In three elections, Brown — who resigned from office Wednesday night after federal prosecutors charged him with bank fraud — managed to bridge the chasms between rich and poor, black and white. His story of pulling himself up from a troubled youth, along with his pedigree as the son of one of the city’s most accomplished political operators, bolstered his image as someone who could empathize with those at the bottom even as he shared the values of the city’s burgeoning affluent class.
But on the council, Brown, 41, was dogged from start to finish by colleagues whose attitude toward him ranged from dismissive to derisive. Brown, they eagerly and regularly told reporters in not-for-attribution conversations, was a lightweight, not up to the job, in over his head. Whatever voters were buying wasn’t going over with the people who had to work with Brown.
But when the hammer came down on the council chairman, it was not for any misdeeds in office. The allegations were not even connected to his political nadir, the scandal last year after Brown asked city officials to get him a “fully loaded” $1,900-a-month Lincoln Navigator equipped with a DVD entertainment system, power moon roof and polished aluminum wheels.
The immediate cause of Brown’s downfall was his personal finances, which he admitted years ago were a shambles. “I am a bean counter,” candidate Brown told affluent voters in Ward 3. But at home, he was a mess: Three credit card companies sued him, alleging nonpayment of bills. His debt neared $1 million. And, federal prosecutors allege, he falsified records to obtain a home-equity loan and buy a $50,000 boat.
“To accuse him of exaggerating his income to get a loan is a personal foible,” said Tom Lindenfeld, a longtime D.C. political consultant and supporter of Brown’s. “It’s not lying and cheating to get elected. It’s not stealing $350,000 from the city. It’s a guy who got in over his head.”
There’s that phrase again. “Over his head.” A fellow council member used it about Brown just a few weeks ago: “Kwame is in way over his head,” said the veteran politician, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was slamming a colleague. “He cannot lead the council because he doesn’t have a nuanced knowledge of the budget or the government. We are paralyzed because the leader cannot lead and the leader is under a cloud.”