Gandhi To Stay In District

By David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 17, 2007

D.C. Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi turned down a job yesterday with Amtrak after meeting with city leaders, who agreed to support raising his salary to $279,000, which would make him the city's second-highest paid employee.

Gandhi, 66, has been the city's top financial official since 2000 and is credited with helping rescue the District from the brink of bankruptcy. He had been weighing an offer last week to take over finances at the debt-plagued Amtrak.

At a breakfast meeting yesterday, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D), D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) and council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) assured Gandhi that they would push forward the salary increase proposal, which would require approval from Congress.

"I have decided to stay with the city," Gandhi said. "I have never done more important work in my life."

Gandhi is paid $186,600. His raise, if approved, would put his earnings just below those of D.C. School Superintendent Clifford B. Janey, who received $274,000 plus a $25,000 bonus this year.

Fenty sent a letter to Gray urging the salary increase.

"I am very pleased that Dr. Gandhi has made the decision to continue to serve the residents of this great city," Fenty said in a statement. "He has been instrumental in bringing the District of Columbia from the brink of bankruptcy to fiscal solvency, and I look forward to working together to strengthen our economic standing even more in the future."

Gray and Evans agreed to introduce a "sense of the council" resolution supporting the raise at the group's legislative meeting Thursday. If the council approves that measure, the city would push the legislation in Congress, because the salary increase would require a change in the city's Home Rule Charter, Gray and Evans said.

Gandhi, appointed by former mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), operates independently and reports to Congress under the structure established during the city's financial crisis of the mid-1990s. He cannot be fired by Fenty. Gandhi's salary is paid with District funds.

"Dr. Gandhi is worth being paid that amount," Evans said of the proposed salary.

Amtrak had offered Gandhi $250,000, plus a $100,000 signing bonus.

Keeping Gandhi, who is popular with Congress and Wall Street, is a high priority for Fenty, who is focusing on his bid to take over the District's troubled public school system.

Fenty also has named new police and fire chiefs, so Gandhi's departure would have introduced further uncertainty about the District's senior leadership, city leaders said.

"That's too many issues to take on at one time," Gray said, adding that Gandhi has "been a source of stability. We all want him to stay."

Council members David A. Catania (I-At Large) and Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) have criticized Gandhi, but Gray predicted that the council would approve the resolution to support raising his salary.

Amtrak has $3.6 billion in debt and is heavily dependent on federal subsidies. The agency has been seeking a new finance chief since David Smith left in December.

Gandhi's influence is vast. He manages a staff of 1,000 that oversees collection of taxes and helps compile and approve the city's $5.4 billion local operating budget. At Williams's request, Gandhi played a key role in working out financing options for major projects, such as a $611 million baseball stadium for the Washington Nationals.

This year, Gandhi and Fenty celebrated the city's 10th consecutive balanced budget with a news conference.

Although Fenty has praised Gandhi, city officials have reported tension between the two over Fenty's fiscal 2008 budget proposal. Some council members criticized the mayor for including a fee increase for emergency 911 service and budget changes at two city agencies. Gandhi and Fenty gave conflicting statements under council questioning.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company