D.C.'s new mayor gets ready to pick his business team

By Jonathan O'Connell
Monday, November 15, 2010; 4

One of the the top questions as Vincent C. Gray prepares to enter office is whom he will choose as deputy mayor for planning and economic development. With the city's unemployment rate still above the national average, Gray says he wants a deputy mayor who will focus not just on advancing dozens of real estate projects but on developing the city's workforce. He has named two people outside of the core real estate community -- Barbara Lang, president of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce, and former George Washington University president Stephen Joel Trachtenberg -- to tackle economic development issues for his mayoral transition team.

Gray's transition team declined to address potential appointments, but here are some potential contenders for either deputy mayor or other key development posts, based on interviews with more than two dozen real estate professionals and people with close political ties to Gray.

Gregory A. O'Dell, chief executive, Washington Convention and Sports Authority -- O'Dell worked in the deputy mayor's office in the early days of the Fenty administration, when the economy was still breathing and projects could be hastened with some Adrian M. Fenty-style vigor. He went on to oversee construction of two of the city's largest and potentially most transformative projects, the Nationals Park and now the convention center hotel.

O'Dell is known as a hard-working, nonpolitical professional who gets along well with others, but who wasn't interested in the job when it came open under Mayor Fenty.

"If there is someone that Gray is going to keep," said Merrick Malone, former deputy mayor and current president of the D.C. Building Industry Association, "he would be the one."

Gray could also go after Allen Y. Lew, the hard-charging head of schools modernization.

Milton Bailey, president, Louisiana Housing Finance Agency -- Bailey was director of two key D.C. housing agencies in the 1990s and early 2000s, the Housing Finance Agency and the Department of Housing and Community Development, where he had a hand in jumpstarting what is now the Giant-anchored Shops at Park Village development in Ward 8. Though currently employed in Louisiana, friends and associates have seen him back in town recently, during and after Gray's mayoral campaign, prompting speculation that he wouldn't mind sticking around. Bailey is currently assisting with post-Katrina reconstruction efforts.

"I congratulate Mayor Gray on a tremendous victory. He will be a great mayor at a time when the city needs integrity and honest leadership," Bailey said.

Gray could also try to lure another former D.C. housing executive. Michael P. Kelly, longtime head of the D.C. Housing Authority, back to town.

Harriet Tregoning, director, Office of Planning -- Tregoning is a Fenty appointee, but one whom Gray knows particularly well because his role as D.C. Council chairman gave him oversight of her work. She is known as being creative, deeply committed to smart growth and public transit and, like O'Dell, not very political. Gray could fire her but many people bet he will expand her role as director of the office of planning in some way.

"I think she's very talented and it would be great to have her stay on," said developer Jim Abdo of Tregoning.

Gray could also look to another planning expert, Ellen McCarthy, Tregoning's predecessor and current director of planning and land use at Arent Fox. McCarthy was dismissed by Fenty but campaigned hard for Gray and may well be interested in returning to the fold.

Emily Durso, president, Hotel Association of Washington, D.C. -- When Durso announced recently that she would leave the hotels association, speculation began immediately that she would join Gray in some capacity. Durso clearly brings credentials in the private sector, having represented hotel owners for 19 years. But she also brings experience in workforce development; she served on the board of the University of the District of Columbia, an institution Gray considers key to job training, and helped found Hospitality High School, where 63 percent of alumni are now working in the hotel industry.

"I think Emily will be a part of the administration, I just don't know as what," Lang said.

Jeff Miller, owner, Prospect Diversified Development -- Miller is not a household name but he understands development, backed Gray early and knows his way around town. Miller's company has worked with major developers on multifamily housing development and he is also chairman of the Mount Vernon Triangle Community Improvement District, where he serves alongside seasoned real estate pros who helped drive Gray's candidacy, Guy Steuart and Charles "Sandy" Wilkes. At campaign time, Miller, a Georgetown resident, worked with Barbara Lang to line up endorsements for Gray.

"If Vince would like my help, I'm honored to consider anything that he would have me help with," Miller said.

Another local with development experience who could be in the mix: Gregory N. Jeffries, a former member of the D.C. Zoning Commission who recently took a job with the General Services Administration.

William A. Hanbury, president and chief executive, United Way of the National Capital Area -- Hanbury has been at the United Way for less than two years after running Destination D.C. for eight, but he took a heavy role in helping to shape Gray's economic development platform and would bring executive experience to the government. Hanbury, though, is not considered an expert in real estate, workforce development or politics, making this a tough road.

A local private sector star -- Gray could try to lure a local developer who has helped to rebuild D.C. neighborhoods, creating jobs along the way. Herbert S. Miller volunteered to do the job for $1 per year, but his fraternity connections could work against him. Scoring a name such as Abdo or Jair Lynch would get attention. So too would Steven Goldin, who made the jump from the private sector to become head of real estate for the Metro a little more than a year ago.

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