Harry Jaffe: Time for Gray to quit dithering and reappoint Gandhi

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Local,DC,Harry Jaffe

Everywhere D.C. Chief Bean Counter Natwar Gandhi goes these days, people ask: "What's going on with your reappointment?"

Gandhi throws up his hands and says: "I wish I knew. What have you heard?"

Last week the city sold bonds on Wall Street to finance the next budget cycle, and the traders asked: "Is Nat going to be here to help run the city?"

No one seems to know, and there's a deafening silence from Mayor Vincent Gray, whose job description includes reappointing Gandhi or appointing a new chief financial officer. Since Gandhi's five-year term expires on June 30, Gray is running out of time, literally. His nominee has to go before the city council's finance committee for a hearing and a vote. The full council has to vote up or down. By June 30.

One can make the case, as have I, that D.C.'s independent chief financial officer is the most powerful official in the city, in that he or she can rule up or down on every financial decision. Can the city pay for a new baseball stadium? Do the numbers on the new teacher's contract add up? Is the budget balanced, as it must be by law?

So why is Vince Gray stalling over the decision to keep Gandhi or recommend a new top bean counter?

My guess is that people are whispering in his ear that Gandhi has had a good run, served the city well, but has run out his string. After all, Gandhi was first appointed in 2000 and again in 2007. He's been at it a dozen years. Isn't that enough?

No. Gray should quit ruminating and wasting time. He needs to reappoint Gandhi. Fast.

Here are three reasons:

• Gandhi has taken the rap for being at the helm when tax collector Harriette Walters was nabbed for stealing $48 million. But she started her scam before Gandhi took office.

• Other cities are going bankrupt, entire states are cutting services, and California has had to hand out IOUs. D.C. didn't sail through the Great Recession, but it has come through relatively unscathed and started to replenish its reserves, topping $1 billion. Gandhi deserves credit.

• Wall Street bond rating agencies trust Gandhi and his team. They have raised the city's bond ratings, which has lowered the cost of borrowing. The result has been a saving of $200 million in interest payments over the past decade, according to the council and the CFO.

From what I can gather, Gray is not looking for a replacement. When the mayor does talk about Gandhi and the CFO position, he always brings up the congressional law that makes the CFO independent of the mayor. The mayor can appoint, but he cannot fire. Gray wants to end that independence. My sources in the Gray administration say the mayor has asked Gandhi to support abolishing the CFO's independence.

Gandhi declined.

That's another reason the city needs him.

Harry Jaffe's column appears on Tuesday and Friday. He can be contacted at hjaffe@washingtonexaminer.com.

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Harry Jaffe

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The Washington Examiner