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Posted at 04:12 PM ET, 09/02/2010

Brown's union friends spar with Orange in dueling mailers

Council member Kwame Brown (D-At Large) says he is trying to stick to a positive message in his race against former council member Vincent Orange, but his friends are going on the attack.

In a direct-mail piece scheduled to land Friday, the SEIU State Council and 32BJ unions paint Orange as a "threat to our economic security." Orange, who was until recently a vice president for government affairs at Pepco, is portrayed as being responsible for raising electricity rates and shutting off power. The piece, mailed to 15,000 likely voters, is a parody of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's color-coded threat assessment chart.

"For everyone struggling to pay bills, the threat is ORANGE," it says, adding, "We can't afford corporate lobbyists running City Hall."

True, Orange went to work for Pepco after he left the council in 2006 to run for mayor. He resigned from Pepco to take on Brown in the Sept. 14 Democratic primary contest to succeed Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray.

But Orange was responsible for monitoring council affairs, and did not during his tenure with Pepco lobby the city's Public Service Commission, which signs off on rate hikes.

"Everything I've done was to keep lights on and help residents," Orange said, pointing to his work as part of a team that brought so-called smart electricity meters to District households.

Whether Orange was actually a registered lobbyist is another question.

"If I was supposed to be, I probably was," Orange said Thursday when asked to respond to the piece from the labor unions backing his rival.

In 2008, a year after he left office, Orange told the City Paper he was not lobbying, just accompanying the company's lobbyists while they did their work. Records filed with the Office of Campaign Finance show Orange was registered the following year as an in-house lobbyist and in 2010, before he resigned.

In addition to making a pitch for Brown, the direct-mail pieces put in a plug for what the unions call "DC's jobs team" -- Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), Phil Mendelson (D-At Large), Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5) and Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6).

Even before the union's missive hits Friday, Orange e-mailed Thursday to say that he is already out with a new direct-mail piece that goes after Brown's personal financial troubles and raises questions about his campaign finance practices, which caught the attention of the Office of Campaign Finance this week.

Orange is signaling that he will be relentless in going after Brown in the final weeks of the campaign, as he did during a televised debate Wednesday on NewsTalk with Bruce DePuyt on TBD TV.

Orange's piece pictures a broken piggy bank and lists Brown's "debt problem."

"If he can't manage his own finances, why should we let Kwame Brown manage DC's finances?"

Brown's campaign spokesman, James Jones, said the piece is "riddled with lies and inaccuracies. Clearly this is a desperate move by a candidate who is trailing badly in the polls."

At the top of the list, for instance, is $700,000 in personal debt. This includes $55,000 in alleged unpaid bills and fees Brown owes to three credit-card companies. But what Orange doesn't mention is that that figure includes the mortgage on Brown's Hillcrest home.

Orange also says the "IRS filed a lien" against Brown's campaign for failing to pay taxes. Not so, according to Brown's campaign. This number comes from campaign finance reports for Brown's 2004 election account. According to Brown, his accountant at the time incorrectly filed the report as if the campaign committee was a business. Brown says he never should have owed money to the IRS. But he's settled the bill, he said, and is seeking a reimbursement.

This post has been updated since it was first published.

By Ann Marimow  |  04:12 PM ET, 09/02/2010

Categories:  2010 District Election

 
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