Over the past eight months, Brown (D) has depended on that fatherly advice to try to regain his footing amid a backlash over his taxpayer-funded SUV, slumping poll numbers, and a federal investigation into his 2008 reelection campaign.
In his most extensive interview since the controversies began chipping away at his popularity and renewed doubts about his ability to lead, Brown tried to convey a sense of comfort in his council office as he dismissed suggestions that the troubles have taken a toll. He and the council, he asserted, are “moving the District forward” by closing a $320 million budget gap without a tax increase, continuing to improve city schools, ensuring a vibrant local economy and keeping streets clean.
The sit-down also offered insight into an impenetrable politician seeking acceptance, even as he struggles to move past sports metaphors to demonstrate he’s in control and can be trusted.
“I understand what game this is,” said Brown, referring to what he calls life in the “fishbowl” at the John A. Wilson Building. “But you can’t complain about something you signed up for.”
Instead, just as his father taught him, Brown is out to prove he’s not one to get beaten down easily — that he has staying power.
As a young boy, Brown became obsessed with Muhammad Ali, known to almost always get up after a knockdown. A large portrait of the legendary boxer hangs in Brown’s office, serving as a symbol of perseverance.
“People always underestimated him,” said Brown, 40, as he surveyed the portrait. “When he used to spar, his opponents used to be like, ‘We are going to tear him up ’. . . . But when he got into the ring, he used to knock them out.”
Meeting the challenges
Resisting opportunities to stray from talking points, Brown spoke of his role in tackling the city’s challenges, but he is seemingly unable to grasp what many have argued: That a string of ethical woes emanating from the Wilson building have stained his reputation as well as the council’s and Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s (D).
“I don’t know how it can be a bad place when we are the hottest city we have been in 20 years,” said Brown, referring to development underway Downtown. “I don’t mind talking about the distractions, because they are what they are, but at the same time, . . . back to the days of the ‘80s? I don’t see that.”
Brown repeatedly said he and the council completed the “toughest budget cycle the city has ever seen,” apparently forgetting the financial challenges of the early 1990s that led Congress to appoint a financial control board.
He again played down his role in requesting a taxpayer-financed SUV shortly after being elected chairman last fall, saying he “didn’t order the SUV.” E-mails published by the Post and Washington City Paper show Brown’s staff said they were acting on his behalf when they procured the luxury vehicle from the Department of Public Works.