'Fully loaded' SUV puts D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown on the spot

By Mike DeBonis
Sunday, February 20, 2011

Several weeks after Kwame R. Brown was elected D.C. Council chairman in November, city officials were asked to order for him a "fully loaded" Lincoln Navigator L with a DVD entertainment system, power moonroof and polished aluminum wheels.

It had to be black - all black, inside and out - and it had to arrive in time for his inauguration Jan. 2, never mind the District's projected $400 million budget shortfall.

Later, when he was asked on television why taxpayers should foot the $1,900-a-month lease payments, Brown (D) said he had merely requested a black sport-utility vehicle and was driving the vehicle that the District had procured for him.

E-mails written by members of his staff and city officials - and obtained by The Washington Post through the Freedom of Information Act - tell a different story, beginning with a Department of Public Works solicitation in November for a 2011 Lincoln Navigator L series, an extended-wheelbase version of the Navigator. The e-mail specified "Fully Loaded Required" and indicated that the vehicle was being sought at Brown's request.

Paul D. Craney, executive director of the D.C. Republican Committee, asked why Brown is leasing a luxury vehicle when the city is under serious financial pressure.

"It shows his set of priorities, and it's totally ridiculous to anyone who pays D.C. taxes when they hear this type of story," Craney said of Brown.

Brown said last week in an interview that he had asked only for a "black-on-black SUV" and regrets the whole affair. "If I had known that this truck was $1,900 a month, I would have never, ever, ever have accepted it," he said.

As it happened, the District was stuck paying for two Lincoln Navigator L's after the first arrived with a gray interior and Brown insisted on the black-on-black color scheme, touching off a scramble for the model he wanted. A car dealer ended up driving Brown's Lincoln from Coldwater, Mich., to the District on Dec. 29 - for an additional $1,500. The District cannot return the one with the gray interior until October.

Why black-on-black? Vehicles with dark interiors, Brown said, tend to hold their value better.

Accepts responsibility

Brown said he accepts "full responsibility" for the situation. "Believe me, I want nothing more [than] to be out of this particular truck, and it's unfortunate that the contract is written in a way we can't get out of it," he said.

In addition to Brown's two Navigators, the District is leasing a pair of luxury vehicles for Mayor Vincent C. Gray.

The D.C. police ordered a "fully loaded" 2011 Navigator L for Gray, at $1,941 a month. Gray's office ordered a new Lincoln Town Car for staff use, at $1,785 a month. Washington City Paper initially reported on the price of Gray's and Brown's Navigators.

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