Kwame Brown's tenure as the powerful chairman of the District Council ended just as it had begun, with a public display of personal greed that embarrassed the city he served and further eroded public confidence in the council he led. The damage he did to the city's reputation is incalculable.
There were signs that the youngest council chairman in D.C. history had an oversized appetite for luxury inappropriate in a public servant. His misuse of credit cards became an issue in his 2010 campaign for chairman, but Brown assured supporters and the media that his personal finances were in order. However, soon after being elected he earned the nickname "Fully Loaded" for ordering a second city-leased luxury SUV because he didn't like the interior color of the first.
Like his former colleague, Harry Thomas Jr. -- who was recently sentenced to 38 months in federal prison for stealing money from a baseball program for low-income children and spending it on cars, expensive trips and "exotic shoes" -- Brown apparently thought he would never get caught.His hubris is apparent in "Bullet Proof" -- the name he gave to the $50,000 Chris-Craft boat he bought with a home equity loan on his Hillcrest home. His current troubles stem from overstating his income on the loan application.
Brown's abrupt resignation from the council's top leadership post Wednesday marked the second time in just five months that a member has left in disgrace for financial misdeeds. U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen Jr. is to be commended for his surgical skill in rooting out the rampant corruption at the highest levels of city government while sparing taxpayers the added burden and expense of long trials. His prosecutorial team had already secured guilty pleas from Thomas -- the first sitting council member to be convicted of a felony since the District won home rule 39 years ago -- and two of Mayor Vincent Gray's top campaign aides. Brown's guilty plea Friday puts Machen at four-for-four.
"I was wrong," Brown wrote in a letter relinquishing his chairmanship, "and I will face the consequences of that conduct." Unfortunately, so will the District of Columbia, which has been deeply wounded by the many betrayals.