At a recent Ward 4 candidates’ forum, At-Large Councilmember Harold Brazil wanted to talk education—specifically, the education of one of his challengers. “We shouldn’t try to bootstrap a two-week course at Dartmouth into a college degree,” snapped Brazil, following candidate responses to a question on the D.C. library system.
Brazil has a knack for non sequiturs, but the oratorically challenged pol actually was making a point this time.
In several ham-fisted attempts that evening, Brazil accused at-large hopeful Kwame Brown of turning a couple of weeks’ sojourn in the Granite State into an Ivy League MBA. His evidence? A piece of literature mailed to thousands of likely Democratic voters and distributed by the Brown campaign that evening. A short biography in the colorful four-page brochure explained that “Kwame Brown went on to graduate from Morgan State University and Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College.”
In older campaign literature and on Brown’s campaign Web site, Brown clarified his curriculum vitae: He “is also a graduate of the Business Executive Program & Advanced Business Executive Program at the Amos Tuck School of Business, Dartmouth College.”
The young challenger seemed quite startled by Brazil’s surprise attack that night. “Of all the people to talk about integrity...” Brown first responded.
A few months ago, Brazil was the at-large candidate on the defensive. Two front-page Washington Post stories questioned the incumbent’s use of D.C. Council staff for his private law-firm work. The articles stirred talk about Brazil’s ethics and sparked an investigation by the city’s Office of Campaign Finance, which is still pending.
Brazil has denied any wrongdoing. His staffers told the Post that they had volunteered their free time to the legal work.
Now with four weeks left until the Democratic primary, Brazil has taken the offensive. Facing unsympathetic poll numbers and a dearth of endorsements, Brazil has gone negative in his uniquely clumsy way. “When you’re the top dog, the lead dog, and you got two Chihuahuas after you, eventually you got to bite back,” explains Brazil campaign manager Darden Copeland.
D.C. has seen the Brazil big bite before. Remember the 1998 mayoral race?
In that race, Brazil went from front-runner to basement-dweller in a matter of months. And as his campaign nose-dived, he seemed determined to take someone else down with him. Brazil launched all kinds of misfires in the campaign’s last month or two, including accusing Anthony A. Williams supporter and former Reagan-administration National Security Adviser Robert “Bud” McFarlane of being an arms dealer who “sells and peddles weapons to the drug dealers of Southeast, I guess” in a televised debate.
Brown’s literature also shows a picture of the candidate with former President Bill Clinton. Perhaps that’s fodder for an upcoming Brazil rant?
This year, the 14-year incumbent faces re-election challenges not just from Brown but from another energetic newcomer to the Democratic field: Sam Brooks. A native Washingtonian, the 24-year-old wrote his college thesis on former Mayor Marion S. Barry Jr. And in many ways, the Brooks campaign seems like fieldwork for a doctoral dissertation.
At candidates’ forums, the at-large hopeful responds to questions with composure and wit. He has a solid command of public policy, from public education to voting rights to gay marriage. In fact, he often explains Brazil’s positions better than the incumbent. Take the issue of a citywide smoking ban. He says that Brazil is for smoke-free workplaces, except, of course, in bars and restaurants. He dismisses Brazil’s market-based, free-choice response. “This is an issue of life and death,” says Brooks. He’s so good at skewering the incumbent’s contorted public-policy positions that Brazil requested that the moderators at the Ward 4 debate change the response format.
“I do hope we can vary the order,” asked Brazil, after one particularly biting response from Brooks.
Brooks is precocious at many things, except one: political organization. The well-spoken candidate doesn’t have any machine behind his sharp debate skills. At the Ward 2 Dems endorsement forum, for example, Brooks actually won the most votes on the first ballot. Yet he forgot to keep his faithful in place for the runoff.
So even though Brooks vexed Brazil early on in forums, the incumbent has now set his mudslinging sights on his more formidable opponent: Brown.
Brown is the Manchurian Candidate of D.C. politics. The son of veteran pol Marshall Brown, the 33-year-old native Washingtonian seems groomed for this year’s contest. Brown often answers questions about education by focusing on his time spent at Phelps Vocational High School and Woodrow Wilson Senior High. He mentions his father’s work in the civil-rights movement and D.C. politics frequently.
The younger Brown has brought a lot of energy to his council campaign. He’s knocked on more than 15,000 doors, put up thousands of lawn signs, and secured endorsements from local labor organizations and the Ward 1 and Ward 5 Dems. At the Ward 4 straw poll, Brown secured 66 percent of the vote.
Brown has plenty of smart things to say at campaign forums, which he repeats quite religiously. But knock the young candidate off message and he gets flustered. Take the issue of his own voting record, for example. According to the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics, the native Washingtonian has voted here only once, in January’s presidential primary.
When the issue first arose this spring, Brown offered a few answers. Lately, he says that he lived in Virginia for a couple of years until he and his wife could afford to buy a house in the District. Virginia voting records show that Brown voted three times after registering in 1999.
Brazil touts his time served in government as a contrast to Brown’s inexperience. Yet when Brazil and Brown get into a verbal sparring match at forums, there’s rarely a knockout.
Brazil’s haphazard legislative record offers Brown plenty of chances to throw punches. When he tried to get at Brazil’s recent flip-flop on liquor-store hours, for example, the challenger told the audience, “You will never hear me introduce a bill to keep liquor stores open ’til midnight.”
Back in March, the D.C. Council debated whether to change liquor-store hours as part of a comprehensive bill on the city’s alcoholic-beverage-control laws. In committee, Brazil pushed to extend the hours for certain grocery and liquor stores to midnight.
Yet when community outcry ensued, Brazil changed his mind and supported an amendment keeping the earlier hours in place.
Brown couldn’t seem to drive that point home, however. After Brown pointed out his inconsistency, Brazil responded that “I voted....Go look at the record if you know where that is.”
Brown had no response.
“The record I have accomplished is better than some of the councilmembers who don’t work at all,” bragged Brazil at one point.
That’s setting the bar quite low.
•A few fundamental beliefs weighed heavily in the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Maryland & District of Columbia State Council endorsements for this fall’s D.C. Council races. The union gave its blessing to candidates who support the right for workers to organize, advocate for improved access to health care, and fight for voting rights for District residents.
Those are hardly divisive issues in the Ward 8 council race, which features two pro-labor candidates, Barry and incumbent Sandy Allen. So the union leadership decided to weigh another factor in the race: results from a poll commissioned by the union, which shows Barry clobbering Allen by 49 points.
“Despite a rocky relationship with Sandy Allen over the past several years, we warmed up significantly to her and wanted to support her in this election very badly,” explains Jamie Kendrick, executive director for the local union.
The numbers, however, persuaded Kendrick et al. to give the thumbs-up to Barry.
Conducted June 22 through June 24, the poll questioned 571 likely Democratic voters, including 166 voters who live in Ward 8. In a head-to-head contest, Barry received 68 percent of the vote, and Allen received 19 percent. When the poll included the five other candidates who will appear on the ballot Sept. 14, Barry garnered 64 percent of the vote and Allen received 12 percent, with a 4 percent margin of error.
According to the poll, Barry had a 78 percent favorable rating and a 20 percent unfavorable rating. Allen had a 49 percent favorable rating and a 22 percent unfavorable rating; 28 percent of those polled had no opinion.
“I don’t know when their poll was done. I had a recent poll done, and I was 13.5 points ahead,” says Allen.
•Barry says that money has been flowing into his council campaign. And that’s good news for Dion Jordan: Last week, Barry’s former campaign manager received a court judgment ordering the Ward 8 council hopeful to pay him $3,700 in back pay.
Jordan left the Barry campaign after a dispute over money.
“I hear he has some fundraising campaigns coming up,” says Jordan. “I’m quite sure there’s some money somewhere.” —Elissa Silverman
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