It has not been a good two weeks for the District.
Two Sundays ago, District residents learned from the Washington Post that Kwame Brown, the Chairman of the City Council, was responsible for the city leasing two “fully loaded” 2011 Lincoln Navigator SUVs at $1600 and $1900 per month, respectively. As if it wasn’t enough that the cost was excessive in these difficult times, he also rejected the first SUV because the interior was the wrong color. The fact that the city already had a car for the Chairman made it even worse.
The Post also ran a story stating that Mayor Vincent Gray had hired many senior staff at record salaries and had hired the children of some of his staff members. Also, the Mayor himself had a “fully loaded” 2010 Lincoln Navigator SUV leased for him by the Metropolitan Police Department at $1900 per month. As the week went on, the stories got worse.
It was learned that the administration had hired Mr. Sulaimon Brown for $110,000 per year. The next day, when it was discovered that Mr. Brown had a checkered past, he was fired. This led to a press frenzy and allegations that the Mayor was hiding from reporters.
Then, as if it couldn’t get any worse, it was disclosed that Dr. Allen Sessoms, President of the University of the District of Columbia, had spent thousands of dollars on travel and, you guessed it, had leased a “fully loaded” Lincoln Navigator SUV.
Everyone in the city was taken aback by these events. At a time when the city is struggling to balance its budget and show Wall Street and the new Republican Congress that we are acting responsibly, these revelations have done nothing to bolster the District’s image.
Mayor Gray, Chairman Brown and President Sessoms all need to address these issues head-on. In the case of Kwame Brown, the Attorney General is negotiating to return the two SUVs. Whatever cost the city incurs must be paid by Kwame Brown and not the taxpayers. If it means paying the city $17,000, so be it. Dr. Sessoms must also explain and justify his expenses or, as in the case of Kwame Brown, reimburse the University.
Let’s hope that these events are one-time lapses in judgment and are not repeated. The District cannot afford to once again become the butt of late night television jokes. It took many of us too long to undo the damage the last time this happened.