Chalk up another one for Mayor Adrian Fenty. That seemed to be the reaction of aspiring pols around town cozying up to him after Muriel Bowser, Fenty’s anointed pick to replace him in Ward 4, won a resounding victory in Tuesday’s special election.
Well, they almost got it right.
The guys who actually put Bowser in office were the same ones who helped fuel the Fenty mayoral machine last year: consultant Tom Lindenfeld and überoperative John Falcicchio.
Both campaign junkies are quick to give credit to energetic candidates, other workers, and finding the issues that hit home with voters. But with this win, the dynamic duo cements their reputation as a team that can practically guarantee victory.
Lindenfeld is the general—a longtime city resident who has played a central role in creating the new political order in D.C. His relationship with Fenty began shortly after Fenty became Lindenfeld’s Ward 4 councilmember, a result of redistricting once Fenty stomped to victory over Charlene Drew Jarvis.
And when At-Large Councilmember Kwame Brown subsequently trounced longtime incumbent Harold Brazil in 2004, Lindenfeld was part of a team that crafted the low-tech, high-visibility campaign. Lindenfeld’s wife introduced the young and practically unknown Brown at an early campaign event.
Then, of course, there was Fenty’s electoral destruction of Linda Cropp. The big green machine proved it didn’t need to rely on emotional attachment to some grand movement. Forget, too, the promise of patronage or fear of reprisal from powerful political players. Even the flowery rhetoric of the Fenty campaign—new leadership, world-class city, homegrown talent—was basically giftwrap covering a very practical political battle plan instituted by two ruthless tacticians.The 2006 mayoral race solidified Lindenfeld’s reputation as D.C.’s new political maestro.
Falcicchio is the quiet engine behind the operation. He prefers to operate outside of the spotlight—he fastidiously avoided being interviewed for this story—but the Fenty camp has a moniker for him: “Johnny Business,” which followed him from his days with the Howard Dean campaign.
The task list for Johnny Business includes supervising campaign staff, raising cash, talking to the press, and getting out the vote at crunch time. Bowser describes her keys to victory as “hard work and the people of Ward 4 [sharing] our vision.” Lindenfeld dispensed with the political boilerplate. “It’s simple,” says Lindenfeld. “You count the votes, you know where they are, you go out, and you get them.”
And you get a guy like Falcicchio working on the ground who makes sure the job gets done. In keeping with the Fenty tradition, no one was designated Bowser’s campaign manager. The company line held that the candidate was running the show.
Lindenfeld maintains that without the right candidate, his methodical strategy would be pointless. Plenty of political hopefuls say they are going door to door, identifying voters, and getting them to the polls, but few deliver the goods. “Others pretend,” says Lindenfeld while he hugged campaign workers at the Bowser victory party. “But there is no replacement for hard work.”
“In terms of the methodology, we work on that together,” Lindenfeld says. “But Falcicchio, he was the guy who put in the hard work.”
So the results are in, but there’s still a question hanging in the air for D.C.’s busybodies. Who will the mayor tell Lindenfeld and Falcicchio to work for next?
Imitation of political heroes proved to be the winning formula in Tuesday’s election. Bowser not only hired the Fenty campaign team but also adopted the mayor’s green and white colors for signs and literature. The victor in Ward 7, Yvette Alexander, followed the same red, white, and blue scheme that delivered victory to her patron, Council Chairman Vincent Gray. She even riffed on Gray’s “one city” slogan, by promising to “make Ward 7 one.”
But those imitators can’t top Dee Hunter, who is exploring an independent bid to unseat Republican At-Large Councilmember Carol Schwartz in 2008. Hunter’s exploratory handout is an unmistakable copy of At-Large Councilmember David Catania’s campaign lit.
Hunter won’t shy away from his attempt to glom on to a well-respected politician like Catania, elected to the council in three citywide elections. “It was copying by design,” says Hunter, who has worked as a consultant for Catania. “Imitation is the best form of flattery, after all,” he says. “I would be a very effective councilmember if I was as good as David Catania.”
Catania’s Chief of Staff (and former campaign manager) Ben Young passed along this statement on behalf of his boss: “[Councilmember Catania] was not consulted by Dee Hunter about the literature, but of course, he is flattered.”
Hunter did show some individuality with his literature choice by not using the same printing company as Catania. “And besides,” he says, “the color is called hunter green.”
Stand by Your Man
Fenty has delivered some strong lessons about loyalty during his first four months in office. He’s stuck by most of the nominees to key boards and commissions—even when councilmembers object to his picks.
But Fenty’s support for Robin Martin, his choice to chair the board of the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority (WASA), baffles even the most jaded pols.
Martin is a former appointed school board member who is generally viewed as a highly competent guy. His appointment to the school board by Mayor Anthony A. Williams was seen as a major coup for a school system struggling for a measure of respectability. He also serves on several corporate and nonprofit boards.
Martin’s nomination to the WASA board was approved Tuesday despite his publicly stated position that WASA, not the D.C. Chief Financial Officer, should have oversight of the authority’s budget. Sources say that’s at odds with District leaders, including City Administrator Dan Tangherlini and CFO Natwar Gandhi, who argue the home rule charter gives Gandhi’s office oversight of all independent agencies—including WASA.
Right now, WASA’s CFO reports to the general manager of the agency and Gandhi, and Martin points out the authority has delivered a clean audit and financial bill of health for 10 straight years.
He’s not exactly low-key about his stance.
In fact, city hall sources report that at one recent meeting—attended by Gandhi, Tangherlini, and Ward 1 Councilmember that would clarify the situation. Graham is proposing solidifying the CFO’s oversight of WASA’s budget and increasing the WASA board from 11 to 13 members—a move that would boost District dominance over reps from Maryland and Virginia. Graham refused to comment.
According to sources who attended the meeting, Martin even went so far as to suggest WASA’s management and board might see Graham’s legislation as an incentive to go to Congress themselves to lobby for a clarification of WASA’s independence.
Wilson Building sources say Martin’s refusal to go along with the city’s effort to take over the sewer authority explains why Martin’s nomination was unceremoniously withdrawn when it went before the council April 3. At that time, Graham and Chairman Gray decided to make the nominee sweat before letting Martin assume the post.
But Martin isn’t budging, and the Fenty team is sticking by their guy.
The only person who seems unfazed by the mayor’s position on Martin is Martin. “I made my support for independent management at WASA clear before I was even nominated for the job,” Martin says.
• About a year ago, when LL was in the market for a low-mileage used car, the always frugal Gandhi advised him to buy a vehicle from the rental car companies. It was, Gandhi explained, the way he’d bought reliable cars at a reasonable price for years.
It struck LL as a bit odd—although completely consistent with Gandhi’s penny-pinching reputation—that a dedicated public servant making, at that time, about $186,000 per year, would forgo treating himself to a new car. But that is, indeed, the case. For the past few years, Gandhi has tooled around in an early-’90s Toyota Camry he got on the rent-a-car resale market. His clunky ride is the butt of jokes among some of his underlings.
But now that Gandhi is scheduled to get a $93,000 raise, and the old Camry is sputtering a bit, the usually tight-fisted CFO’s utilitarian tendencies may be wavering. “My son said, ‘Now that you got a raise, you should buy a Mercedes,’ ” says Gandhi. “I reminded him that I would still have to drive the car to city hall every day. Could you imagine how ridiculous it would look for the chief financial officer to be arriving in a Mercedes?”
Gandhi is making one concession to his newfound prosperity. “I am considering buying a new car this time,” he says. But he hasn’t lost his cautious ways just yet. “Remember, the raise isn’t approved until the Congress says so.”
Gandhi’s spokesperson Marianne* Maryann Young refuses to confirm the CFO will finally spring for a brand-new ride. “I don’t believe it,” she says. “He’ll end up buying another used car.”
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