By David Nakamura and Lena H. Sun
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, October 2, 2006
Metro Interim General Manager Dan Tangherlini is withdrawing as a candidate to head the transit authority permanently after agreeing to become the District's city administrator if Adrian M. Fenty is elected mayor.
Tangherlini's decision would fill a key position in Fenty's administration but deprive Metro of the candidate several Metro board members favored when they took a preliminary vote several months ago.
Tangherlini, 39, was on the short list of candidates that Metro's board was to interview this week in its search for a permanent chief executive of a system that provides the nation's second-busiest subway and fifth-busiest bus service.
But Tangherlini, who spent six years as the head of the District's transportation department until joining Metro this year, agreed to join Fenty, a Democrat, if he wins the Nov. 7 general election in the heavily Democratic city.
"I was impressed by what he wanted to do and excited about the role he wanted me to play," Tangherlini said. "It's a once in a lifetime opportunity to make a difference in this city I call my home town."
Fenty, who is to make a formal announcement at a news conference today, said Tangherlini stood out among D.C. government agency chiefs for his responsiveness. In an interview yesterday, Fenty hailed Tangherlini as an "exceptional manager."
"Dan Tangherlini is a new type of manager . . . who could easily succeed in the private sector but who understands and loves public service and is willing to commit to that," said Fenty, who represents Ward 4 on the D.C. Council. "He definitely stood out for responsiveness and preparation, sound management, holding people accountable, encouraging people to do more, hiring a competent staff."
Fenty, who announced two weeks ago that he would nominate D.C. Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi for another five-year term, is moving quickly to establish his cabinet well before the general election. He said he offered Tangherlini the job of city administrator now to lure him before Metro interviewed him, even giving Tangherlini a written promise.
Tangherlini, a Capitol Hill resident, pulled out from consideration for the Metro job now because he didn't want to "send the wrong signal," he said. "I wanted the search to be legitimate and for the board to be able to make a selection for the best candidate."
If Fenty wins, he can't make formal appointments until January. But Fenty said he hopes Tangherlini would join his team during the two-month transition after the general election. The two men have talked about the timing but need to work out the details with the Metro board as to when Tangherlini would be able to leave. His contract runs through mid-February.
Tangherlini said he plans to deliver a letter to Metro board members today informing them that he is withdrawing from the search.
Board members reacted last night with dismay.
"My heart is broken," said board Chairwoman Gladys Mack, who represents the District. Mack praised Tangherlini for his fresh ideas, noting, "You rarely get a young person who brings a different experience, and that's what Dan represents."
D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who is also on the Metro board, said it was good news for the city but a definite setback for the board of directors. "I don't know where this leaves us," he added.
Tangherlini's Metro salary is $235,000, and the permanent position would probably pay even more. As city administrator, Fenty said, Tangherlini would make the same $195,000 as did Robert C. Bobb, who recently resigned to run for president of the D.C. Board of Education.
Although both jobs come with large bureaucracies and entrenched constituencies, "the city job has a lot more work and some less pay," Tangherlini said. "That took some thinking."
Fenty said that although he would be a hands-on mayor, he expected Tangherlini to oversee the daily operations of the city, including more than 40 agencies.
Fenty has said he is considering a potential takeover of the city's failing public schools and has spoken critically of the police, fire and emergency medical services and personnel operations.
"We talked about where the D.C. government is today and how far we could take it and what's needed to do," said Fenty, who had two meetings with Tangherlini and several telephone conversations. "Every conversation, he's had an above-average level of enthusiasm for every aspect. It's just a perfect fit. Dan said in one meeting he feels he prepared for this all his life."
D.C. Council member Sharon Ambrose (D-Ward 6) said the two would make a good team.
"Dan has hands-down been the most creative administrator we've had in city government in years and years," Ambrose said. "And he knows the city in ways Adrian doesn't, what some of the problems are."
Tangherlini served previously as the chief financial officer for the D.C. police in 1998. After Anthony A. Williams (D) was elected mayor that year, Tangherlini worked at the police department by day and in the mayor's office at night on transition issues, then later took over the transportation office.
In January, Metro's longest-serving general manager, Richard A. White, was forced out after service problems and management missteps. Tangherlini, an alternate Metro board member, was chosen as a temporary replacement.
Since joining Metro, Tangherlini has won raves for improving customer service, raising employee morale and daring to experiment at an agency where, board members and riders have said, a top-down mindset stifles innovation, rewards obedience and emphasizes rank.
Some Metro board members representing Maryland and the District wanted to appoint him to the top position earlier this year and forgo a time-consuming national search. But Virginia officials balked because they thought Tangherlini would be too focused on District issues and would not give enough attention to the proposed Metrorail extension to Dulles International Airport. "I think we have to take the blame on this one," said Metro board Vice Chairman Charles Deegan, who represents Maryland. "We could have had Dan if our Virginia colleagues had been more cooperative."
Chris Zimmerman, who represents Virginia, said it was important that the board take the time to "follow through on a proper search to decide who is going to run an agency with a $1 billion budget, 10,000 employees and more than a million riders every day."
If Tangherlini had been offered the Metro job before the Sept. 12 primary, "I would have accepted it without batting an eye," he said. "The problem is that maybe the politics kind of pushed that schedule out, and then I had this incredible opportunity."