Clinton Yates is the local editor for Express and a contributor to TheRootDC.
When D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown resigned Wednesday following bank fraud charges, I couldn’t help but think back to May 31. On that day, in a moment set aside to honor Chuck Brown (no relation), Kwame found a way to make it all about him.
In retrospect, what came across at the time as a bizarre outburst might have been a window into the mind of a man whose career was facing imminent ruin. Brown proclaimed defiantly, “I am go-go. To the media, you better get that right.”
Here we are, with scores of people celebrating the life of a local legend, in the building named after Walter E. Washington — the city’s first mayor under home rule — and Brown is talking trash. Why? Because Kwame Brown is all about Kwame Brown.
He went on to channel Councilmember Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) saying, “For all of the people who just moved to Washington, D.C., and have a problem with go-go music, get over it.” Well, since Kwame is go-go, he should have just said his own name. It wouldn’t have been that unusual, he refers to himself in the third person all the time.
For us who have been in The District long enough, the lame attempt at re-creating a now-iconic moment from after Barry’s 1994 mayoral re-election didn’t go unnoticed. For one, most people aren’t claiming a problem with go-go. Second, and more important, Kwame Brown is no Marion Barry.
While the proverbial editorial cartoon that would describe Barry’s political career might be an image of him with a crackpipe in his mouth, a woman by his side and handing out money from city coffers to citizens, his accomplishments go back for generations. Last I checked, after all the bluster for bigoted comments and crude behavior, no one’s moving to Ward 8 to seriously challenge him. His bona fides are strong.
But Brown, a former participant in the Mayor’s Youth Leadership Program, is not there yet. He’s had plenty legislative victories, but, it’s almost as if he thinks he has the right to do whatever he likes, because a major fall is just part of a long political career. In that regard, in fact, he’s getting his out of the way relatively early.
Just look at the string of decisions Brown’s made. He’s accused of using fraudulently obtained funds to buy a boat named “Bulletproof” of all things. If that’s not the calling card of a guy who thinks he’s invincible, I don’t know what is. Let’s not forget, Barry actually did take a terrorist bullet for the city while serving on the D.C. Council in 1977.
Then there was the SUV debacle that earned Brown the nickname ”Fully Loaded.” He scoffed at the accusations of impropriety and removed Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) as the chairman of the Committee on Public Works and Transportation, a move that clearly looked like revenge for dropping a dime about his new ride.
In 2011, he endorsed Sekou Biddle for the vacant at-large seat on the council, which Brown left to run for chair. Biddle didn’t win, but at the time, Kwame stressed that he deserved a say in who replaces him. Again, on their own, each act of self-importance isn’t that major. But added up, the pattern is obvious.
Just last month, he told The Washington Post that he wasn’t worried at all about the federal investigation against him, and has recently chided a news outlet that inquired about his wife’s finances, following a lawsuit from a credit card company. How dare you? Don’t you know who he is? He can certainly tell you.
Stories of political redemption are almost a dime a dozen in this city. But Brown’s dogged confidence this whole time has been alarming. When Harry Thomas Jr., another legacy politician in D.C., had to resign, he at least looked like he felt bad about the embezzlement case, even if just for getting caught.
I don’t necessarily consider Kwame Brown a crook. Sure, he’s accused of breaking the law, but in the more colloquial usage of that word, I’m not convinced he was a guy who was strictly looking to rob people blind. He just wanted to get his shine on while he helped D.C. get theirs, too. Alas, those two proved to be mutually exclusive. And they should be.
After all that, though, the most telling details came Wednesday evening. With an army of reporters waiting for him outside his Wilson Building office, Brown made his entrance, fashionably late. Cheesing the whole way, he moved slowly, surrounded by handlers and security. “I’m just trying to get out,” Brown said. It sure didn’t seem like it.
And following his non-comment comment, with cameras rolling and lights everywhere, Brown had gotten another look-at-me moment. Until a reporter ruined it. “Why are you smiling?” the voice asked. The question hung in the air like cigarette smoke once did in bars across the city: noticeably.
The answer to the question is simple: He was smiling because he probably doesn’t think he really did anything wrong. As his father Marshall, a former Barry aide once told him, if you fall, you get back up.
And that’s why in his boilerplate form letter of a resignation, “the only honorable course,” as he wrote, the glaring lack of contrition was no surprise. He apologized “for all of the negative attention that my conduct has brought about.”
But no apology for what he actually did. I guess that’s just Kwame being Kwame.
Here’s a look at what others are saying about Brown on Twitter:
For previous opinions by Clinton Yates go to TheRootDC.
For more of Clinton Yates columns:
Read more on The Root DC