. They wrapped it in this lovely contract for teachers to get them to embrace it. And now they use a subjective tool to can people and there's not even any retraining and there's no recourse. You know, what is a 'master educator'? Isn't that incredible they've got these people that come in and watch you for a few minutes? I don't want to be judged by one political forum. I want you to see me in a bunch of 'em."
On what committee he'd like to chair: "Libraries and recreation, because I feel bad about what's happened to the library system in the District of Columbia. I think it's stupid to think that because we have computers we no longer need libraries and our kids no longer need direction. ... I have very passionate feelings about that."
On Michelle Rhee: "It's been a mixed bag. ... I don't think you fix a broken school system by doing things the same way. So I think she's made some bold moves. I think the teachers' contract is brilliant. ... If it were up to me -- I would extend her contract but I wouldn't make it long term. I think if she's going to judge the teachers on their performance, we have every right to judge her on her performance. And if it lags, we use the IMPACT tool on her."
On job training: "You've got Phelps [Vocational High School], but it's underutilized. So we need to get the unions in there. We need to work with unions. [Mendelson] talks about how the unions endorse him. Let's get the unions to endorse our education system. ... Let's get Phelps running full tilt boogie."
On electing an attorney general: "Why should he be a shill for the mayor? He should be elected. They're elected everywhere! Why should he be, you know, the mayor's lawyer? Let the mayor get another lawyer."
On the budget: "I think our whole financial crisis is a little overblown. If you look at us compared to other cities, we're in pretty good shape. ... I think some of the things that you have to cut ... you start with the frills. ... I hate to use the T-word, but you increase business taxes a little bit. You cut money from nonessential services, recreation. I hate to say that, too, but you got to do it."
On taxes: "I hate taxes. You know, I'm just like anybody else. I'm a working guy. ... I was a smoker for 25 years and I went and looked. I couldn't believe it was $7 for a pack of cigarettes in New York. How much more tax can we put on a pack of cigarettes? There's really not a whole more we can do."
On gay marriage: "I don't think it's going to last because I think Congress will overturn it at some point. I think these conservatives are already hitting at it. But I believe as a human being, I believe everybody's created equal. ... As a matter of public policy, I think when you have the highest rate of AIDS cases in America that it's irresponsible not to promote monogamy. ... Gay marriage is a way to do it."
On HIV/AIDS: "I'm the father of two young women, and I see my mother rolling over in her grave, but, you know, let's give out condoms. teach kids safe sex. I think Sarah Palin has proven that preaching abstinence to children does not work. It just doesn't. And so let's be mature about it."
On civil gang injunctions: "I don't believe you can violate people's civil rights. ... What's the difference between that and having a political meeting? Isn't that a fine line if you look back at the meetings that were in the '40s and the '50s, the labor meetings? Didn't they use laws like that to break up labor unions?"
On juvenile justice: "I think we have an obligation to incarcerate violent offenders. I think we have to be harsh with 'em. For lesser offenses, I think we need a system that recognizes that these are still children. What's the place that closed down? It's not coming to me .... Oak Hill. We can't go back to the Oak Hill days. That was a travesty."
On curfews: "I think curfews are great. I have three kids. They understand that the curfew is 11 o'clock. My daughter had three friends picked up and taken to the police station, 2D. Good kids, and that was the first and last time they broke curfew, because their mom had to get out of bed and drive down there and grab their little [butts] and bring 'em home."
On taxes and fees: "These little taxes, the soda tax, infuriates people. Who doesn't resent getting nickled and dimed? ... I hate it when I go to New York City on business and my hotel room's $199 and I check out and it's $365 because there's the $83 city tax and the $14 park-your-car tax ... People hate it, and it doesn't generate enough income."
On the bag tax: "It's almost amusing to see people in my neighborhood coming out of the grocery store to get into their BMW with their key clicker in their mouth because they're carrying their groceries because they don't want to pay the 5 cents. I think it annoys people. ... I do think it's working. I see people bring their bags to the grocery. ... It's like brushing your teeth. I don't like doing it, but I think you need to do it."
On automated traffic enforcement: "Red light cameras I like, speed cameras I like. ... I was in an ANC meeting ... and we had some guy come in and he goes, 'I got three tickets in one day. We have to do something about this.' I said, 'You know what, I've been driving four months with these cameras out there and I haven't gotten one ticket because I've figured out the trick.' He said, 'What's the trick?' And I said, 'The speed limit's 25 and if you don't go over 30, they don't give you a ticket."
On bike lanes: "I'm for bike lines. I'm a biker. I ride a bicycle and a Harley-Davidson. So I'm for getting cars off the street because, you know, my epitaph some day, I'm sure it's going to be 'she was on a cell phone in her minivan and she really didn't mean to kill him.'"
On parking: "It has amazed me. I have parked around town, and you know if you go someplace for an hour you have to have a pocketful of quarters. I can tell you this has annoyed voters. ... I don't think it inhibits people from parking on the street. I think it generates more revenue through parking tickets and that's it. I think it helps out bottom line, but I don't think it helps the traffic situation. I don't think people say, 'Well, I don't have the money so I'm gonna park in a garage.' ... I don't think it's freeing up any parking or making the streets any better."
On streetcars: "I'm a streetcar guy! ... I like streetcars. ... It was an economic boon for San Francisco when they got the refurbished cable cars and got them running again. ... We need green technologies. ... They hold three times as many people as a bus. They run on electricity."
On Metro reform: "I'm for trying to figure out how to get the Metro system running properly. I mean, God bless Michael [A.] Brown, but show up for a Metro board meeting. You know? ... Can we refer to him as the bald guy? Then they'd confuse him with Phil. We can't have any more confusion."
September 3, 2010; 12:30 PM ET
Categories: DCision 2010 , The District
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