My column Thursday on the District bond rating prompted council member David A. Catania (I-At Large) to phone and fill my ears with invective, some of it obscene, against a longtime adversary, Chief Financial Officer Nat Gandhi.
“I’m tired of playing these [expletive] games with this idiot bean counter,” Catania said. “If he were half as good a chief financial officer as he is a spin agent, the city wouldn’t be in as bad financial shape as we are in.”
The trigger for the outburst: Catania’s belief that Gandhi has exaggerated the need for the city to move quickly on plans to sell United Medical Center in Southeast and thus reduce the District’s financial exposure from the hospital. Gandhi says that’s urgent to help placate Wall Street and thus lower the possibility that the District will suffer the first drop in its bond rating in 15 years.
Catania, who chairs the council’s health committee and is the hospital’s leading backer, said the institution accounts for such a small fraction of the District budget that it can’t be a big factor in Wall Street’s decision-making. He accused Gandhi of not caring about the hospital’s low-income patients and of being motivated by personal animosity.
“I’ve had it with his jihad against the poor,” Catania said. “He’s trying to get back at me. This is nothing but Nat at his petty best.”
When asked for a response, Gandhi’s spokesman, David Umansky said: “The fact is, the rating agencies raised the hospital issue. They have concerns about every public hospital in the country because of their direct and potential financial drag on the . . . cities that own them.”
Catania wasn’t the only politician who felt compelled to defend himself against possible embarrassment over a downgrade.
Council Finance Committee Chairman Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) called to note that he voted against the budget for the current fiscal year — his first vote against a budget in 20 years — because it cut too deeply into the District’s cash reserves.
“Unless the mayor and the council are willing to add a significant amount back to our fund balance and make serious spending cuts in the budget, our financial situation will be in jeopardy. I have stated this fact for three years,” Evans said.
Judging by this reaction, we can expect a lively fall full of efforts to avoid public responsibility for the city’s budget troubles. Let’s hope it produces an equal quantity of hard work to solve them.
I discuss local issues at 8:51 a.m. Friday on WAMU (88.5 FM).