Navigatorgate: The Prequel
Turns out that Council Chairman Kwame "Fully Loaded" Brown didn't just reject one pricey SUV, he rejected two.
We all know by now that Brown made the city order him a second luxury Lincoln Navigator because he didn't like the first one's gray interior. But what's been undisclosed, til now, is that Brown also turned up his nose at a 2011 Chevy Tahoe because, according to an email between Department of Public Works staff, he wanted a Navigator just like the mayor's.
Emails obtained through multiple Freedom of Information Act requests show that in the fall of 2010, DPW wanted to lease the incoming chairman a new Chevy Tahoe, the same model the outgoing chairman (who, you may recall, was getting a promotion to mayor) had driven.
But there was a problem: a leased Tahoe wasn't immediately available. So DPW rented Brown a 2011 Tahoe for the two months between the general election and his swearing-in. The price: $3,659.58.
The emails contain two quotes from a leasing company for long-term leases for a 2011 Tahoe, but it's not clear if any lease was actually signed and if one was, what happened to it. LL will update when he finds out.
In any event, it turns out there was an even bigger problem than the delivery date of a potentially leased Tahoe. One day after the rented Tahoe was delivered on Nov. 4, Larry Cooper, the D.C. Council staffer who acted as a liaison between Brown and DPW, told DPW staff the chairman-elect did not want just a plain ol' Tahoe. Here's a Nov. 10 email from DPW employee Michael Biggs to his subordinate Greg Harrelson, who acted as DPW's point person in getting the lease on Brown's Tahoe.
"I had a talk with Larry Cooper last Friday and he said Chairman Brown wants a Navigator comparably equipped as Mayor Gray's. I told him ok. So make sure we get that instead of another Tahoe. 10-4?"
Brown, you'll recall, has always denied that he wanted to copy the mayor's ride and said he merely requested a black-on-black SUV. That excuse has been hard to swallow from the start, but it's even more so now, seeing all the effort Harrelson put into getting Brown a Tahoe.
Harrelson worked with Cooper starting in September on trying to find the right vehicle for Brown. In an Oct. 4 email, he extolled the virtues of a Tahoe. "This model would be a great choice because it comes in a hybrid and ethanol power format," Harrelson wrote.
Two weeks later, Harrelson sent Cooper an email with details about Chevy Suburbans, which are like Tahoes but with a bit more space. In the subject line, Harrelson wrote "Larry, The Suburban has the [navigation system], alloy wheels, premium sound system and more." (If those features sound familiar, it's because they are the exact same features one of Brown's staffers would later tell DPW needed to be in Brown's second Navigator.) By the end of October, Harrelson even had a quote from a leasing company for a three-year lease on a Tahoe for $895 a month. (The Navigators Brown eventually leased, of course, cost nearly $2,000 each.) The Tahoe's color scheme: black with black leather seats.
But, alas, as we all know by now, a fully loaded black-on-black Tahoe or Suburban for Brown just wasn't meant to be.
The emails indicate that the Tahoe was returned to the rental car company on Jan. 3, but not before taking a few lumps. Three days before Christmas, Harrelson sent Biggs an email that said "here are the photos of the damaged mirror on the Tahoe that Kwame Brown was using." The attached pictures show that the front part of the driver's side mirror was destroyed, and there were scratches on what appears to be the driver's side front bumper. LL will update when he hears back on who is responsible for the damage and who paid for the repairs.
In the meantime, here's probably the best nugget in the FOIAs. It's an email exchange on Dec. 30 between Biggs and Harrelson.
"You need to make damn sure that you are able to show exactly everything from a to z, and who said what and when concerning this Navigator issue for Chairman Brown. One day someone is going to come back and dig into this. I want to make sure that we can tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth on the purchase of this vehicle and the waste and abuse of taxpayers money," Biggs wrote.
Harrelson's reply: "You're absolutely right. This thing smells to high heaven."