October 21, 2011

Sulaimon Brown is the sword of Damocles, a peril hanging by a single thread above D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray’s administration. Where Brown’s accusations of payments and a job promise by Gray’s 2010 mayoral campaign will lead nobody knows, except maybe the U.S. attorney and the FBI. But is Brown crazy? Like a rabid fox.

I had never met or heard of Sulaimon Brown until Feb. 20, 2010, when he came up to me after I gave a speech to the Ward 8 Democratic Club. Brown placed campaign literature in my hand, said he was running for D.C. mayor and added that one day he would like to talk about his candidacy.

That day came six months later. Except it wasn’t a one-on-one session.

Brown was a participant in the Aug. 3 Lamond-Riggs Citizens Association mayoral forum that I moderated at Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ. It was unlike any candidates forum I have ever seen.

The handful of contenders included Brown, then-D.C. Council Chairman Vincent Gray and incumbent Mayor Adrian M. Fenty.

During the entire hour-plus debate, Brown waged an unrelenting attack on Fenty. No matter the question or issue, Brown used every opening to turn the discussion back to Fenty, throwing verbal punches and charging him with everything except being a child of God.

Brown’s rhetorical assaults were so over the top that I exercised a moderator’s discretion to give Fenty ample opportunity to respond. Fenty, however, declined each offer, instead sticking to his talking points.

Meanwhile, as Brown whaled on Fenty, Gray stared straight ahead, flashing a smile whenever Brown raised whoops from the audience.

As we were leaving the building after the event, I asked Gray what he thought Brown was up to. Gray smiled, shrugged his shoulders and said, “I wish I knew.”

The following evening, Brown put on a repeat performance at the Ward 4 candidates forum at the St. George Ballroom and Conference Center. He gratuitously attacked Fenty and, as on the previous night, Brown told the crowd that if they weren’t going to vote for him, they should vote for Gray but not Fenty.

Before that forum, I asked Brown what the crowd might expect from him that evening. He said he was going to “stir things up a little bit and have some fun.” Stir things up he did, with more verbal shots at Fenty as Gray sat smiling serenely.

The next week, a clearly worn-down Fenty reacted at a Ward 8 debate, according to The Post’s Nikita Stewart. Brown told the crowd that Fenty probably didn’t respect his own parents. Fenty said that was “crossing the line.” At the forum Gray said nothing about Brown’s insult but later told The Post that he found Brown’s comments about Fenty’s parents “offensive.”

Why this visit down memory lane?

Because if Brown is telling the truth to The Post, the D.C. Council, congressional committees and federal authorities about his activities on Gray’s behalf during the 2010 campaign — namely, that he struck a deal last year with Gray’s campaign to continue his attacks on Fenty in exchange for money to help finance his own campaign and for a city job if Gray won — what we witnessed at those candidates forums was a fraud, bought and paid for by the campaign of the individual who is now mayor of the District.

Illegal or not, it was, if true, an unpardonable act of deception.

How many people would have voted for Gray if they had known that Brown was being paid to carry Gray’s water or that the Gray campaign was not the honest and aboveboard operation that it represented itself to be? How many citizens would have felt tricked into giving Gray something that they value greatly — namely, their votes?

Interviewed by The Post on March 5, the day before The Post broke the story of Brown’s charges against the Gray campaign, Mayor Gray said, “Was there a quid pro quo here? Did we ask him to do something on behalf of my candidacy, and did we give him something? The answer is unequivocally no.” He added that he was not aware of any payments to Brown by his campaign aides. (Gray’s office has not responded to my requests for comment.)

But with those words, especially the collective “we,” Gray is holding his campaign, and the fate of his administration, in his own hands.

To survive the threatening sword, and retain voters’ trust and the respect and support of his friends, Gray had better be telling the truth.

kingc@washpost.com