The Washington Post

Andrew F. Brimmer, 1926-2012


Brimmer on Aug. 31, 1998 — his last day as Control Board chairman. (Rick Bowmer/The Washington Post)

Being the first African American member of an institution as momentous as the Federal Reserve is by itself a monumental life achievement, but Andrew F. Brimmer will possibly be better remembered around these parts for his role in saving the District from fiscal ruin.

Brimmer, who died Sunday at 86, was the first chairman of the District of Columbia Financial Responsibility and Management Assistance Authority — better known as the Control Board. He led the body through its earliest and most contentious period, when it was caught between the Congress that created it in 1995 expecting swift and sweeping changes, and local officials led by Mayor Marion Barry who swore to resist on most every occasion.

To navigate those waters, Brimmer made scorched-earth decisions that included cancelling contracts, slashing budgets and firing agency heads (including, most famously, Human Services chief Vernon Hawkins, who is now under scrutiny for his role in Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s 2010 campaign). He also assumed an imperious style that alienated not only most local leaders — “the mayor is the source of the problems, and the city council is part of the problem,” he once said — but also his colleagues on the board. He announced that he would step down in 1998 after several fellow members let it be known that they would resign if he stayed on.

Brimmer was replaced by former White House budget director Alice Rivlin, who had a softer touch made possible in no small part because she assumed the board’s helm just as Anthony A. Williams assumed the mayoralty from Barry. Since the Control Board disbanded in 2001, Rivlin has remained active in city affairs though her post as a Brookings Institution scholar, while Brimmer quietly enjoyed retirement at his longtime home in Forest Hills. But in his three years in the spotlight, and though the fiscal successes he helped make possible, he earned a brief but important chapter in the District’s political history.

Mike DeBonis covers Congress and national politics for The Washington Post. He previously covered D.C. politics and government from 2007 to 2015.

The Freddie Gray case

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Campaign 2016 Email Updates

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Get Zika news by email

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!
Comments
Show Comments

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.