D.C. Council chairman's race
Brown makes his play to be D.C. Council's captain
Monday, July 26, 2010
In pickup basketball games at a gym on Capitol Hill, Kwame Rashaan Brown plays point guard, controlling the ball and making sure that it gets to the right players at the right time to score.
"The captain of the team might not be the best shooter," said Brown, an at-large D.C. Council member from the Hillcrest neighborhood who is running to become council chairman. "But when the ball is in his arms, his team knows he's going to make the best decision."
Brown has used some of that hardwood ability on the council. In 2004, he became the first member living east of the Anacostia River to be elected citywide. Council members praise him as likable and collegial, and all but one of his dozen colleagues have endorsed his candidacy.
Despite the endorsements, some council members privately question his ability to be the next chairman. Brown acknowledges that he is not the most expert legislator. His detractors express concern that he too often takes a pass instead of a stand, that he is more concerned with popularity than policy.
Brown said he is not running to be the city's chief financial officer or economic development czar but to lead his colleagues by consensus. He is used to being underestimated and to exceeding expectations, he said. Brown and his main opponent for the Democratic nomination, former council member Vincent B. Orange Sr., are running to replace mayoral candidate Vincent C. Gray.
Political observers, including some council members, say Brown and Orange lack the depth of experience and maturity that Gray and his predecessor, Linda W. Cropp, brought to the role.
"If you could put the two of them together -- a little of Orange's business acumen and experience, and Kwame's extreme likability and dedication to the city -- you'd have an ideal candidate," said former council member Sharon Ambrose, who served with both but has not endorsed anyone in the contest.
The son of an ordained minister and a veteran Democratic grass-roots organizer, Brown, at 39, would be the youngest chairman. His bent for campaigning and fundraising is well known, having netted more than $200,000 in two months, according to a June campaign finance report. In 2008, he raised more than $575,000 for his unopposed primary bid just four years after defeating better-funded and better-known incumbent Harold Brazil.
Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) was the first to endorse Brown's campaign for chairman, pointing to his willingness to seek out colleagues and calling him "thoughtful, considerate and not too quick to make a decision."
"People have to feel like they weren't railroaded," Cheh said of the chairman's role. "He understands that innately."
From the dais, Brown has been an outspoken advocate for job creation and workforce training. He led the charge two years ago to reopen the District's only stand-alone vocational school, Phelps Architecture, Construction and Engineering High School.
And as chairman of the economic development committee, Brown has been a populist voice for hiring small businesses for taxpayer-funded projects. He successfully shepherded legislation, for instance, to strengthen oversight of public-private projects by directing the city auditor to monitor requirements for developers to provide affordable housing and local employment.