Dr. Brimmer, a Harvard-trained economist, had worked in academia and for the Commerce Department before President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed him to the seven-member Federal Reserve Board of Governors, which sets the country’s monetary policy and interest rates.
Time magazine dubbed Dr. Brimmer “the Federal Reserve Board’s Jackie Robinson,” after the first African American player in major league baseball. Unlike many members of the Fed board, Dr. Brimmer used his position to advocate for wider educational opportunities in the country’s inner cities and warned that racial discrimination damaged the economy by marginalizing valuable workers.
After leaving the Federal Reserve Board in 1974, Dr. Brimmer taught at Harvard’s graduate business school and, in 1976, established a lucrative consulting business in Washington.
His greatest public recognition — and reproach — came in the 1990s, when he was put in charge of a federally mandated panel that took over financial management of the District. At the time, under Mayor Marion Barry, the city had $3 billion in long-term debt, soaring budget deficits, decaying public services, rising crime and a high school dropout rate of more than 50 percent.
As part of a financial rescue package approved by Congress and signed by President Bill Clinton in 1995, the city turned over control of most of its government operations to the D.C. Financial Responsibility and Management Assistance Authority. Dr. Brimmer was named the unpaid director of the authority, which was often called the D.C. financial control board.
“Clearly, this is the biggest challenge I’ve ever faced,” he said at the time.
The brickbats began to fly. Dr. Brimmer took away the decision-making authority of the D.C. Board of Education, fired several agency heads and described the city’s personnel and contracting practices as “dysfunctional.”
Ultimately, nine city agencies — including schools, housing, public works, health and the police and fire departments — were placed under the control of Dr. Brimmer’s board.
Forbidden to make any significant appointments, Barry denounced the financial takeover as “the rape of democracy.” When asked at a news conference how residents could complain about potholes in the streets, Barry said, “Call Dr. Brimmer” and gave his phone number.
Many residents feared the loss of home rule. D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, who was an early supporter of the financial takeover, later complained of the control board’s “imperial” and “deeply adversarial” manner.
Near the end of Dr. Brimmer’s three-year term, other members of the board charged that he had a secretive, autocratic style and threatened to quit if he was reappointed. He stepped down in 1998.