Just when D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown thought he was finished answering questions about the city-paid luxury SUVs he once drove, he’s got some more explaining to do.
The saga begins in late January, when Washington City Paper’s Alan Suderman reported that Brown’s Lincoln Navigator was costing the city about $2,000 a month to lease. Then, in February, I reported in the Post that Brown sent back one Navigator SUV before getting another, with the black interior he preferred and the city paying big bucks for both. In that article, Brown maintained that he asked only for a black SUV with a black interior.
Now Suderman uncovers more e-mails that undermine that claim. City Paper submitted another records request, for documents predating the ones I had requested for my February story. The e-mails show evidence that Brown wanted something much more specific than a “black-on-black SUV.” He wanted something mayoral.
According to City Paper’s report, DPW initially wanted to lease Brown a Chevy Tahoe — same model Vincent C. Gray rode in as chairman. But that wasn’t good enough, Suderman writes:
One day after the rented Tahoe was delivered on Nov. 4, Larry Cooper, the D.C. Council staffer who acted as a liaison between Brown and [the Department of Public Works], told DPW staff the chairman-elect did not want just a plain ol’ Tahoe. Here’s a Nov. 10 email from DPW employee Michael Biggs to his subordinate Greg Harrelson, who acted as DPW’s point person in getting the lease on Brown’s Tahoe.
”I had a talk with Larry Cooper last Friday and he said Chairman Brown wants a Navigator comparably equipped as Mayor Gray’s. I told him ok. So make sure we get that instead of another Tahoe. 10-4?”
The Tahoe was sent back, and a Navigator procured.
Brown previously denied to City Paper that he was specifically interested in having the same make and model as the mayor. I had heard speculation earlier this year from city hall sources that Brown was interested in matching the mayor’s ride, but never before has it been seen on paper.
After the furor over the SUVs was stoked by the February Post article, Brown gave back his Navigator and said he would reimburse the city for the month he used it. It is unclear how much the city has had to pay to lease and return all of the SUVs. Brown now drives a postal truck he owns.
A poignant coda: Suderman also turned up this e-mail, from Dec. 30, just after the second Navigator is delivered:
”You need to make damn sure that you are able to show exactly everything from a to z, and who said what and when concerning this Navigator issue for Chairman Brown. One day someone is going to come back and dig into this. I want to make sure that we can tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth on the purchase of this vehicle and the waste and abuse of taxpayers money,” Biggs wrote.
Harrelson’s reply: “You’re absolutely right. This thing smells to high heaven.”