Newly-elected DC City Council Chairman Kwame Brown has moved quickly to put his brand on the District’s governing body—and to emerge from under his predecessor’s shadow. Case in point: Just days prior to officially taking over as chairman, Brown had already wielded his brand of administration by comfortably settling into a larger suite of offices on the fifth floor at the John A. Wilson Building. But unlike his predecessor, newly sworn-in Mayor Vincent Gray, Brown’s new offices, which will also accommodate several key staffers, stretches the length of the building.
“I can assure you that he is not simply going to be a rubber stamp for Mayor Gray,” said Brown’s communications director, Traci Hughes.
She explained about the office arrangement, “The primary reason for putting all the offices on the fifth floor was to make it easier for people when they’re doing business with the chairman’s office essentially one-stop shopping.”
Having served on the Council since 2005, Brown, 40, a native Washingtonian who lives east of the river, has been just as adept—and brisk—in rearranging the 13-member governing body to his liking: Among the first of his tasks since assuming office Jan. 2, Brown, 40, has appointed and replaced several key board and committee posts, including ending Ward 1 Councilman Graham’s 12-year stint on the Metro board of directors.
“It wasn’t so much that he removed me,” said Graham. “I had indicated that I would continue serving but I also said that if felt the need to appoint someone else, I would be completely supportive – and quite frankly it’s been a relief .”
Graham also said in a Jan. 17 interview with the AFRO that it is obvious Brown’s style differs from Gray’s. “Vince Gray was extremely effective,” Graham said, “But just watching how Brown dispatched the Council business today, he did it very straightforwardly, and for an additional legislative meeting he marched straight through it and got things done.”
Graham said that was clear signal there will less talking and more action in the Council. “Today’s session was good because I was settling back thinking it would be an hour-and-half meeting, when it was actually over in 10 minutes,” he said. “So although he’s got a different style, it’s clearly a very good one.”
In other immediate Brown changes, Ward 5 Councilman Harry Thomas now presides over the Economic Development Committee, while the entire education committee comes under Brown’s watch. Ward 8 Council Marion Barry –in a much smaller capacity than his former Workforce and Development Committee chairmanship of which he was stripped in early 2010 – will oversee the Committee on Aging and Community Affairs. Tommy Wells will assume Graham’s former post on the Public Works and Transportation Committee.
Meanwhile, hoping to offset doubts over his ability to lead the Council, Brown has maintained that it is a job he can handle despite last year’s unfolding (in the midst of his campaign) that the married father of two was behind more than $50,0000 in credit card payments, late fees s and attorney costs.
The revelation, which was initially brought to the fore by the mainstream media, left many to ponder Brown’s leadership over a city that was already struggling with a $188 million budget deficit –which, left unresolved, could easily double by 2012. But Brown responded that his personal responsibilities had nothing to do with his ability to take charge of the Council. He explained at the time that he and his wife had made arrangements to pay off the debt, and that with the country being in a recession, his family was not unlike any others grappling with financial obligations.
According Roger Newell, strategic organizer for the Washington, DC-based International Brotherhood of Teamsters, there has not been enough time to fairly assess Brown’s ability in his latest role.
“We have to wait and take a look at how things will shape up,” Newell said. “We need to give him some working space first as I want to see what he puts together and what his full game plan will be.”
Known by his Council colleagues and constituency for his solid presence in local government, Brown’s efforts to not only improve the lives of residents through education, job creation and economic development, have seemingly paid off as evidenced by the 90 percent vote that landed him the Council chair’s post.
Having made it no secret his plans to effect progressive change for the District, Brown was not available for response to the AFRO’s inquiry regarding his management style and agenda for reform. But speaking through Hughes, he let on that his main priorities are balancing the budget, ensuring that education mandates set in motion by the former schools chancellor remain on track and creating more jobs that will put more residents to work.
“I think that one thing people can count on is that the chairman will have a collaborative style,” Hughes said. “We have the benefit of having a mayor with whom the chairman has a good relationship, and he’s going to ensure that there will be strict oversight of the executive and District government agencies that they are operating efficiently –particularly in light of the budgetary constraints.”