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Harry Jaffe: If lawmen take down Natwar Gandhi, I'll eat this column

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Local,DC,Harry Jaffe,D.C. Council

Before we allow tweeting about the next mayoral race to push Natwar Gandhi's impending resignation out of our collective consciousness, I want to wager on his legacy and suggest a few ways to maintain the District's fiscal health in the coming decades.

First, the wager: If Nat Gandhi gets charged with any crimes by local or federal officials for the way he conducted himself during his dozen years as D.C.'s chief financial officer, I will eat this column and every one that mentioned Gandhi over the past year. Since Gandhi and the District's finances are two of my favorite subjects, that would be a full meal of newsprint.

I propose the bet because every time Gandhi's name comes up in print, the writers feel compelled to regurgitate the fact that federal agencies have requested documents from the CFO's operation. The unstated implication is that the noose is tightening around Gandhi's neck, and that despite his contribution to balancing the city's books since 2000, Dr. Gandhi has been masterminding some dark conspiracies.

To which I say: Dream on.

It's true the FBI is looking into the way city officials and politicians awarded their recent lottery contract. And the Securities and Exchange Commission is reviewing the way the CFO's office handled its internal audits, as they relate to the issuing of bonds.

But neither investigation targets Gandhi, according to my sources in the federal and local law enforcement communities. Neither investigation has come up with any suggestion that Gandhi benefitted in any way from anything he did as CFO, or that he withheld information that might have influenced how investors assessed the city's financial well-being.

If you write "Gandhi" and "investigation" enough times in the same sentence, readers figure he's done something nefarious. Not true. And if it turns out to be true, I will eat my words, literally.

When it comes to replacing Gandhi, Mayor Vince Gray already has suggested the CFO lose its independence and come under the mayor's control. Dumb idea. Congress created a CFO beyond the meddling and politicking of elected officials for a reason.

And a few council members have suggested the next CFO have local roots and experience. Dumb idea No. 2. The last thing the city needs is a chief accountant with friends in high and low places. The mayor should embark on a national search and choose a candidate with no local ties.

Still, the CFO's operations could stand study and improvement. I agree with my Washington Examiner colleague Jonetta Rose Barras, who has proposed a transition committee to make the agency run better. Let's up the ante: Choose a committee to help select the next CFO. Whoever replaces Nat Gandhi will assume one of the most powerful positions in the nation's capital -- in some ways more powerful than the mayor -- which might be why Vince Gray wants to make the job less independent.

Dumb idea.

Harry Jaffe's column appears on Wednesday. He can be contacted at hjaffe@washingtonian.com.

Harry Jaffe's column appears on Wednesday. He can be contacted at hjaffe@washingtonian.com.

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