There’s an old saying that all politics is local. A lesser-known but equally important corollary to this adage is that much of local politics is hilarious. If you’re one of the many Georgetown students who came to D.C. to get closer to the epicenter of national politics but you’re not paying attention to what’s happening at the local level, you’re missing out.
Few stories illustrate the amusing and engrossing potential of local politics as the recent saga of Sulaimon Brown, who first made an impression on D.C. politics enthusiasts this summer during his unsuccessfully mayoral run. Brown’s campaign often tended toward the absurd. The main photo on his campaign website and promotional materials was of him photobombing a handshake between then-presidential candidate Barack Obama and a female supporter. He threatened to sue the media for not covering his campaign. And, most notably, his main shtick during mayoral debates was hyping eventual victor Vincent Gray (D) and slamming incumbent Adrian Fenty (D), ending most of his closing statement with a variation on his central political credo, “vote for any color—Brown, Gray—just please don’t vote for Fenty.”
Brown ended up netting 209 of the 133,854 votes cast in the September primary, but that wasn’t the last D.C. voters would see of him. Last month, Brown made the news again when the Washington Post reported that Gray had given him a cushy $110,000 gig in the Department of Health Care Finance. Less than a week after the news broke, Brown’s stint with government employment had gone up in flames thanks to reporting from the Washington City Paper about his criminal record, and he was soon escorted out of the DHCF office by the police.
Since his high-profile termination, Brown’s story took a turn toward the outrageous. He started by crashing Gray’s press conferences, but his real coup de grace was publicly accusing the Gray campaign of promising him a job in exchange for bashing Fenty on the campaign trail and giving him envelopes full of cash to keep his campaign alive. The District’s Investigator General refused to pursue Brown’s allegations, but Brown has claimed to be in talks with the Federal Bureau of Investigations.
Perhaps the best outcome of the farcical situation is the emergence of @secret_sulaimon, a Twitter account purporting to express the secret side of the District’s seedy political scene. Among his best dispatchers: “Just got followed by @dcboee [the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics], which is investigating me. Pardon the cliché, but shit just got real.” and “Didn’t want it to get to this with Mayor Gray. I said, ‘Ima do me, you do you.’”
The Sulaimon Brown scandal perfectly encapsulates what makes D.C. politics so entertaining and simultaneously depressing: the abundance of absurd characters who somehow manage to worm their way into important (or at least well-paid) political positions. There are other important and probably more legitimate reasons to follow local politics—issues like the District’s lack of federal representation, the city’s unique racial dynamics, and the tensions that come with gentrification—but the high level of absurdity is one of the most immediately compelling.
Each new mayoral regime seems to bring in a new cast of amusingly inept characters. Fenty’s administration, for example, was marked by scandals about the dubious granting of contracts to his fraternity brothers Sinclair Skinner and Omar Karim. Although Fenty is out of office, Skinner and Karim continue to entertain and befuddle. When an official report about their unearned contracts was released earlier this week, they decided that the appropriate response was to attend a press conference decked out in bright red sweatshirts emblazoned with their frat symbol. Apparently the enduring message of the Fenty era is “bro up.”
With the Gray administration still in its infancy, there’s plenty of time to bone up on local politics so you can be in the know whenever the next set of outrageous antics inevitably starts up. You’ll get in a good laugh, and you might end up learning a thing or two about local governance in the process.
Tell Juliana your secrets at firstname.lastname@example.org