Why Wait? Kwame Brown in '08 At-large councilmember wastes no time in kicking off his re-election campaign.

The Early Show: 16 months ahead of Election Day, Brown’s already planting signs.
Photograph by Darrow Montgomery

When At-Large Councilmember Kwame Brown began his long-shot quest for elective office in 2003, he often had to deal with some confusion about his name. At that time, the only well-known Kwame Brown in town was an underachieving teenage professional basketball player.

LL remembers meeting Brown on a chilly fall day in 2003. The candidate was at the Cleveland Park Metro stop shaking hands with commuters nearly a full year before the primary election. In those innocent days before 2006’s big-money mayoral race, his “early” start made Brown seem just a little crazy.

After winning a decisive victory in 2004, Brown is no longer a man of mystery. He doesn’t really need to introduce himself to voters. But last week the impatient incumbent decided it was high time he put his name prominently in front of the electorate—some 16 months before the 2008 primary.

Just when D.C. residents thought they might get a break from nonstop electioneering—think early 2005 with the mayoral race, running straight through to the May 1 special election to fill a pair of vacated D.C. Council seats—dozens of red, white, and blue signs have popped up around the city, signaling the 2008 race is on. The small, tasteful placards, such as one at 16th and Shepherd Streets NW, read: re-elect kwame brown ’08.

Brown’s small-scale sign blitz is an unwelcome sight to some weary residents. Even those familiar with Brown’s rise from obscurity to the John A. Wilson Building are scratching their head over the incumbent’s early visibility efforts. “It made sense when he was running as an unknown,” says Ward 4 resident William Risler, who says he has a generally favorable opinion of Brown. “Now it makes no sense. And there is no one running against him.”

But Brown doesn’t worry about pissing off a few tired voters who think he’s jumping the gun. And besides, by the standards of his father, political consultant Marshall Brown, the campaign is already behind schedule. “As far as I’m concerned, we got a late start,” says the elder Brown. “We were forced to wait until after the special elections were over.”

They didn’t wait long. Kwame Brown filed his 2008 campaign papers May 7, six days after the announcement of winners in Ward 4 and Ward 7.

Brown knows several well-known pols are circling. None of them would confirm they are eyeing his seat. Kathy Patterson is fresh off a citywide race for council chair. Of course, it wouldn’t be an at-large council contest if Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham’s name wasn’t brought up. Polls have consistently shown Graham would be a formidable citywide candidate. School Board President Robert Bobb has his backers around the city, and the school reform bill has radically altered his elected post.

But nobody’s going to get the jump on Brown. Not if the elder Brown—who engineered the surprise 2004 victory—has any say about it.

He’s champing at the bit to get a campaign operation up and running, despite the fact that his son downplays his old man’s role in the effort. “This is different campaign,” says the incumbent councilmember. “This is about me and my reelection. I’m going to find the best people. And I’m pretty sure my dad is going to help me.”

The father has something to prove in 2008. His son’s hard-won 2004 victory against entrenched but worn-out incumbent Harold Brazil was written off as a fluke by old D.C. political hands. Brown the elder is sick of hearing about how the unlikely win was more about the perfect political storm for an unknown than about good planning.

Brazil was the guy who put the “part-time” in part-time councilmember. As chairman of the Committee on Economic Development, he was cozy with the business establishment. He had the support of then Mayor Anthony A. Williams and many of his council colleagues. Brazil never figured out that banking a lot of cash, ramping up public appearances for a few months, and winning some key establishment endorsements could not overcome the widely held perception that he had lost interest in being a councilmember.

Kwame Brown also benefited from having a third solid candidate in the race. Sam Brooks was a young, energetic, and white challenger who siphoned off some of Brazil’s traditional support from the west side of town.

“He won 129 of 142 precincts [in 2004],” says Marshall Brown of his son. “That is no fluke. It was a goddamn landslide.”

While he was still basking in the glow of his son’s victory, Marshall Brown and his other son, Cheh Brown, were hired by the disastrous mayoral campaign of Linda Cropp. The councilmember followed his father by endorsing the former Council chairman. Cropp was steamrolled by the Adrian Fenty juggernaut.

But Marshall Brown isn’t in need of a pick-me-up. Lately, he’s fond of machine-gun-paced rants about Kwame’s invincibility. “I tell people, if you’re not running now, you can’t beat Kwame,” he says.

The unofficial Brown 2008 campaign has actually been under way for months. In a pattern similar to better-known political whiz kid Fenty, Kwame Brown never really stopped running after he took office in 2005.

He won’t repeat the lazy mistakes of other incumbents—Kevin Chavous, Charlene Drew Jarvis—who have been knocked off in recent years. “I’m everywhere,” says Brown of his official council schedule. “I’ve been to 152 events this year alone. I shook hands at the subway during the school debate just asking people what they thought.”

During the special election, Brown pumped up his name ID by serving as designated hitter for two winning candidates. He went door-to-door with Ward 7 Councilmember Yvette Alexander. He also did some hoofing with District 2 D.C. School Board winner Sekou Biddle in Wards 3 and 4. Brown was also the voice featured on thousands of automated calls recorded for Biddle and Alexander.

His father couldn’t be happier. The intense, wiry veteran of many a D.C. political war doesn’t operate like a guy running a reelection campaign for a well-known incumbent. Brown calls the notion that Kwame Brown is out there too early “ridiculous. Those are just people trying to drag down Kwame,” he says.

Both father and son claim the main reason the campaign bought 1,000 yard signs is because supporters were demanding them. “We’re getting a tremendous amount of pressure from people who love Kwame,” says Marshall Brown. “These are our nearest and dearest.”

“What are you going to do when strong supporters ask for a sign?” asks Kwame Brown. “Tell them, ‘No, some people think it’s a little too early for that’? Uh-uh. Not me,” says the candidate, who then draws a parallel to the national political scene: “You have Obama and Clinton and all the Republicans running already.”

Brown, Evans Get a Raise After All

Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans got screwed when the council passed pay raises for themselves last December.

The law grants raises only to councilmembers sworn in after Jan. 1, 2007. The starting salary for the two rookie members sworn in Tuesday night will be $122,000. Council vet Evans remains at the low end of the scale at $92,530. He’ll get the $22,470 raise if he’s reelected to his seat in 2008.

But no one should feel too sorry for him. After all, the Council is officially a part-time job—that is, councilmembers are permitted to hold outside employment.

The financial disclosure form Evans filed with the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance for 2006 showed his other employer—the Patton Boggs law firm—might have been following the pay-raise debate. The big-time firm must have figured Evans was due for a boost after some 16 years on the Council. His annual earnings at the firm jumped from $187,000 in 2005 to $240,000 in 2006.

Brown didn’t get a raise for his government work either, but for the first time he earned some tidy outside cash. On his income reporting form, Brown indicates he earned $30,000 for consulting. Brown says he was retained by Fuse Advertising, a St. Louis firm run by his old college buddy Clifford Franklin. “He’s a friend,” says Brown. “I’m just helping out by making some calls, using my Rolodex.” Brown says the company does no business with the D.C. government.

Two other councilmembers work outside jobs. At-Large Councilmember David Catania’s side gig as general counsel for Dulles, Va.-based OpenBand LLC, earned him $101,538 in 2006, according to his outside income report. He took in an additional $13,750 from his previous employer, the Akin Gump law firm, during the same period. His income is on the upward swing. Back in 2004, when he was with the law firm, he was paid $82,500 per year. George Washington University law professor and Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh was not in office during 2006 and is not required to file an earnings statement for that year. She declined to voluntarily reveal her salary to LL.

Political Potpourri

• Last week, Council Chairman Vincent Gray introduced emergency legislation to spend $3.8 million on legal fees to battle land owners displaced by the new stadium. That big cash infusion is needed to pay Venable LLP—a law firm that, last month, got a new partner: longtime D.C. government lawyer Claude Bailey. Bailey’s previous job was legal counsel for the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission, an organ that’s been intimately involved in the stadium’s development. In fact, Bailey is still listed as legal counsel to the commission. He’d already been spending a lot of time with Venable, so why not go on over?

In an e-mail, Bailey discounts any suggestion that his stadium work had anything to do with his move. “Right now, I am focusing on building my practice identifying new opportunities for the firm,” he writes. “I am not involved in Venable’s baseball stadium work.”

• After a tough campaign, some political operatives might kick back for a while. And it seems like a person who worked from the beginning of mayoral election season in 2005 through to the May 1, 2007, special election in Ward 4 would deserve a long vacation.

Not John Falcicchio. The guy who was “Johnny Business” for the Fenty campaign team and helped engineer Ward 4 Councilmember-elect Muriel Bowser’s victory took only three work days off before starting his new gig in the mayor’s office.

When LL made his weekly paper delivery to the mayor’s Wilson Building bullpen, Falcicchio was in the middle of things, talking on the phone and chatting with other staff. He started work on Monday as a senior advisor to the mayor.

Falcicchio was mum on the specifics of his new job but said it “doesn’t involve talking to the press.”

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