The D.C. Council's Family Business Home rule is now old enough to have spawned a generation of legacy pols. What do they tell us about the District?

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Several months after Thomas Sr. died in 1999, his son was hired as a vice president of public affairs at D.C. General Hospital. Thomas told the Post he was hired because of his public-affairs background, not because of his father.

It clearly still bothers Thomas that people believe he’s ridden his father’s coattails. (Like Kwame Brown, Thomas wouldn’t be interviewed for this story.) At a council hearing earlier this year into the hiring of a handful of children of senior officials in the Gray administration, Thomas repeatedly gave rambling, almost nonsensical defenses of the hires.

“People said I got here only because of my father,” said Thomas. “I’ve understood what it is standing in the shadow of someone who has consistently tried to say that nepotism existed in the things I’ve accomplished, and I’ve had to do what I’ve had to do to prove that wrong.”

But Thomas has given his critics a lifetime’s supply of ammunition with his recent legal troubles. Earlier this summer, he agreed to pay the city back $300,000 after the attorney general sued him for allegedly stealing city funds earmarked for youth-baseball programs and spending the money on a luxury SUV and golf outings, among other things. Like Brown, Thomas has also attached the attention of federal prosecutors.

Thomas maintains he’s not done anything wrong. He’s been relying on the goodwill his family has built up to see him through. How long that goodwill can last is an open question. There’s plenty of chatter about a recall in his ward; possible candidates are already quietly lining up support in the event he leaves office.

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The story of Michael Brown’s political legacy is on a different level than that of Kwame Brown or Harry Thomas Jr. Michael Brown comes from black political royalty. His father, aside from being President Clinton’s secretary of commerce, was a millionaire lawyer and lobbyist and the first black chair of the Democratic National Committee. A street downtown and a middle school in the District are both named after Ron Brown, who was killed in a plane crash in 1996. His son can tell stories of crisscrossing the country with presidents, working on presidential campaigns with the likes of George Stephanopoulos, and warming up a giant crowd at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion the day before Michael Dukakis lost the 1988 election.

Unlike Thomas, Michael Brown is at ease assuming the legacy of his father. Or at least he says he is.

“I don’t live my life trying to step out of his shadow. I kind of like his shadow because he did such great work,” says Brown during an interview in his council office, which is filled with pictures of his father, including an old Pepsi ad featuring Ron Brown as a child, one of the first directed to black families. “My father had a very strong influence on my life. If he was a dentist, I’d probably be a dentist.”

Brown’s easygoing demeanor doesn’t mean he doesn’t carefully guard his image. When I once wrote on Twitter that my Google alert for “Michael Brown” was useless (because it’s such a common name), his chief of staff called me a few moments later to make sure I wasn’t mocking Brown.

It’s easy to see why Brown would be a little touchy about his rep. The comparisons between father and son haven’t always been kind to Michael, who’s been knocked for not being as smart and ambitious as his übersuccessful dad. That perception hasn’t been helped by Brown’s relatively modest legislative accomplishments and the fact that he had to drop his Democratic Party registration and declare himself an independent to win a seat on the council after losing bids for mayor and the Ward 4 seat.

“I’m always surprised Michael made it,” says one Wilson Building wag who knew Ron Brown. “I never really thought he wanted it that much.”

But while Ron Brown is best, and correctly, remembered as a major player in national politics, he was always interested and involved to some degree in local affairs, Michael Brown says. Michael says it was his father’s time at the Urban League working on social issues where Ron developed key contacts with “old-school pols,” as Michael describes them, such as former Council Chairmen Sterling Tucker, John Wilson, and David Clarke and Councilmember Charlene Drew Jarvis.

Those ties led to Ron Brown’s being named chairman of the board for the newly formed University of the District of Columbia. His local ties extended into District business, as well. While a partner at Patton Boggs, Brown set up a side business as minority contractor to a firm that sold supplemental retirement programs to District-government employees. Questions about how he’d been awarded the city contract surfaced during Brown’s confirmation for commerce secretary, and he sold his stake in the company.

Our Readers Say

The problem with this second generation is that they're too young and stupid to know that they're young and stupid.

My bet: at least 1 out of these three "legacies" will be indicted by the Feds.

DC will never become a top-tier city until it rids itself of this generation of tailcoat riders who've done nothing on their own, other than try to live outside their daddies' shadows.
The DC City Council has become a Jurassic Park for mediocre and morally bankrupt elected officials. With some very limited exceptions of course. The City needs an infusion of dedicated and authentic public servants. Term limits, no outside employment, establish a revolving door policy, and real oversight over constituent service funds would help. Also, residents need to get over their party loyalties and elect folks that are committed to really serving the public with integrity and honesty. Harry Thomas should resign. Kwame Brown is a real joke. The man has no substance. Michael Brown has no record. Marion Barry should have retired sometime ago. Jim Graham needs to allow others to lead, time to move on. And so on...trust me; time for new, diverse, and dynamic leadership is upon us.
Our great city will never achieve statehood, budget autonomy, and full voting rights as long as we continue to elect the equivalent of corrupt Middle Eastern and African dictators to represent us in the City Council. This city is really a case to be studied, what type of population elects an ex con, supports someone who steals from the public, and admires someone who on their first weeks of becoming the leader of an elected body is more worried about having a fully loaded nav as opposed to creating jobs and reforming our education system first. Kwame Brown give it up, you are finished.
To hell with legacies! WTF is this, a monarchy??? Fukk you HTJ. You are heading to the slammer!
I agree with you-Francis Walsingham,The DC City Council has become a Jurassic Park for mediocre and morally bankrupt elected officials. But just last Tuesday, the District's production Data Center located in Reston Virginia was knock down by human error. This outage affected all of the agencies's ability to conduct city business. Not one report has gone out to the users explaining what happen and the mediocre management at OCTO is still smiling. Why? because District taxpayers are working at construction jobs-if they can get one. I am moving to Virginia or Maryland the likehood of getting a high paying job in the District is more likely than living in the District-we just want to work constuction!
Kwame Brown may well have a chance come January to find out how well his family name will protect him . I'm certainly going to sign a recall petition and will ask others to do it. Harry Thomas Jr should resign and spare his family and friends the pain of seeing him indicted for criminal malfeasance. It's sad to think how hard it is to see the son of a hero behave so badly.
danmac, HTJ should not only resign immediately, he also should go directly to the slammer. No deals
The ones who are "young and stupid" are all the dog-walking, bike-loving "urbanist" twits who think they know it all and wanna' remake this place place just like Portland or New York or whereever they came from. They don't understand the history, culture, the vibe of DC. As Marion says, "to the victors belong the spoils." For me, he will always be The Mayor! Stop trashin' DC!
Yea, real smart Al, it should remain a "ghetto" as your pal marion calls it. I was here before Marion Barry and I am all for bike lanes, parks etc. WTF is wrong with improving the city idiot?
When I think of legacy, I think of young men and women who honor the sacrifices and struggles of their families by elevating their stature in the community. Most often achieved through education, entrepreneurship or great service to the public, the Browns and HTJ are just lucky, dim-witted, morally bankrupt thugs elected to public office to satisfy the greed and business interests of their handlers. They represent entitlement at its worst. This behavior preceded their foray into the public arena. HTJ profited from his father's position. He just barely managed to graduate from college and is given a $150+ annual salary? Michael Brown was screwing his law school mates while his wife was at home taking care of two crying babies! Kwame spends so much time pumping funny looking white girls, I'm surprised he even absorbed the lessons of the likes of Ivanhoe Donaldson! Make no mistake, these fools are no legacy. They represent the tragic consequences of an electorate willing to sell their votes for Thanksgiving dinner giveaways and chicken sandwiches from Popeye's. God help us all...
Al,

You post has to be a joke right? You wrote it in jest...

Because there is no way anyone other than a semi conscious crack head could possibly defend the lying, stealing and pure graft of these guys by calling it "the vibe" of the city.

These young bike loving urbanists also happen to be highly educated and highly paid; and responsible for the enormous influx of property tax and income tax funds into the DC treasury that goes to pay for all you so called "culture".

You can thank them for you your monthly food stamps and subsidized taxpayer rent. Thankfully your ilk is now the minority in the District.
I have no confidence in the DC Council, DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes-Norton, and Mayor Vincent Gray. All mentioned are not serving the DC voters. Many are corrupt and are serving themselves. Let me say this, it's not only black DC Councilmembers alleged to be corrupt. There are several white DC Councilmembers with allegations of corruption against them. Stop making this about race. Politicians come in all races and ethnic groups. I am not a Marion Barry fan, but I am sick of white folks constantly throwing Marion Barry's name up in the face of Washingtonians. Most of you racist whites don't live in the District and some do. All black DC residents didn't vote or support Marion Barry. What will you do, once the man is dead? Who will you talk about them? Will you talk about George Bush or Bill Clinton having oral sex performed on him in the Oval office? I have no faith in any politicians regardless of race because most don't seem to serve their constituents and voters.
If all y'all here bitching about the quality of the representation on the council are serious, there's a solution every 4 years. It's called an election. If these admittedly sub-par politician's keep getting elected, well, then that's the will of the voters. Term limits, which Francis Walsingham suggested above, are just a cop out. They deprive the people of the oppurtunity to vote for who they want (if, indeed, the majority of voters do want to keep the incumbent in). If folks are so apathetic that they can't get enough people out to vote new blood in, well, then they get the government they deserve. Tough shit.
@KappaNupe, the person who brought up Barry was Al, above. But maybe it actually was a joke. This article is about HTJ and the Browns, whom I presume are all black. Circumstance. However, HTJ is most likely guilty of criminal acts, punishable by time in the slammer, and that is where he should be.
DC politics are the worst. Pathetic. Sad. What we have here a re a bunch of egos with no real drive other than their own deluded self-interest. Many right on comments here, especially Francis'.
Whenever I read the latest news about DC's corruption-ridden leadership, I think, "This is why we can't have nice things." There's a simple solution, one already enacted in the 1830s for what's now Northern Virginia: retrocession. Let's give the District back to Maryland. Everything east of the Anacostia can go the PG County, and the rest to Montgomery County. Then we could have two cities, with some state money to help. Whatever buildings and parks owned by the Federal government could remain under Federal control. I used to love this city; now it's just a joke.
I've only been in the District a few months, and may be returning to China soon, but I feel the taxi medallion bill may result in higher costs for us consumers. Compare prices of DC taxis with Montgomery County, New York, Baltimore, and other places where there is a semi-monopoly on taxi licenses. Our prices in DC are much lower because there is competition and freedom for anyone to be a driver. Taxi fares in Montgomery County are almost twice as much as in DC. I know because I use taxis in both jurisdictions...
I hope that we can keep the current free enterprise system in our city....
Gary
I've only been in the District a few months, and may be returning to China soon, but I feel the taxi medallion bill may result in higher costs for us consumers. Compare prices of DC taxis with Montgomery County, New York, Baltimore, and other places where there is a semi-monopoly on taxi licenses. Our prices in DC are much lower because there is competition and freedom for anyone to be a driver. Taxi fares in Montgomery County are almost twice as much as in DC. I know because I use taxis in both jurisdictions...
I hope that we can keep the current free enterprise system in our city....
Gary
I question the premise that Harry Thomas Sr. did a great job at providing constituent service as Ward 5 councilmember. His office continually failed to respond to my requests for service. I finally had to ask an unpaid ANC commissioner for help (getting a new SuperCan when ours was stolen -- and remember, Harry headed the DPW oversight committee), because Harry's office wouldn't respond. And I didn't even have an ANC commissioner at the time, so I needed to ask someone who didn't even represent me. So much for Harry Thomas Sr. and his constituent service!
Greetings -

Does anyone have any suggestions about viable candidates who are above reproach, and in good moral and financial standing who can occupy council seats in D.C. government?

It is very sad that some people think they own their public office, rather than being true public servants...being a public servant means sacrificing and giving much of one's self to the people you serve, not enriching yourself.

But human nature being what it is, so many of us forget our roots, and our original goal of helping others who are truly in need, and making our community a better place...

In fairness, it is very easy to be distracted by all the fawning news media attention, the butt-kissing, gift-giving, slick salespersons (lobbyists and government contractors), those who want jobs, favors, and special attention, not to mention the psychos, sickos, and weirdos who gravitate toward those in "government" and politics...it takes someone of unusually strong character and high ideals to "stay the course" and keep some degree of integrity and devotion to the public interest...

That is the danger of "one party" rule, of big city (or state or even national one-party regimes), like Boss Tweed of Tammany Hall, NYC, the Daley dynasty of Chicago (go Bulls! go Bears! Go Blackhawks! go White Sox and Cubs!), the Byrd Machine of Virginia, Huey Long and his brothers of Louisiana, and various dictatorships and single-party regimes around the world: without competition and a free press, it is easy to get too comfortable as rulers and give in to the omnipresent temptations of the lobbyists, contractors, job-seeking friends and family members, and favor-seeking political donors and campaign workers.

Washington, D.C. has been a one-party town for such a long time, maybe it would be good to have more diversity and competition in our local politics!

Gary J. Minter
garyjminter@alumni.duke.edu


Puppet governments by dynasty or affiliation has never worked that well in governments, and doesn't even work that well in families.

Americans should think twice about term limits to prevent gravitating toward remote rule by puppet kings controlled by king makers; just look at British ancient history and what they went through, including America's own Revolution.

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