By David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 18, 2006
Democratic mayoral nominee Adrian M. Fenty plans to announce today that he will reappoint Natwar M. Gandhi as D.C's chief financial officer for another five-year term, calling the move a way to ensure fiscal stability during a time of high turnover in the city's political leadership.
Fenty said Gandhi, who has been the finance chief since 2000, when he replaced Valerie Holt in midterm, has developed a strong reputation on Wall Street and in the business community after he helped lead the District out of bankruptcy in the late 1990s.
Because of the city's financial troubles then, Congress established an independent chief financial officer. Under the system, the mayor nominates a candidate, who must be confirmed by Congress. The mayor may not remove the chief financial officer during the five-year term.
Fenty, who is virtually assured of winning the Nov. 7 general election in the heavily Democratic District, said he would formally renominate Gandhi after assuming the mayor's office in January. He added that he supports continuing the independent arrangement for Gandhi, whose term expires in June.
"We need to make sure that because of the history of D.C. fiscal mismanagement, we send a really strong signal that for the next four years we'll continue a solid attention to detail regarding the finances of the District of Columbia," said Fenty, who will discuss his plans at a news conference at 11:30 a.m. on the steps of the John A. Wilson Building. Council members Vincent C. Gray (D-Ward 7), the likely incoming chairman, and Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) have agreed to attend the announcement, the Fenty campaign said.
"No one epitomizes the strong fiscal recovery more than Nat Gandhi," Fenty said, "and thus, we'll make that statement now."
Fenty said Gandhi has told him that he will accept the appointment. Gandhi, contacted over the weekend, declined to comment.
In addition to ensuring that the city balances its budget, Gandhi manages a 1,000-member staff, overseeing the tax department, budget office and lottery operations. He is responsible for publishing a five-year revenue forecast.
Fenty, the Ward 4 D.C. Council member, is moving quickly to prepare for his likely elevation to the city's top office. He has eyed several important agencies for major changes, including police, fire and emergency medical services, homeland security and personnel. Fenty said last week that he is leaning toward mounting a bid to take control of the city's troubled public schools.
Along with a new mayor, voters will elect a new council chairman, three other new council members and a new school board president.
The turnover, combined with Fenty's ambitious agenda, has created angst among some business leaders, who worry that Fenty, 35, in just his second council term, is too inexperienced to lead a city with a $7 billion budget.
During a debate in the primary campaign, Fenty failed to name Wall Street's three bond-rating agencies. The city's Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Washington Board of Trade endorsed council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D), whom Fenty handily defeated.
Fenty is calculating that Gandhi's presence will calm some of those fears, allowing him to gain support for his overhaul efforts.
"It's a great idea," said Evans, chairman of the council's Finance and Revenue Committee. "This sends a message to Wall Street. The only people they know are me and Gandhi. Adrian and Vince are new. This is absolutely the right thing to do."
Evans, who plans to meet with Fenty for breakfast this morning, said he has agreed to join Gandhi, Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), Fenty and Gray for a trip to New York to meet the bond rating agencies after the general election.
The District's bond ratings, once at junk status, have improved to A-plus levels. The higher the bond ratings, the less it costs the city to borrow money for projects such as school modernization and the new baseball stadium.
Not everyone has been happy with Gandhi, however. During the debate over the stadium financing plan, council member David A. Catania (I-At Large) accused Gandhi of improperly conducting an analysis of infrastructure and land costs to ensure that it would come below a cost cap set by the council. Catania called him the "chief fiction officer."
But Gandhi also has caused Williams headaches, most recently saying that a plan to build condominiums and garages north of the ballpark would violate the council's spending limit.