Opinion: Pressure Builds on Kwame Brown

D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown’s tenure has been tumultuous from nearly day one. He was on the job for less than two months when the debacle associated with his preference to drive a taxpayer-funded “Fully Loaded” Lincoln Navigator touched off criticism and a media feeding frenzy unseen in the District since Marion Barry’s darkest days.

Brown’s handling of the Fully Loaded saga was haphazard and ham-fisted. Months after the unflattering news coverage had subsided, he punished a Councilmember who investigated the matter. The result: more news about the Navigator and more questions about Brown’s character.

Indeed, the Fully Loaded saga drags on today. Despite promises to reimburse the District, Brown has yet to put a single dime toward repaying the costs of his luxury wheels.

All things considered, though, Brown would be lucky if a fancy SUV was his only problem.

Federal investigators have been looking into Brown’s 2008 re-election campaign for more than a year. On Sunday, the Washington Post reported that the investigation is “intensifying and “entering its final stages.”

Also in the Post, a tidbit of news that doesn’t bode well for Brown: the investigation is said to include “his finances.”

I reached out to Brown’s office last week. In several emails I posed a number of questions about the investigation, Brown’s legal representation and other related matters.

Unsurprisingly, I did not hear back. Brown’s office has been stonewalling me on another simple request for almost a year. In 2010, the Chairman-elect promised to be transparent with financial records from his transition fund. On numerous occasions I have requested a copy. Each time I got the runaround.

The transition was registered as a 501c4 non-profit. That would require filing financial documents with the IRS, copies of which are made public. To date, the transition committee has seemingly reported nothing.

Which brings me back to the investigation into Brown’s 2008 re-election campaign. Has it metastasized to include other political committees associated with Brown? The Post’s reporting that his personal finances are being scrutinized leads one to wonder about the extent of the inquiry. His 2004 campaign was not without criticism.

For the past two weeks, journalists, politicos and other insiders have been abuzz with rumors about Brown. The Post confirms the one consistent theme: the Feds are closing in.

There are other tealeaves as well.

Brown’s office canceled a regular monthly press conference scheduled for this morning. Tim Craig of the Washington Post tweeted, “presumably so he doesn’t have to answer media questions about [the] investigation.”

Last week, Brown looked a bit unhinged when he used the occasion of the Chuck Brown memorial service to utter these unfounded, racially loaded and divisive words: “For all of the people who just moved to Washington, D.C., and have a problem with go-go music, get over it.”

On the same day, Brown’s office reacted bizarrely to a Washington City Paper article about a $15,000 lawsuit brought by American Express against the Chairman’s wife. Instead of allowing the story to live and die on the City Paper blog, Brown issued a statement that fanned the flames and resulted in another cycle of news. He denounced the article for drawing his wife into coverage of his personal financial problems. City Paper editors were quick to remind readers that it was Brown, himself, who included his wife and family spending habits when he first tried to parry news accounts and attacks from political opponents.

Brown still has a lot of explaining to do, but it might not be reporters’ questions he will be answering next. If the rumor mill is accurate, Brown will be answering to the long arm of the law.

And he better choose his words more carefully than “get over it,” a sentiment famously directed at white voters by Marion Barry upon his return to the mayor’s office.

Instead, Brown might want to make good on his oft-repeated empty promise to be “open and transparent.”

Chuck Thies is a political analyst and consultant.  His columns appear every Tuesday and Thursday on First Read DMV. He co-hosts "DC Politics" on WPFW, 89.3 FM. Since 1991, Chuck has lived in either D.C., Maryland or Virginia. Email your tips and complaints to chuckthies@gmail.com or tweet at @chuckthies.

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