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.
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."
As council chairman, Gray was a frequent critic of Nickles, whom he accused of being too protective of Fenty. Nathan, Gray said, "will take the politics out" of the office.
From 1994 to 2007, Nathan was a senior partner at Arnold & Porter, specializing in white-collar criminal defense. He served on contract as an adviser to the House judiciary panel in 2007, as the committee pursued an investigation of the Bush administration's firing of several U.S. attorneys.
Nathan continued to focus on that issue after Pelosi named him House counsel later that year. Nathan filed a high-profile lawsuit against White House officials Harriet Miers and Joshua Bolten to compel them to testify.
"He's very bright, very hard-working and has great interpersonal skills," Perry Apelbaum, staff director and chief counsel on the House Judiciary Committee, said of Nathan.
Stan Brand, a D.C. lawyer who specializes in political investigations, said Nathan "doesn't have a strong personality" but is someone who is "easy to get along with" because he "doesn't have an abrasive personality."
"It is an inspired choice," Brand said.
But some Gray friends and supporters were baffled by Nathan's nomination. They are privately questioning why he did not choose a minority or someone with more experience in local government.
"The job requires somebody who has a little bit more knowledge, history and background with the District," said one Gray adviser, who asked not to be identified to speak freely about the matter. "And many of us certainly expected a black or a Hispanic or an Asian would get the job."
Gray's nominee for fire chief, who is black, could be equally controversial.
Ellerbe, a former deputy fire chief who worked for the department for 27 years, was embroiled in conflict last year after it was discovered that he was still a D.C. fire department employee though he had taken a job as fire chief in Sarasota, Fla.
The arrangement was made so that Ellerbe, 50, could collect his pension immediately upon his retirement instead of deferring his benefits until age 55. Ellerbe resigned from the department after his arrangement was reported by the Washington Times. On Thursday, WTOP radio also reported that Ellerbe has continued to take a tax deduction on a home he owns in Southeast Washington, though he's been living full-time in Florida.
At the news conference, Ellerbe pledged that he would quickly clear up the tax issue.
Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large), head of the Committee on Public Safety, said he has "been through" the issues surrounding Ellerbe and is "satisfied" that they won't be a major barrier to his nomination.
Mendelson said he was also happy that Lanier, one of the city's most popular public figures, will stay in her job.
But Kristopher Baumann, head of the local Fraternal Order of Police lodge, said "rank and file" officers are "furious" that Gray ignored their advice that she be ousted.
"He didn't come talk to us about it, and he damaged a relationship, maybe permanently," said Baumann, who added that Lanier has mismanaged the department.
In an interview, Lanier said that she's optimistic that her relationship with the police union will improve during the Gray administration. Lanier also praised Gray's decision to tap Quander as deputy mayor for public safety, saying "there could be no better pick."
Before heading up the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, Quander spent six years serving as the head of the federal agency that oversees 15,000 people on parole and probation in the District
"What Mayor-elect Gray is doing is putting together a good public safety team, and I want to emphasize team," Mendelson said.
Staff writers Mike DeBonis, Ben Pershing and Allison Klein contributed to this report.