Andrew F. Brimmer, former Fed governor and head of D.C. control board, dies at 86

Posted Oct. 11, 2012, at 8:07 p.m.

WASHINGTON — Andrew F. Brimmer, who became the first African American member of the Federal Reserve Board in 1966 and headed a panel that managed the spending and financial practices of the District of Columbia government during a fiscal crisis in the 1990s, died Oct. 7 at George Washington University Hospital in Washington. He was 86.

His wife, Doris M.S. Brimmer, confirmed the death but did not provide a cause.

Brimmer, a Harvard-trained economist, had worked in academia and for the Commerce Department before President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed him to the seven-member Federal Reserve Board of Governors, which sets the country’s monetary policy and interest rates.

Time magazine dubbed Brimmer “the Federal Reserve Board’s Jackie Robinson,” after the first African American player in major league baseball. Unlike many members of the Fed board, Brimmer used his position to advocate for wider educational opportunities in the country’s inner cities and warned that racial discrimination damaged the economy by marginalizing valuable workers.

After leaving the Federal Reserve Board in 1974, Brimmer taught at Harvard’s graduate business school and, in 1976, established a lucrative consulting business in Washington.

His greatest public recognition — and reproach — came in the 1990s, when he was put in charge of a federally mandated panel that took over financial management of the District of Columbia. At the time, under Mayor Marion Barry, the city had $3 billion in long-term debt, soaring budget deficits, decaying public services, rising crime and a high school dropout rate of more than 50 percent.

“He took on a really thankless job in 1995,” Alice Rivlin, an economist who later took over the D.C. financial control board, said Wednesday. “He was deeply unpopular. His office was picketed, and he was called all sorts of names. But he stuck to it and turned things around. He did the really tough work.”

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