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Andrew Brimmer, 1st black Fed member, dies

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 Sunday in Washington. He was 86.

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.

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 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.

The city turned over control of most of its government operations to the panel. Brimmer was named the unpaid director.

The brickbats began to fly. He took away the decision-making authority of the D.C. Board of Education, fired several agency heads and described the city's personnel and contracting practices as "dysfunctional."

Barry, other officials and residents objected, but during Brimmer's three-year term, Washington's deficit had turned into a surplus of more than $300 million. Public services began to improve, crime subsided and the city became a more desirable place to live.

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