D.C. Mayor Gray to name new chief of staff

August 29, 2011

Mayor Vincent C. Gray will shake up his administration this week by appointing a new chief of staff and deputy chief of staff — a team that he said will provide “fresh eyes” on his administration and which advisers hope will help him regain the trust of residents concerned about the integrity of his administration.

Gray (D) has spent several months working to bring aboard the two District government outsiders: Christopher Murphy, a deputy chief of staff at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and Andrea “Andi” Pringle, who was deputy campaign manager for Howard Dean’s presidential run.

“I think you want some fresh faces, some fresh eyes on the business of government,” Gray said in an interview. “They’re not newcomers. They’re just newcomers to D.C. government.”

Gray said he expects to announce the appointments Tuesday.

It’s been five months since Gray fired Gerri Mason Hall, his first chief of staff, who was caught up in the allegations of nepotism and cronyism that bogged down his administration early on. Last week, a D.C. Council committee report concluded that Gray was “essentially disconnected” from hiring decisions and that his lack of attention had had a profoundly negative affect on the reputation of city government.

Gray said he met Murphy several years ago when they were both running nonprofit organizations. Gray was executive director of Covenant House, which works with homeless young people, and Murphy was founder and executive director of City Year, an offshoot of the AmeriCorps program. “Chris is a good administrator,” Gray said. “He’s someone I know well and feel comfortable with.”

The mayor said he knew Pringle only by reputation, but that Steve McMahon and Ron Lester, consultants who worked on Gray’s mayoral campaign, recommended her. “Andi is someone with a lot of credibility. She’s really good with people,” Gray said.

Neither Pringle nor Murphy responded to requests for comment before the announcement.

Murphy will replace Paul A. Quander Jr., deputy mayor for public safety and justice, who has been pulling double duty as interim chief of staff.

In the interview, Gray acknowledged that his goals for the city — accelerating public education reform, public safety, job creation and fiscal responsibility — have not been adequately communicated to the public. “We want to have an even more grass-roots engagement,” he said, adding that one of his new efforts will be meeting with the chairmen of neighborhood advisory commissions on a quarterly basis.

Promise of change

Gray won office last year on a promise of change, pledging to end cronyism and to restore confidence in government. But almost as soon as he entered office, his administration was plagued by personnel problems — and hit with accusations of hypocrisy.

Gray began talking privately to McMahon and Lester about how to restructure his administration. Mo Elleithee and Andrew Kennedy, who also worked on his campaign, were enlisted in the conversation as well.

Among the personnel issues were allegations by former mayoral candidate Sulaimon Brown, who claimed that he was promised a job and paid for disparaging Mayor Adrian M. Fenty on the campaign trail last year. The council committee found that Brown had been paid and was promised a job but found no evidence that Gray was aware of the infractions. The FBI, U.S. Attorney’s Office and a congressional committee are investigating Brown’s accusations.

Alarmed at what they were seeing, the former campaign strategists swooped in, unpaid, to help Gray salvage the goodwill that seemed to be eroding.

“I was reading the coverage. The Vince Gray that was being portrayed in the media was not the Vince Gray I knew,” McMahon said. “At some point, in chatting with the team, we all agreed, ‘We have to jump in and change the trajectory. . . . We need to try to hit the reset button.’ ”

McMahon said that the mayor explained that he had been so focused on the city’s budget that he lost sight of the toll that negative coverage was having on his administration.

But the mayor didn’t begin to lean on them heavily until a June poll by The Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation, which showed a dramatic decline in his popularity. Gray also turned to former mayor Sharon Pratt, who had seen her popularity plummet during her single term in office. Gray served as director of the Department of Human Services during Pratt’s tenure in the 1990s.

‘A wide net’

In recent weeks, Gray asked his advisers to meet with Murphy and Pringle. Other candidates were eliminated through similar meetings.

Pratt said that Murphy “came to my attention when we cast a wide net among colleagues about candidates.”

“Chris comes to the table with established experience. He’s got Hill experience. He knows the city,” Pratt said. “He is reflecting a new generation, a younger generation that I think will be beneficial as well.”

Murphy’s job will be to make sure that the administration’s decisions are effective and ethical, according to Gray advisers.

Murphy wasn’t initially recommended by the team of four strategists, but Elleithee said that he was endorsed as a clear break from the District’s political machines. “He’s not beholden to any of them,” Elleithee said. “He can say, ‘I’m not old guard. I’m not new guard. I’m different guard.’ ”

Pringle’s role will be more focused on helping Gray shape his message, although Gray said Pringle would not replace Linda Wharton Boyd, the mayor’s director of communications.

Pringle has worked on the messages of several campaigns, including as senior adviser to Bill Richardson’s presidential run. Millionaire developer R. Donahue “Don” Peebles hired Pringle when he was considering a run for mayor last year.

With Murphy and Pringle in place, Gray will begin a new approach to governance that reestablishes his relationship with residents. “He’s interested in getting out there and re-connecting with the people who put him in office,” McMahon said. “The theme is ‘One City,’ a better city, a brighter future.

“What Andi and Chris will help him do is put together a narrative,” McMahon said. “You have to tell a story of a city on the move . . . and not just on one side of the (Anacostia) river. It isn’t always obvious to people. You have to connect the dots.”

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