Kwame Brown Must Resign
The revelation that Brown has put the District on the hook for two luxury SUVs costing over $3,700 per month is a betrayal of voters, destroys his credibility to cut DC's budget, and makes him a poster child for Congressional Republicans. The best thing he can do for the City is resign.
While this may be stepping a bit further outside the parenting field than I normally do, it is an issue that affects all DC families. Moreover, what good is a megaphone if you don't use it? To cut to the chase, DC Council Chairman Kwame Brown must resign.
As reported by the Washington Post's Mike Debonis, as Chairman-elect, Brown requested that the City provide him a "Fully Loaded" 2011 Lincoln Navigator L with a black exterior and black interior. A Navigator was procured at a leased cost of $1,769 per month. However, Brown rejected the truck due to its gray interior and lack of a rear entertainment system.
A second Navigator L was then obtained, this one including the rear entertainment system, at a monthly lease cost of $1,963. This one also lacked the required black interior, but did include other options such as a GPS, power moonroof, and 20-inch polished aluminum wheels. The city remained on the hook for the original Navigator, so Brown's leases are now costing taxpayers $3,732 a month. Meanwhile, Brown's purview as Council Chair includes cutting DC's budget to account for a $400 million shortfall.
It is not clear exactly how involved Brown was in the leasing decisions. He has said that he wasn't aware of the cost. But, this is a bit of a "Catch-22". Either Brown is guilty of financial mismanagement if he did know about the leases, or he is guilty of mismanagement, period, if he didn't know. No political leader worth his salt would overlook the negative symbolism of leasing two expensive vehicles in this economic climate. Brown looks bad either way.
There are a number of other issues here. Brown was elected despite a history of personal financial mismanagement. As the Washington City Paper's Alan Suderman reported, "Brown is up to his eyeballs in debt after a prolonged spending spree—that records and recent published accounts show included boats, luxury cars, and a Harley Davidson motorcycle—and wound up being sued by three credit card companies for more than $50,000." Voters, myself included, gave Brown the benefit of the doubt that he had learned from his personal mistakes and would not treat the City's finances in a similar manner. Brown has let us down and betrayed our trust.
Next, the city is facing huge budget shortfalls. Programs will be cut, city employees are being furloughed, we all will be asked to tighten our belts and make do with less. Is a guy with two luxury SUVs really the guy to lead this effort? I think not. Brown has destroyed his credibility regarding the budget. He is no longer in a position to lead a budget cutting effort, let alone an initiative to raise taxes.
Finally, this story is grist for the mill as far as the Republican-controlled House of Representatives is concerned. Even posters in the DCUM Forums are pouncing on this episode as an example of why DC cannot rule itself. As Republicans throw all notions of local rule out the window in their quest to remake DC in their own image, Brown will be the poster child justifying every move. Medical marijuana? You can't have that if you can't even control binge SUV leasing. Needle exchange? How about an SUV exchange? School vouchers? Well, Brown supports those so I guess he's safe there (how about vouchers for Navigators?). I'm sure it wasn't his goal, but Brown has just become the next Marion Barry.
Conversely, a Brown resignation will show the doubters that a cavalier attitude toward the City's finances is no longer acceptable. It will show a level of accountability that was never seen in the administration of former Mayor Adrian M. Fenty. It will show those jumping on this story to say "we told you so" that while they may have been right about Brown, they were wrong about DC. Brown's resigning would make lemonade from lemons.
I don't doubt Brown's love for this city. It's because of that love that he must step down. He has let down those who voted for him, he cannot credibly lead the budget cutting that is necessary, and he will be used as a symbol of all that is wrong with DC by the opponents of home rule. Brown is a young man. He needs to spend some time in the wilderness. He will be able to come back, wiser, more mature, and better prepared to work -- as I know he wants to -- to make DC great. I know that Brown wants to help DC. He can do that best by stepping down.