Wish list quickly filling up for Natwar Gandhi's successor

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Local,DC,Alan Blinder,D.C. Council,Vincent Gray

When the D.C. Council voted 11-1 last summer to give Natwar Gandhi another five-year term as the city's chief financial officer, most lawmakers figured the matter was settled.

Think again.

Gandhi's abrupt retirement announcement Friday quickly set into motion a high-stakes process to select the city's next independent CFO, someone who must be nominated by Mayor Vincent Gray and approved by lawmakers.

So far, Gray has offered no hints about the kind of person he'll seek for a job with a description that includes keeping Congress at bay and pushing back against the ambitions of top city officials who have taxpayer money to spend.

Lawmakers quickly called for a national search.

"It should be someone who keeps the big picture of municipal finance in mind," said D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, who also noted the vacancy was an opportunity for the city to seek "fresh eyes" on its finances.

And although Ward 1 Councilman Jim Graham said he wants Gray to search beyond Washington for a new CFO, he said he'd strongly prefer a candidate with ties to the District.

"We need someone who, to as great an extent as possible, comes from the city and knows the city," Graham said."I wouldn't want to say no to every outsider, but I think it's preferable to have someone who knows the city."

Although District leaders showered praise Friday on Gandhi, city officials acknowledged they might favor a CFO who places greater emphasis on interaction with the public.

"I'd like a CFO who is willing to really engage the public with the process of doing our budgeting," said at-large Councilman David Grosso, who joined the council in January and did not vote on Gandhi's reappointment last year.

Although Grosso said he wished Gandhi had been more open, he said he wants Gandhi's successor to share one specific characteristic with the 72-year-old accountant: a devotion to conservative projections of how much money the government will collect.

"It was a good trait," Grosso said.

Mendelson echoed Grosso, but he also cautioned that the CFO must be more than a mere "bean counter," as Gandhi so frequently described himself.

"They have to have the ability to roll with the political waters," he said. "In government, one picks up the paper and learns about a new crisis or is criticized. But they've got to be able to understand that role."

Gandhi will leave office on June 1, and although Mendelson said he thinks that is plenty of time for Gray to pick a new CFO, Graham had concerns about the speed of the search.

"I don't think four months is very much for a national search," he said.

ablinder@washingtonexaminer.com

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Alan Blinder

Staff Reporter, D.C. City Hall
The Washington Examiner