Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) on Wednesday nominated a fresh trio to the board, including potentially the first non-Democrat to sit on the board since February 2009. But questions were immediately raised about the eligibility of Gray’s pick for the board’s chair, Robert L. Mallett.
Mallett, who served as city administrator and deputy mayor for operations under Mayor Sharon Pratt and later was a deputy secretary of commerce, recently moved back to the District after working in New York City since 2001.
But at the news conference Wednesday morning announcing the selection, civic activist Dorothy Brizill pointed to a 2009 law requiring board members to have “resided in the District continuously since the beginning of the three-year period ending on the day he or she is appointed.”
Mallett, now a senior executive for UnitedHealth Group, noted he previously lived in the District for 17 years before moving to New York. Gray said that if the law “becomes an issue, we’ll address it.”
D.C. Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), who authored the bill, said that Gray could petition for an exception to the law, which she said was intended to ensure that nominees have “some commitment and familiarity with the District.”
”If he’s a quality candidate, and that’s the only thing that would inhibit him,” she said, “I think that person would have a case” for a exception.
Brizill, whose recent questions about Gray’s pick for deputy chief of staff led to her resignation, said she would “have more sympathy” to that argument if Mallett and his fellow nominees weren’t all lawyers. “I would make sure to look at the underlying issues regarding qualifications,” she said.
The other nominees are Devarieste Curry, a lawyer with McLeod, Watkinson & Miller who also serves as vice chairwoman of the D.C. Bar Association’s legal ethics committee, and Stephen I. Danzansky, a retired lawyer who served as an aide to presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.
The appointment of Danzansky, as a Republican, is a move toward ending months of criticism about the board’s makeup. Outgoing members Togo D. West Jr., the chairman, and Charles Lowery are both Democrats.
The pick delighted GOP activists, who lobbied for Danzansky and have otherwise been unflaggingly critical of Gray and other Democratic officials. ”We’re delighted to have something to agree with him on,” said Robert Kabel, chairman of the D.C. Republican Committee.
There was some question whether Gray would pick a Republican, considering that he could have chosen an independent or other-party registrant to fulfill the legal requirement of a minority-party representative. City Republicans, for instance, are outnumbered by independents more than two to one.
Ronald Collins, Gray’s director of boards and commissions, said at least four other candidates were considered, but Danzansky was “by far a better candidate than all of the other candidates combined.”