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Vince Gray keeps Lanier as police chief, nominates controversial ex-fire chief

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By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 16, 2010; 7:59 PM

Mayor-elect Vincent C. Gray unveiled his public safety team Thursday, reappointing Cathy L. Lanier as police chief, luring a well-respected lawyer from Capitol Hill to be attorney general and nominating a controversial former fire commander to be the city's next fire chief.

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In making his choices, Gray (D) presented a racially balanced team that includes several veterans of local government, as well as a surprise choice in the naming of Irvin Nathan as attorney general.

Nathan, former deputy attorney general at the U.S. Justice Department, serves as general counsel to the U.S. House of Representatives. Nathan, whom House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) tapped as general counsel in 2007, has limited experience in local government.

But on Capitol Hill, Nathan has developed a reputation as a tough and aggressive lawyer who has also been able to juggle competing priorities in a politically sensitive post.

Several D.C. Council members praised Gray's selections, predicting an easy confirmation process.

But police and fire union officials condemned the incoming mayor for reappointing Lanier as police chief and for his selection of Kenneth Ellerbe as chief of Fire and Emergency Services.

Union officials, vital supporters of Gray during his campaign against Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, say they feel shut out because they were not consulted about the selections. The spat is another sign that Gray could struggle to govern as mayor while still fulfilling his "one city" vision that calls for greater collaboration among stakeholders.

"I do think it's damaged the relationship because relationships are built on trust," said Ray Sneed, outgoing head of the city's fire union, who said he learned about Ellerbe's nomination from the media. "The only thing we asked for is a seat at the table, and if we can't get that, even during the transition stage, I guess it's unrealistic to think we are going to get that during the governing process."

Fulfilling a promise he made during the campaign, Gray also tapped a new deputy mayor for public safety, a position cut by outgoing Fenty (D). Paul A. Quander Jr., head of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, will fill that position and oversee the new administration's efforts to coordinate crime fighting and homeland security efforts.

"My plan for public safety is geared toward making sure people are safe and protected, and feel safe and protected regardless of where they live, work and play," Gray said while unveiling his team at a news conference at the Reeves Center at 14th and U streets NW.

Gray's nomination of Nathan caught some of his closest advisers by surprise. In recent weeks, many Gray advisers had predicted that he would pick an African American or a woman to replace outgoing Attorney General Peter Nickles.

But Gray said his friend, powerhouse D.C. lawyer Robert S. Bennett, recommended Nathan to him. Gray, who met Nathan two weeks ago, said he discovered that Nathan "has a stellar reputation" and "record of accomplishment."


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