Replacing Kwame Brown Won't Be Easy If Brown becomes D.C. Council chairman, a wild special election could follow.

Chain Reaction: If Kwame Brown wins, a chaotic special election would follow.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery

Fans of political theater have been blessed with a pretty entertaining election season. Mayor Adrian Fenty appears poised to lose, only four years after winning every precinct in the city, and despite raising enough money for his campaign that he could have taken everyone in town out for a burger and still had money left over for attack ads. D.C. Council Chairman candidate Kwame Brown looks like he’s going to cruise past revelations that he’s pretty bad—OK, really bad—with his money. And long-time At-Large Councilmember Phil Mendelson’s political career has a good chance of going down in flames because his little-known challenger happens to share a name, but not a middle initial, with Councilmember Michael A. Brown.

Good stuff, to be sure. But for sheer craziness, the best show hasn’t even started. The next race, a special election to fill Kwame Brown’s at-large seat if he moves up to council chairman, could easily become a knock-down, royal rumble between several candidates looking for just a few thousand votes to win.

That’s because if Brown wins, the 82 members of the D.C. Democratic State Committee will pick a replacement. That replacement will enjoy being an incumbent for about four months until a special election can be held where anyone can run, regardless of party. In these types of contests, where turnout and interest is low, it doesn’t take much to win. David Catania got his start on the council 13 years ago, when he pulled in a whopping 10,818 votes in a citywide special election. (That amounts to about 2 percent of the District’s population.)

Winning numbers that low tend to give hope to people who wouldn’t otherwise have a shot in hell. Get strong enough support from one or two groups, and boom! You’ve got one of the best paying part-time jobs in the country. And, oh, yeah, also a vote on the council.

“It’s about identifying your supporters and getting them to the polls,” says Jacque Patterson, president of the Ward 8 Democrats and one of the least coy potential candidates Loose Lips spoke with about the possible race.

“That will be a seat that I expect a lot of people to jump into,” says Clark Ray, who’s running a distant third against Mendelson and (not that) Michael Brown, and has been mentioned as a possible choice to replace Kwame Brown in his at-large seat. “What are you hearing?”

Well, Clark, lots.

First, there are the candidates like yourself: likely losers whose names are being bandied about to replace Brown as a consolation prize. The obvious choice for the pity vote would be Mendelson, if he loses.

Vincent Orange, a former Ward 5 councilmember who is running behind Brown in polls for the chairmanship, is someone people love to mention as a replacement for Brown. Makes sense, right? Gee, VO, you didn’t beat Kwame, but you can have his old job.

“People have been discussing it,” says David Meadows, executive director of the D.C. Democratic Party.

Orange scoffs at the notion he’d be happy with Brown’s sloppy seconds. But he raised some eyebrows last week, when he hosted a cookout for Ward 5 Democratic State Committee members—who, as it happens, would have a say in appointing Brown’s successor.

Orange says the shindig was just a thank you for the Ward 5 pols who hosted a straw poll, which he won, albeit barely. He says he has no interest in being just a regular old councilmember again.

“If I want to be on the council, I would have stayed on the council as a Ward 5 councilmember,” Orange says. But he’s been running for office for 20 years, and it’s hard to believe he wouldn’t be tempted by another bite at the apple. Or in his case, the orange.

Besides Orange, Leo Alexander has said he doesn’t plan on disappearing after he loses the mayoral race. And Ray says he’s open to the idea of being picked to replace Brown, too.

“I would be foolish to say that I would not consider it,” Ray says. He hastens to add that he hasn’t made up his mind, but drops this line about how he thinks he’s viewed by the Democratic committee that suggests otherwise: “They certainly know that I have been a person who has demonstrated the ability to campaign citywide and work hard.”

But hard work alone likely won’t go very far in deciding who the committee picks. This is a rare chance for insiders to reward friends and return favors—or stash some chits away for down the line. So the universe of potential replacements isn’t limited to people who will be on the ballot on Sept. 14.

Some Democrats are pushing for a woman candidate (Deborah Royster, president of the Ward 4 Democrats, has been mentioned). Franklin Garcia, head of the D.C. Latino Caucus, says there’s interest in seeing a Latino on the dais.

In Ward 8, Patterson thinks he’ll have an advantage over other candidates who’ve just slogged through an election. “It’s going to be very difficult for people who are running right now to turn around and ask people for more money,” he says.

Adam Clampitt, who ran against Michael A. Brown as an independent in the 2008 at-large race before dropping his bid to serve as a U.S. Navy Reserve officer in Afghanistan, is another possible candidate. Clampitt, whose been making the rounds at ward forums and is a vocal supporter of D.C. Council Chairman Vincent Gray, says he still hasn’t made up his mind, but has been going on a listening tour to gauge interest. “It’s been, universally, a pretty good response,” he reports.

One name that keeps popping up is Ward 5 Councilmember Harry Thomas, Jr., who seems poised to cruise to an easy primary re-election on Sept. 14. That would leave a vacancy in Ward 5, but put Thomas in a citywide seat.

“It’s something I would consider,” Thomas says, adding the obligatory sentence that he’s currently focused on winning the race he’s in. “You know I would meet with my ward folks and make sure that everybody understood what was going on.”

But the best option for sheer political madness? Michael A. Brown.

Brown, you’ll recall, switched his party affiliation from Democratic to independent to win his at-large seat in 2008 with only 20 percent of the vote. He says “a lot of folks” have approached him and asked him to consider switching back to the Democratic Party. Brown says he can’t get a clear answer on whether he can switch his party affiliation and be done with it, or whether switching parties would require that he run in a special election, something he doesn’t want to do. LL also tried and failed (so far) to get a clear answer from the Board of Elections and Ethics about what would happened if Brown switched. Brown said he “probably” won’t, because of the legal uncertainty, but if he did, the Home Rule charter requires that his seat go to someone other than a Democrat.

When asked if he’s considering switching back to the Democratic Party because he is, in fact, a Democrat, Brown scoffed at the very idea, saying he’s an independent with “Democratic values.” Yeah—and LL was an All-Met basketball player!

More Marathon Money

A few weeks ago, Loose Lips reported that the Greater Washington Sports Alliance, a politically connected non-profit that organizes the National Marathon, gets a lot of help from the city’s taxpayers and pays its president more than $400,000 a year.

Turns out that wasn’t all. According to documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, the District has cut two checks for the GWSA this year, for a total of $675,000. That’s in addition to the $285,263.06 the Metropolitan Police Department waived in security fees at this year’s marathon on orders from Fenty’s office, according to Fox5’s Paul Wagner.

The FOIA request also returned documents saying the city only paid the GWSA $5,000 in 2008, though D.C. Council records and the GWSA’s own tax records show that the city sent the group $500,000 that year. (Officials are trying to double-check the numbers.) But the payments in 2010 look pretty solid. The documents obtained by LL give check numbers for a $425,000 payment on Jan. 21 and a $250,000 payment on April 26. The documents appear to show that the payments originated from the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

Questions submitted to Fenty’s office and the GWSA got no answer by press time.

Numbers aside, GWSA’s relationship to the mayor’s office seems to be tighter than many people realized. When Fenty fired Clark Ray from his job as director of the Department of Parks and Recreation in April 2009, city officials arranged to give him a soft landing at the GWSA.

A day or two after he was let go, Ray says, then-City Administrator Dan Tangherlini, who had delivered the news of his dismissal, “called me and said, ‘We’ve got a gig at the Greater Washington Sports Alliance, that’s where we would like you to go.’”

Ray says he then had breakfast with GWSA’s Bob Sweeney, the group’s aforementioned president, whose pay package jumped nearly $100,000 in two years to a total of $415,278 in 2008. Sure enough, Sweeney gave him a job helping out with the city’s bid to host the 2014 Gay Games (Cleveland won). “I didn’t have a title,” Ray says.

After four months, Ray left the GWSA, saying it wasn’t his “cup of tea.” As for his well-paid boss, Ray says he didn’t see Sweeney around the office very much. And he didn’t know how much Sweeney made.

“That’s a lot of money, though,” says Ray. “I wouldn’t mind that job someday.”

(If you’re keeping score at home, that’s two items in this column so far—and two jobs Clark Ray is interested in.)

Harry Thomas, Jr. has a dream

It was hard not to feel a little bit sorry watching Councilmember Harry Thomas, Jr. on Saturday at the Rev. Al Sharpton’s “Reclaim the Dream” rally at Dunbar Senior High School and subsequent march to the future Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial on the Mall.

Before the rally, NPR called Thomas a “civil rights leader.” But that was about the last time anyone showed him much respect for the rest of the day.

First, one of Sharpton’s handlers shooed Thomas off the stage while Sharpton was speaking, though Education Secretary Arne Duncan was allowed to stay. Then Sharpton thanked Thomas in front of the crowd as most were already headed toward the door—and only referred to Thomas as “councilmember,” without mentioning his name. (Thomas says he worked on Sharpton’s 2004 presidential campaign.) And as Sharpton left the stage to begin the march, Thomas literally had to run to catch up with him.

After marching directly behind Sharpton for several miles in the heat, Thomas finally got to address the crowd at the future site of the MLK memorial. But this was no “I Have a Dream” speech. Instead, Thomas had to play crowd control, and try to get people to stop blocking the view of the cameras.

“We need to move this crowd back, c’mon,” Thomas declared. “Marchers move back…The camera crews cannot move, we need to move around the camera crews. The people need to be behind the camera crews, so I need the marchers to give me a little space behind the cameras.”


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Our Readers Say

Harry Thomas: Buffoon. Which is why he'd be perfect to fill Kwame's shoes.


This is the best we can get?
Hey Sally, I'm with you.
The Washington Post had nothing nice to say about Harry Thomas or Kwame Brown in their endorsements. Deborah Royster only cares about herself.
This city is in trouble...
That's why Kwame Brown needs to stay in his at-large seat for another 2 years until his term is up and not become chairman of the District of Columbia. He can't manage a 10 billion dollar budget since he can't manage his own finances and it would save all of us a lot of grief not having to deal with the other article-mentioned wannabee's running for council in the special election!
Kwame hasn't won yet and with 35% of the voters undecided things could change. Kwame needs to learn to manage his own money and then the city's money. I agree he needs to stay where he is until he finishes growing up. The council members who support him want to use him as a puppet for their wish list.
KB WILL CRUISE to victory as chair and Grey who is 67 will be 71 at the end of his first mayoral term. Can anyone see where I am going with this. Say what you want about Kwame but the truth is he is going to become the next mayor of this City. He is engaging and warm and has a great ability to connect with people. His finances have not effected this election and won't in the future.
KB WILL CRUISE to victory as chair and Grey who is 67 will be 71 at the end of his first mayoral term. Can anyone see where I am going with this. Say what you want about Kwame but the truth is he is going to become the next mayor of this City. He is engaging and warm and has a great ability to connect with people. His finances have not effected this election and won't in the future.
Are people stupid? This is not a game - people need to wake up and realize that voting in an fiscally irresponsible person is not going to move us forward as a city.

Who cares if he is warm and engaging, he is a flunkie when it comes to handling finances - DO YOU NOT SEE THAT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Important and valuable info, and GWSA-Clark Ray update is a home run. Thanks, Alan.
Too much money to be made as an entrepreneurial appointee with a vision in municipal and State government today. ( "I can see that would think I'm only taking this job for myself, prep for my next job as consultant / contractor. That's my nearsighted AND farsighted vision.") It will take a decade or two, or a depression, to recover from the belief big money must be paid for gov execs from the private sector, folks who would might otherwise be coming up with new sub-prime lending marketing schemes.


Thinking Clark Ray might have something going for him -- dismissed by Fenty and all for what was construed as Ray's principle or integrity-- I read the resume he's posted in running for CM. Now, I understand he was dismissed by someone working for Fenty who also got around to reading his resume, realized how unqualified he was for that Recreation and Parks job and how little qualified he is for ANY supervisory job. So, he landed, softly, as a staffer with sports-promotion, no real work or accountability at all.

Do DC Politicians really care about the people and the Citizens of the District of Columbia? Are they Self-Servants or Public-Servants? Do they care about in a down-turn economy how people are making ends meet? Do they care that 10% of the population in DC are out of work? Do they care about why our city youths, from the 6th grade to the 12th grade attend more funerals than they do birthday parties as a result of gun violence? Do they care more about building recreational centers,
libraries, doggy parks and ribbon cuttings and this building and that building, than building the lives of the people here who have been left behind and can't economically catch up? Do they really care? I will let you all answer that.
Kwame Brown is about as competent as Clark Ray, but unfortunately, Vincent Orange is no more competent or well-intentioned. So it is one thing to bemoan KB's qualifications, but another to accuse voters of being stupid for voting for him. This is a total Deuche vs. Turd race.

The saddest part is ultimately that no one of integrity and competence is willing to run. Chalk that reality up to the viciousness of DC politics and the scheisters one must bed before s/he has any real shot at winning election (unless you happen to share the same name as an already-elected scheister ;-).

DC's best "hope" might be for David Alpert & Co. to make a run in the coming years, but let's be honest. Alpert may be a lot more intelligent than most, but he is also a self-centered prig who puts personal whims over community well-being just as much as he advocates for intelligent urbanization.

If for no other reason, Fenty lost my support when his antics re-enforced the notion that in order to succeed in DC politics, on must either grovel to jerks and crooks, or suffer the experience of putting a bulls' eye on one's back while a vicious inner-circle of politicians set out to make life hell. Hardly the kind of environment in which intelligent people end up volunteering for civic roles. What kind of intelligent person would risk a comfortable, safe life on the sidelines for the opportunity -- at best -- of winning an election and then compromising with such jerks, or -- at worst -- suffering the initial humiliation of losing to these nutballs and then additionally being blacklisted and targeted by one's new rivals for years to come?
How in the world can a man like Kwame Brown who has to be sued by credit card companies for not paying his personal debts even have a snowball's chance of being ELECTED City Council Chair? He has speeding tickets dating back over 10 years that he did not pay. What are people thinking? This is why outsiders think that DC Government is joke! And also, he really, really is not that nice of an individual.
@Gwen I am right there with you all the way.
Whoa!!!You folks have a it all figured out I see. Their all a bunch of crooks, except for Adrian Fenty, right, well take it from me KB has unquestionable integrity. Let's stop playing holier than thou and be real, they're very few of us that have not had financial issues,granted his are a bit extensive, he's a typical guy that wants the best for his family. I could see this type of ridicule aimed at someone that was mindlessly throwing away money but most of his antics were centered around his family. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone, just what I thought, so chill out on the judgement.
Kwame Brown is the sort of "leader" who spends $20,000 that he doesn't have on a Rolex, and still shows up late for every meeting.

Has anyone ever listened to Kwame Brown on the "Politics Hour" on WAMU? What a clown. His tactic is to say nothing of substance but disarm the callers on guests with fake politeness.

I already voted and wrote in myself for Council Chair becasue none of the choses were palatable. The only reason our budgets have been balanced after begin sent over from Fenty with all kinds of ridiculous things in them, was because Vincent Gray a made some hard choices.

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