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SIMMONS: Good move: City keeps its bean counter

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ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Free at last, free at last. Thank God almighty, Natwar M. Gandhi is free at last. Mayor Vincent C. Gray finally severed the tether to Mr. Gandhi, the District’s chief financial officer, on Friday, when he reappointed the self-proclaimed “realistically conservative” finance chief to another five-year term - and well he should have.

While there likely will be a tantrum or two during confirmation hearings, it would be unwise for elected officials who are struggling to overcome their own demons to attempt to derail Mr. Gandhi’s nomination.

Mr. Gandhi, whose last appointment was courtesy of then-Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, has earned considerable respect from all the right places, including Congress and Wall Street. He cannot effectively carry out his nonpartisan duties if his hands are tied by political chicanery and peevish rhetoric flourishes.

So D.C. stakeholders, cup your ears.

In a news release, finger-wagging D.C. Council member David A. Catania, who said he was disappointed to learn of the reappointment, rightly cited some problems inside the CFO’s office, including the embezzlement of $50 million and the failure to collect $100 million in property taxes.

But Mr. Catania, who opposed the reappointment, is not known for biting his tongue.

Indeed, Mr. Catania is a longtime public sniper, especially since Mr. Gandhi began questioning the at-large independent’s push to turn the only full-service hospital east of the Anacostia River into a public entity, and he has been vile to Marion Barry, Ward 8 Democrat who represents the area where the hospital, United Medical Center, is located.

Some of Mr. Catania’s nastiest remarks regarding Mr. Gandhi were made in a 2011 telephone conversation with writer Robert McCartney of The Washington Post, who quoted him as saying: “I’m tired of playing these [expletive] games with this idiot bean counter. 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.”

Mr. Catania also said: “I’ve had it with his jihad against the poor. He’s trying to get back at me. This is nothing but Nat at his petty best.”

Well, the city was not in “bad financial shape” in 2011 and use of the terms “idiot” and “jihad” reflected more on Mr. Catania than it did on Mr. Gandhi. But hey, it does no good to beg some people’s pardon.

Then, there was the Valentine’s Day 2012 “[expletive] you, Marion,” which Mr. Catania hurled at Mr. Barry because he questioned the fiscal health of the hospital.

Mr. Catania also called Mr. Barry, “a despicable human being.”

Judgment day will soon arrive.

A member of key council committees - including the panel on finance and revenue, and the Committee on Government Operations - Mr. Catania also is chairman of the Committee on Health and largely responsible for digging deeply into all health-care related matters. So when you question or criticize Mr. Gandhi’s numbers, you also are questioning the integrity of decisions made by Mr. Catania.

But the job of the CFO is not to acquiesce to the wishes of Mr. Catania, other lawmakers or even the mayor.

The Clinton White House and Congress established and strengthened the independent CFO in the mid-1990s not as a puppet, but as a responsible budget and revenue entity to help restore fiscal sanity and maintain financial integrity at a time when the city had neither.

And know what? The city is in fine shape because of their intervention. That is why Mr. Gray could characterize Mr. Gandhi as “a steady steward” for more than a decade.

The council is expected to confirm Mr. Gandhi before its 12 members go on summer recess, and I don’t know of anyone who anticipates a unanimous vote.

Mr. Catania has established quite a reputation for posing pointed questions during council hearings, and he can bet his mad money that the Washington business community is going to show support for the “idiot bean counter.”

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About the Author

Deborah Simmons

Award-winning opinion writer Deborah Simmons is a senior correspondent who reports on City Hall and writes about education, culture, sports and family-related topics. Mrs. Simmons has worked at several newspapers, and since joining The Washington Times in 1985, has served as editorial-page editor and features editor and on the metro desk. She has taught copy editing at the University of ...

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