Kwame R. Brown poised to lead D.C. Council

Residents in the District, Maryland and Virginia turned out Tuesday to choose their elected officials.
By Mike DeBonis
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 3, 2010; 5:10 PM

On a day when the nation's voters rejected scores of legislators, District residents promoted Democrat Kwame R. Brown to lead a D.C. Council that will look much the same as the one they've come to know in recent years.

Only Vincent C. Gray (D), who will leave the chairmanship to assume the mayoralty, will not return for the new council term. Opinion polls taken in the run-up to the September primaries indicated wide approval for the council's work - unusual for a legislative body, pollsters said - and the ballots counted Tuesday reinforced that sentiment.

The council's previous term has been by any measure productive, passing measures legalizing same-sex marriage, creating a landmark tax on disposable bags and mandating sweeping changes to city elections. The key sponsors of those well-publicized measures each ran and won reelection Tuesday.

The son of a longtime local political operative, Brown has repeatedly proven himself to be in the top echelon of city campaigners. He becomes council chairman six years after winning election to an at-large council seat by defeating 14-year incumbent Harold Brazil.

In his run for the city's top legislative post, he fended off a primary challenge from former Ward 5 council member Vincent B. Orange Sr., who sought to capitalize on revelations concerning Brown's personal finances. But Brown, 40, easily dispatched Orange in the primary, winning better than 55 percent of the vote.

Brown's sole general election opponent was Statehood Green candidate Ann C. Wilcox, who won less than 10 percent of early-reporting precincts

For the past four years, Brown has chaired the council's powerful Economic Development Committee, where he has often clashed with mayoral development officials but has been an effective advocate for job creation and training. But he now faces new leadership challenges in his new role. He will be immediately faced with the task of reorganizing the council's operations - choosing whether, like Gray, he'd prefer to keep tight reins on education oversight or delegate to a committee.

Gray, 67, has been widely credited with deftly managing his colleagues' political and policy imperatives, particularly during the budget process. Whether to Brown's detriment or his advantage, Gray as mayor will enjoy close relations with the council members he once led. That includes Brown, who counts Gray as a friend and a neighbor in Ward 7's Hillcrest community. The two staged a joint victory celebration Tuesday at a Northeast night club.

"Vince and I have a mutual respect," he said in an interview Tuesday. "There are going to be times we disagree. We are going to hold the executive [branch] accountable, no doubt about it."

The most pressing concern is the fiscal state of the city, which has yet to recover from the economic downturn dating to 2008. Gray has said publicly that a budget gap as large as $400 million will need to be closed by the time the next fiscal year starts in October.

Brown emphasized that the city's financial health is his paramount concern. "You have to have a stable government that's fiscally responsible," he said. "You have to have your financial house in order."

Brown's ascension to the chairmanship also opens his at-large council seat. An elections official said Monday that a special election would likely be in early May.

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