Please join us in welcoming DC Councilmember At-large Kwame Brown at 2 pm.

Live chat with Kwame Brown(03/31/2009)
GreaterGreaterWashington:  Hello and welcome to Greater Greater Washington’s live chat session. Thank you all for joining us.
GreaterGreaterWashington:  Today’s guest is DC Councilmember Kwame Brown. Brown is one of four at-large Councilmembers. He’s also Chairman of the Economic Development Committee, which oversees development deals in DC.
GreaterGreaterWashington:  We’ll be starting in just a few minutes, at 2 pm. In the meantime, you can submit your questions in the box at the bottom of the chat. Once Councilmember Brown arrives we can start asking them.
GreaterGreaterWashington:  As before, please remember to be courteous. We’re not trying to “gotcha” the Councilmembers. If you don’t like something he’s done, say so and then ask a question about it. We have a lot to learn from Mr. Brown and should focus on asking him about things we’d like to hear about. Thanks.
GreaterGreaterWashington:  The Councilmember is just getting out of a meeting and should be with us in a few minutes.
Kwame Brown:  Hello everyone. Thanks for having me. Sorry for the late start.
GreaterGreaterWashington:  Welcome, Councilmember Brown! Michael will be moderating our chat today. Let’s get started.
Michael Perkins:  Thanks for chatting with us, Councilmember.


[Comment From David Alpert]

Councilmember Brown, thanks for participating. Many people don’t really know what the Economic Development Committee does on the Council. Can you explain its role? How does it differ from the Committee on Finance and Revenue, which also is often involved with development?

Kwame Brown:  One key aspect of the responsbilities of the Committee on Economic Development is the disposition of land. Without the disposition of public property, what I like to call “the people’s land”, no development by a private entity can occur.

I also have oversight of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Devleopment, (DMPED), the Department of Small Local Business Development (DSLBD), Commission on Arts and Humanities, Washington Convention Center Authority, Boxing Commission and the Office of Motion Pictures. The committee ensure that the budgets and programs for these agencies are spent wisely and consistent with intended purposes.

[Comment From Lynda]

Let’s talk about the budget debate. What’s being cut, and what’s being increased for the next year. What should DC residents expect?

Kwame Brown:  There are definitely tough choices that have to me made in this year’s budget because of declining revenues. People are having a difficult time finding employment, as your readers may have seen, unemployment is approaching 10% in the District which also has a major impact in the budget. I have been fighting for job training for adults to help address this important issue.

I am working with the administration and other members of the Council to identify funding for this because it’s an investment can’t afford to overlook.

As it relates to the committee on Economic Development, the Neighborhood Investment Fund dollars have been redirected under the Mayor’s proposed budget. During my hearing yesterday, I brought this matter up because I believe it’s critical that the funds are spent in areas that need it most, which are defined in statute.

In general, we are researching how the Mayor is using dollars so that when we have to make cuts it is in the best interests of the city.

Michael Perkins:

Thanks for that. 

Kwame Brown:  I’m excited about being here.
[Comment From Jaime F]

There are various development plans in Ward 5, including the Brookland/CUA Small Area Plan, McMillan, Rhode Island Avenue Metro, and the Florida Market (dubiously dubbed “New Town”).  How are these projects progressing and would you like to see any changes to what’s planned?

Kwame Brown:  There are many projects there and they’re all important.

Brookland: Councilmember Harry Thomas worked with the community to ensure that their concerns regarding green space, transportation, density were incorporated into the overall plan. I’m now working closely with his office and the office of planning to ensure that the community’s concerns are actually implemented.

McMillan: The developers and the Deputy Mayor have been holding public meetings to discuss the ideas for developing the site. Once there is a plan that the public is behind, I will be sure to hold a roundtable to gather feedback from District residents.

The Deputy Mayor’s office has staff dedicated to Rhode Island Ave Metro and Florida Market. This budget cycle I have posed questions to them about where we are with these two projects and what dollars in FY10 will be dedicated if any.

Michael Perkins:  I have a somewhat question from a reader about charter and public schools.  What’s your position on charter schools getting right of first refusal for unused DCPS buildings?
Michael Perkins:  somewhat LONG question, I meant  
Michael Perkins:  She has additional comments about raising DCPS facilities funding while cutting back charter schools facilities funding.  Do you think this might be an attempt to close charter schools by drying up funding?
Kwame Brown:  Improving public schools is one of my top priorities. I’m a native Washingtonian and a graduate of DC public schools. I was also in the Mayor’s Youth Leadership Insitute. My kids attend public schools, so this is very real for my family.

I’m concerned about the public disposition of schools as a whole. There needs to be someone who is focused on how we best use our surplus property looking at this from across agencies. There may be ways to save dollars for education through an efficient use of our property. I have always believed that the letter of the law should be followed.

In addition, the kids attending charter schools are DC kids. In fact, 36% of our student population attends charter schools and they need a solid education and adequate funding. The Committee of the Whole will be working to address this during this budget cycle and while officials may have different appoaches, I believe we all have the students’ best interests at heart.

[Comment From David Alpert]

The city has promised to ensure that its development projects on public land include aff affordable housing, local hiring and environmental protections. How do we ensure this happens? How can this be a more transparent process?

Kwame Brown:  Promises made, should be promises kept. Too often, developers have come to DC, developed sites and the city has had no way of enforcing the promises they made. I believe that’s wrong. If all of the promises of affordable housing were kept, we wouldn’t have an affordable housing crisis.

I introduced the Compliance Unit Establishment Act of 2008, which is now law, which requires the DC Auditor to audit all completed NCRC/AWC projects to ensure that community benefits are delivered such as affordable housing, local business participation, and green inititatives. The auditor has already begun to audit projects.

We expect the auditor to release reports publicly as they’re completed. I also intend to continue to hold hearings, where the public can participate by attending the hearing or adding feedback to my blog “Tell Kwame Live” at

I appreciate getting questions to pose to the Deputy Mayor’s office and I strongly encourage you to participate. The next hearing is Wednesday, April 8th at 10a.m. I look forward to hearing from you.

Michael Perkins:  Speaking of your blog, do you actually get comments from constitutents during hearings?  How does that work?
Kwame Brown:  Yes. People do people participate. It’s very easy to participate. A link to Tell kwame Live is on my home page. Just click on the link to the hearing you want to comment on. You can post comments anytime before, during or after a hearing but a live stream of the hearing is made available when it’s televised on Channel 13. Staff keep me updated on questions as they come in.
Michael Perkins:

Here’s that link:

[Comment From Peter]

Curious if Mr. Brown has general feelings about express bus service vs. BRT vs. light rail. There has been recent talk about light rail.

Kwame Brown:  My focus has largely been on the small businesses who are impacted by transportation infrastructure construction like that on H Street. I talk with small business owners across the city and we need a comprehensive plan for dealing with these issues, so that these business owners can continue to stay in business. Especially in areas where residents need places to eat, shop and work and these types of transportation would be most effective.

I’m all about creating more opportunities to improve our transporation system in the District but we have businesses that are struggling to survive and keep residents employed.

[Comment From Citizen]

How can we incentivize small business in the District?  It’s currently ranked 51st for small business (according to some magazines) due to the DCRA bureaucracy and high taxes & rents.  Is the government looking to creator any “incubators” for small business or incentives to encourage small businesses to open up here instead of other states and cities?

Kwame Brown:  I’ve read the report on small businesses that you discussed, and I was also a panelist recently for the DC Chamber of Commerce. I am working with Jack Evans on legislation that would address tax issues for businesses and I am specifically working to address the issue I just previously descibed by targeting areas under transporation infrastructure construction.

Looking ahead, we have to provide incentives for businesses who want to get into emerging markets like the green collar economy. My committee held a first of a kind hearing on this subject in October of 2007 with guests from across the country. President Obama’s stimulus package has $750 million targeted for high tech and emerging industries. Much of this funding is competitive, which makes it more important that ever, that the city is prepared and is preparing its residents for these jobs. Not to mention, the billions of dollars that will be spent greening federal buildings.

Michael Perkins:  That’s certainly exciting.  Do you know the timeline for when a lot of these jobs might start?
Kwame Brown:  They have to start immediately because of the way stimulus dollars are allocated. I’m working with the executive to ensure the training begins this year for adults at facilities we already own and operate like Phelps, Cardozo and Roosevelt. I proposed that these facilities remain open on nights and weekends for adults.

The Green Buildings Act requires that all District buildings are modernized with green technology. It also is the first law in the country to require private buildings to do the same starting in 2011. This will create permanent jobs.

The District doesn’t lack jobs, what we lack is job training.

Michael Perkins:  Thanks.  Here’s a question about development:
[Comment From Geoff Hatchard]

Councilmember Brown, there have been many meetings on the McMillan plan. I have attended most of the public meetings, and it’s clear that there are some people who will not agree to any development at that site. While I applaud your goal to look for “a plan that the public is behind,” the fact is that this is contentious enough that there will never be 100% consensus there. Will you be willing to push a vetted plan through that MOST of the community is happy with, helping us to avoid it being bogged down by trying to reach out to people who refuse to compromise in the first place?

Kwame Brown:  I’m actively involved with the McMillan Advisory Group, which is made up of residents and stakeholders of the McMillan community and we are working hard to come up with a plan that makes sense for everyone involved. We need to have a plan that maxmizes the benefit to District residents and the use of District dollars and “the people’s land.”
Michael Perkins:  It looks like that’s going to be the last question.  Sorry I couldn’t get to more of them.  If you still would like Councilmember Brown to hear your thoughts, you can send them to
Michael Perkins:  Councilmember Brown, thank you very much for taking the time to chat with us. 
Kwame Brown:  Thank you for having me today. I hope we can do it again sometime. I look forward to hearing more of your questions and hearing your feedback on my blog.
Michael Perkins:  I have all the questions people submitted and I can send them to you.
Kwame Brown:  That would be great. Please do.
GreaterGreaterWashington:  Thanks so much Councilmember Brown for joining us!
Kwame Brown:  Take care.
GreaterGreaterWashington:  Feel free to continue the conversation in the comments and post your reactions to the Councilmember’s thoughts.
GreaterGreaterWashington:  Our next guest will also cover a topic pertaining to economic development, but from a very different perspective. Brett Abrams, author of Capital Sporting Grounds: A History of Stadium and Ballpark Construction in Washington, DC will talk about, well, the history of stadium and ballpark construction in Washington, DC. That’s next Tuesday at 2 pm.

GreaterGreaterWashington:  Thanks to everyone who joined today’s chat!

Michael Perkins blogs about Metro operations and fares, performance parking, and any other government and economics information he finds on the Web. He lives with his wife and two children in Arlington, Virginia.