Gandhi maintains deep support among the business community and the District’s congressional overseers but has presided over a number of embarrassing episodes in the city finance office — most notably, the 2007 revelation that a mid-level tax office employee stole nearly $50 million in city funds and controversy surrounding the city’s lottery.
Spokesmen for Gray and Gandhi declined to comment Thursday.
Gray could announce his choice as early as Friday as pressure from Gandhi’s supporters and detractors to make a decision has grown and as political scandals have siphoned the attention of city officials. Most recently, Kwame R. Brown (D) resigned as D.C. Council chairman last week before pleading guilty to criminal charges, five months after colleague Harry Thomas Jr. (D) resigned from his Ward 5 seat, also under criminal duress.
The council must vote to approve Gandhi’s appointment. Several members consulted this week said the current unease has made them more likely to support Gandhi’s continued tenure than they might have been otherwise.
“If the city had stable government and was not in such an unsettled state, the healthiest thing to do would be to have Nat Gandhi coaching his successor,” said Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6). “In finance and oversight, it’s good to bring in a fresh set of eyes. Unfortunately, with the uncertainty of our elected leadership, we should not do that now.”
Dithering further on his appointment, Wells said, would “undermine the confidence of our investors.”
Those concerns were echoed Thursday by new D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D): “There’s enough trouble around city hall that we need the stability.”
That a mayor would have waited so long before endorsing Gandhi’s continued tenure was unthinkable five years ago. In 2006, Adrian M. Fenty (D) wasn’t even in office when he declared his intention to reappoint Gandhi as a signal of his fiscal bona fides.
But Gandhi’s mostly pristine image took a major hit when local and federal authorities unveiled charges in 2007 against Harriette Walters and accomplices inside and outside the Office of Tax and Revenue, which Gandhi had overseen before his promotion to CFO.
Despite calls for his ouster, Gandhi successfully lobbied to stay on after firing several top deputies and making the case that he was the best man to clean up the Walters mess.
Since then, his tenure has remained tumultuous.
A recession-battered economy slowed government revenue, leading to the tightest budgets since the city’s mid-1990s fiscal crisis and sometimes testy relations between elected officials and Gandhi’s shop.