While the mayor’s race grabs most of the attention, the undercard on D.C.’s Democratic primary ballot is turning into a war of attrition. The victor in the council chair race may turn out to be the contender who seems less undesirable, not more worthy, come Sept. 14.
Early frontrunner Kwame Brown has been blindsided by his own history. Earlier this month, NBC4’s Tom Sherwood broke the news that Brown owes more than $50,000 in overdue payments, late fees and attorney costs on three credit cards. Brown conceded to Sherwood that he and his wife had been “living beyond our means.” Sherwood wrote that the “revelation shook even supporters of the two-term council member,” leading some to ask, “Is that all there is? Will the debt disclosure prompt other revelations of financial woes?”
That other shoe didn’t take long to drop. Soon after Sherwood’s scoop, the Washington Post reported that Brown’s personal debt exceeds $700,000, according to the man himself. Brown has a Cadillac, a big house in Hillcrest, and a 38-foot powerboat called “Bullet Proof” – a name quickly becoming ironic. Until recently, he also owned a Mercedes Benz. New Washington City Paper Loose Lips columnist Alan Suderman mused that if the Canyonero, the ridiculously oversized SUV on “The Simpsons,” actually existed, Brown would probably own one.
Brown also “still owes money to the State of Maryland from traffic offenses in the early 90s,” DCist’s Dave Stroup writes, and the pile of bad news creates “some real questions whose hard answers could result in a Vincent Orange upset.”
A cynic would say that obscene overspending and a cavalier attitude about debt could be part of the job description for a council chair, but Brown’s rival Vincent Orange -- a businessman and accountant -- is trying to make an issue of it. So far, he’s gotten little traction.
Orange campaign chairman Kevin Chavous has asked the D.C. Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Washington Board of Trade to reconsider their Brown endorsements but has been rebuffed. Board of Trade chief Jim Dinegar told the Washington Business Journal, “The endorsement holds.” The Board could reconsider, but for now, Dinegar is standing by his man, even going so far as to say Brown’s “candor and honesty was refreshing.”
Suderman writes that many voters may not care about Brown’s debts. While “some at the Wilson Building [are] spooked at the prospect of his taking charge of the city’s $5.2 billion budget at a time when the city’s finances are on shaky ground,” Brown “got an almost rock-star like greeting” at a Ward 8 event the day after the Post story, and “when he answered a question about his financial problems by talking about his accomplishments on the council and saying he probably spent ‘too much’ time working to improve communities, Team Kwame gave him a 30-second long ovation.”
Orange, meanwhile, has problems of his own. Last month, he lost campaign spokeswoman Linda Greene, and after the Brown story broke, Orange finance chairman George Lowe quit the campaign. In a message to Brown and other top campaign insiders, Lowe wrote, “I no longer feel comfortable with the negative tenor of this campaign and will not be a part of such.” Orange countered by saying his campaign was “absolutely not negative. Our campaign is factual.”
(Orange has, in fact, released a 12-page “Orange Plan", but as the Post’s Ann Marimow writes, it is “less of a plan than a vision for the city and a recitation of his resume and accomplishments during two terms on the council” – and what he does offer is largely a regurgitation of the themes of his 2006 mayoral campaign, which got him just three percent of the primary vote.)
Two other candidates, Dorothy Douglas and Calvin Gurley, are also in the race, but are seen as long shots.
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