D.C. politicos react to Kwame Brown's SUV issues
The world now knows that city officials ordered D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown not one, but two "fully loaded" Lincoln Navigator SUVs, each costing the city upward of $2,000 a month. Since The Washington Post published the story of Brown's SUVs on Sunday, the autos have been the talk of city's political class -- especially the handful of candidates now running for the at-large council seat Brown vacated to assume the chairmanship.
Vincent Orange, who ran against Brown in the Democratic primary for the chairman's seat and is seeking the at-large seat, went on WTTG-TV on Monday to decry the purchase, telling reporter Karen Gray Houston that it was an "exercise of poor judgment." Democrat Bryan Weaver tweeted a link to the story, adding: "During a time of economic turmoil and $600 million shortfall, symbols matter. Republican Patrick Mara also tweeted today, calling on Brown to apologize and end the SUV leases.He added: "No one in DC gov't should be driving a luxury vehicle at taxpayers' expense. Gov't vehicles are for transportation, not showboating." Joshua Lopez, a Democrat, issued a new release today slamming Brown: "I wish Kwame Brown would spend more time making sure the city's budget is in the black, and not the interior of his Lincoln Navigator," he said in the release.
Democrat Sekou Biddle, who is running with Brown's endorsement, also spoke out, albeit in a more subdued manner, in an interview Tuesday. Biddle said he had spoken to Brown, who had said that he's "committed to getting the vehicles returned."
"What this whole story tells us is we have to do some looking and digging on how we spend money in the government," Biddle said. "We're going to be asking a lot of people to make sacrifices. ... We are going to need to make cuts ourselves."
Biddle acknowledged a personal lapse on Brown's part: "There's an error in judgment there. There's an error in setting clear expectations in managing our resources," he said. "From my conversations with the chairman, I know this type of thing will not happen again. That is the most important thing."
Brown's council colleagues have been still more subdued.
Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), who said she heard from several constituents about the leases, called the SUV revelations "very distressing" and said she spoke to Brown on Tuesday morning about the situation.
Cheh, who supported Brown's candidacy and serves as his hand-picked chairman pro tempore, declined to discuss their conversation. "I want him to be able to deal with the situation," she said. "It's gotta come from him."
But Cheh, like Biddle, said the episode highlights a need to examine city auto leasing costs. "I think we need to get out of these contracts, and I think it will make us look at what arrangements we have for cars generally," she said, adding that "there might be a silver living in all this" in prompting to council to "look at the whole process by which cars are secured."
Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7), a neighbor and political supporter of Brown's, seconded the need to review leasing rates but would not directly criticize Brown. "I would be more discriminating in checking the best price," she said, adding that Brown is entitled to a city vehicle, as his predecessors have been.
She declined to critique Brown for the fully loaded nature of his autos. "If the cost is within reason, I don't see anything wrong with it," she said. Asked about a staffer's request for options including a moon roof and an entertainment system, she demurred: "I better leave that one alone. ... Once I check some lease rates with some dealerships, I'll get back to you."
Brown's spokeswoman, Traci Hughes, said that Brown is in the process of reviewing the Navigator leases to see how feasible it might be to return the vehicles. (Brown has been aware of the high cost of one Navigator since January, when Washington City Paper reported on it.) Brown, she said, will make a statement after the review is complete.
Photo by Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post
| February 22, 2011; 1:07 PM ET
Categories: Kwame Brown, The District
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