Earlier this month, Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) quietly forwarded Gandhi’s name to the D.C. Council two weeks before his term was set to lapse. No news conference, just a brief Friday afternoon release praising him as a “steady steward for the District’s finances.”
The lower key approach reflects vastly different circumstances for the two mayors — Gray has been beset by political woes, including the recent prosecutions of campaign aides — and for Gandhi — whose reputation has lost some glimmer, largely because of a $48 million embezzlement scandal uncovered in 2007.
Yet Gandhi, whose nomination is set for a council hearing Thursday, is poised to be confirmed, reflecting the deep support in business and political circles of his role as the city’s independent fiscal czar.
In his first interview since Gray’s nomination, Gandhi said the circumstances of his appointment have not distressed him. “I have never done more important work in my life than what I have been doing here,” he said. “I think we have contributed substantially to the financial viability and credibility of the District. And I think if given the opportunity, I’d like to continue.”
The nomination was far from assured.
As months and then weeks dwindled in Gandhi’s term, pressure from supporters and detractors came to bear on Gray. Gandhi, CFO since 2000, made it known that he was prepared to leave by the end of July should he not be reappointed and would resist the suggestion from some influential outsiders that he should participate in a search for a replacement.
“My record is clear, with all the pluses and minuses,” Gandhi said Wednesday. “I am not going to be fundamentally different than what I have been here all these years. I am what I am.”
At Thursday’s hearing, Gandhi will have another opportunity to tell the story of the District’s remarkable financial turnabout, from the brink of default in 1995 to the current status quo of swelling tax rolls, surging bond ratings and stuffed coffers.
It’s a show he often takes on the road. In recent months, he’s appeared at government finance events in Michigan, Philadelphia and Chicago, an evangelist for the rare type of structural independence he enjoys from elected politicians. He calls the District “the poster child now of how to recover financially.”
Gandhi also enjoys the confidence of Wall Street banks and debt raters, whose judgments can mean swings of tens of millions of dollars in borrowing costs for the city.
“There are very few people who bring more credibility to his job,” said William W. Cobbs, chairman of Public Resources Advisory Group, a New York firm hired by the city to advise it on finance issues. Cobbs added that the renomination has “alleviated any concerns” among bond raters about the recent political scandals.