The Washington Post

Natwar Gandhi nomination proceeds, but not before searing critique

Catania, seen last March, delivered a withering review of Gandhi’s performance. (Bill O'Leary/WASHINGTON POST)

David A. Catania (I-At Large) had been unable to attend Thursday’s hearing on the nomination, but he made it to Friday’s committee vote, where he delivered an 11-minute discourse on Gandhi’s failings — a counterpoint largely missing from Thursday’s hearing.

Catania went back a while, starting with the 2002 conviction of Gandhi former general counsel Saamir Kaiser for embezzling $250,000 in city funds, then mentioning the vast tax theft uncovered in 2007: “And then there was Harriette Walters. Who could forget Harriette?”

He went on to rehash more recent instances of tax office embezzlement, a questionable $250,000 payment to the Historical Society of Washington, the Inspector General’s finding that Gandhi’s office erred in adding Internet gambling to the city’s lottery contract, an ongoing failure to crack down on overspending and using revenue surpluses “to paper over his failures,” the “midnight change of policy” that led to not collecting taxes on some commercial property transactions, building an office budget that far outstrips the financial offices in much larger cities and even some states, and his office’s underestimation of the cost to build Nationals Park — where a project once estimated to cost taxpayers $486 million ended up costing $692 million.

“I think this city would have been better served had our mayor initiated a national search to find the very best financial person in the country and encourage that person to come here,” Catania said. “But this kind of inertia — of kicking the can down the road, having not initiated the search, having not tried to find the very best — we are complacent enough to accept this. I think we can do better. Others disagree, but my conscience won’t let me cast a vote in his favor of his re-confirmation.”

Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) also held forth on weaknesses in Gandhi’s regime — a lack of spending oversight, particularly at the D.C. Public Schools, and delays in payments to small city contractors. But Barry voted in the end to support Gandhi.

The vote was 4-1. Panel chairman Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) and members Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) and Michael A. Brown (I-At Large) voted in favor with little comment. Each had attended Thursday’s hearing and generally spoke in support of Gandhi’s record of financial management.

The full council will vote on the nomination as soon as July 10.

Mike DeBonis covers Congress and national politics for The Washington Post. He previously covered D.C. politics and government from 2007 to 2015.

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