Gray names 2 to his starting lineup

By Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 9, 2010; B05

Following recent criticism that he was slow to name officials to his administration, Mayor-elect Vincent C. Gray on Wednesday rolled out his choices for city administrator and chief of staff.

Allen Y. Lew, czar of the District's massive school-modernization program, will take on the considerably larger role of city administrator, overseeing the day-to-day operations of city agencies, Gray (D) said at a news conference at the Reeves Municipal Center. He also named Gerri Mason Hall, a former Amtrak executive, as his chief of staff.

Over the past 15 years, Lew has overseen some of the city's largest public construction projects, including the $850 million Walter E. Washington Convention Center and $600 million-plus Nationals Park.

"It's not just his exceptional leadership over bricks and mortar. . . . The position requires someone who is a visionary and a doer," Gray said. "And frankly, the city administrator has to have a constructive level of impatience about getting things done."

Hall is a former staffer in the city's personnel office who is now a human resources executive at food services giant Sodexo.

The announcements marked a substantial development for Gray, who was criticized by some for a transition that was off to a slow start. The pace reignited worries that his career-long cautious decision-making style would mean he wouldn't be fully prepared to take over from Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) on Jan. 2.

The afternoon news conference followed a night and morning of buzz about Fenty appointees who received termination letters. Those let go included several young staffers, such Gabe Klein, the transportation director who became known for innovations in city government and for harnessing the changing culture of the District.

In an earlier interview, Gray said he plans to retain other Fenty staffers but would announce them later.

Although Gray and Fenty jointly announced in October that deputy schools chancellor Kaya Henderson would replace Michelle A. Rhee in an acting capacity, Lew is the highest-profile Fenty holdover so far.

Lew, an architect with a master's degree from Columbia University, has built his reputation from his days in the 1980s as acting president and chief executive of the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center Development Corp. in New York. In the District, he solidified an image as a take-charge manager while chief executive of the convention center authority and then as chief executive of the Sports and Entertainment Commission.

He and his staff are known for their no-nonsense approach to construction projects, holding contractors firm to deadlines and budgets.

In 2007, Fenty lured him to his administration as the first executive director of the Office of Public Education Facilities Modernization, an agency formed to manage the $1 billion in school building renovations and athletic field creation.

There are already rumblings about whether Lew's hard-charging management of construction projects can carry over into the daily, broader grind of managing city agencies.

"I like lean operations. I like efficient operations. I like thin bureaucracies," Lew, 60, said at the news conference. "We're gonna work to parlay some of my style into the way we administer services for the city."

Lew's approach isn't universally appreciated, said Paul J. Cohn, a prominent restaurateur who served on the convention center's board during the building's construction and who says he's a "huge fan" of Lew's.

Shortly after he recommended Lew to D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) to lead the city's sports authority, he recalled, "Jack calls and asks, 'Who is this Allen Lew guy? He's stepping on all these toes.' I told Jack, 'You didn't tell me you wanted a politician - you told me you wanted someone to build a stadium.' "

Now, Cohn said, "He's going to have to be a little more of a politician."

Although a high-ranking director under Fenty, Lew maintained a good relationship with Gray. He appeared to be a leading candidate for the post shortly after Gray defeated Fenty in the Democratic primary Sept. 14. Lew, who currently is paid $275,000 annually, has contributed $8,550 to local campaigns, including Gray's, since 2000, according to campaign finance records.

Evans said Lew will complement Gray, known for his deliberative decision-making. "Allen is of that ilk of 'Let's get things done and worry later about the collateral damage.' Paired with Vince, I think it's a great team," he said.

Hall's relationship with Gray is more personal.

A friend to Gray confidante Lorraine Green, Hall has a background in human resources and diversity. Gray has known her for at least 25 years, dating back to when she worked as deputy director in the District's personnel office under former mayor Sharon Pratt. Pratt described Hall Wednesday as a "first-rate professional."

Green, who has worked with Hall in the public and private sectors, said her friend is well-prepared for the chief-of-staff role: "She juggles a lot of balls at one time, and she doesn't drop any. And that's what it's gonna take."

Reginald Gilliam, who has worked closely with Hall, 51, in his role as chief lobbyist at Sodexo, called her a "natural diplomat" who has skillfully navigated diverse constituencies at the company. "She's not one of these people that's pushing and shouting. She's very calm, very objective, and when she speaks, it's substantive and deliberative," said Gilliam, a former University of the District of Columbia board member.

A native of the District, Hall holds a law degree from George Washington University. She was active in Gray's campaigns for council chairman and mayor and is expected to play an "integral part" in advancing his commitment to unify the city.

Unlike department directors, the city administrator and chief of staff appointments do not require council approval.

In the Fenty administration, the chief of staff played a more low-key role than in the past, and the city administrator was overshadowed by Attorney General Peter Nickles, who became a de facto spokesman for the administration.

Lew and Hall will now likely have a hand in further personnel selections.

Over the past two days, several city officials learned that they were not invited to remain for the Gray administration. Besides Klein, they included Valerie Santos, deputy mayor for planning and economic development; Joseph P. Walsh, director of the Department of Employment Services; Linda K. Argo, director of the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs; Gloria Nauden, director of the Commission on Arts and the Humanities; and Kathy Hollinger, director of the Office of Motion Picture and Television Development.

Klein, through his advocacy of bicycle and pedestrian amenities, promotion for public transit, and unorthodox approach to traffic and parking, developed a devoted following among advocates of "smart growth," who have emerged as a potent political force. But he was also at the center of a significant political headache for Gray during his campaign: the city's streetcar program, which was canceled and then restored under pressure during council budget negotiations.

Some planning and neighborhood advocates lobbied Gray to retain Klein. But other groups called for the ouster, criticizing him and his department for inadequate planning and community outreach.

"I don't know that it's a matter of letting them go," Gray said. "It's a matter of we're selecting the next administration. . . . It's certainly not a statement about anybody at this stage." Staff writers Mike DeBonis and Ann E. Marimow contributed to this report.

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