After Adrian M. Fenty won the primary victory last September that all but assured his ascension to the mayoralty, he started adding some serious beef to his inner circle. His first step: Get Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi on board. Less than a week after the election, Gandhi had agreed to stay on with a Fenty administration until 2012.
Fenty’s move went over spectacularly: Ward 2 Councilmember and finance committee chair Jack Evans, not a Fenty fan by any stretch, told the Examiner at the time that the reappointment sent a “clear message right off the bat that [Fenty’s] serious about the finances of this city.” This spring, Fenty sent the message again, giving Gandhi a nearly $100,000 raise to keep him on the job.
It was a smart move on Fenty’s part—to lock in the guy who’d overseen years of balanced budgets and clean audits, beloved by congressional overseers and Wall Street bond raters alike.
Apparently political and sports minds think alike. Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder is another power player who shored up his reputation by bringing in a proven winner. Back in 2004, after the ignominious tenure of coaching hire Steve Spurrier, Snyder also chose to go with a guy whose reputation is as golden as it gets in this town: Joe Gibbs, the Hall of Fame coach who brought the Skins glory before retiring after the ’92 season to run his NASCAR team.
Alas, both golden boys have fallen on hard times since. Gibbs’ post-comeback record stands at 26-32 with a single playoff appearance in three seasons, and he’s coming off a tough road loss to the Skins’ most heated rival, the Dallas Cowboys. And Gandhi, of course, is vulnerable for the first time in his political life thanks to the tax-embezzlement scam that may have sucked $30 million or more from the city coffers under his watch.
But the parallels between these two heroes-turned-zeros don’t end there. LL has made an accounting of the many similarities between Gibbs and Gandhi.
D.C. Chief Financial Officer
Natwar M. Gandhi
Redskins Head Coach
|Age||67||67 on Nov. 25|
|Claims to Fame||Six consecutive balanced budgets and clean audits||Three Super Bowl victories, four NFC championships|
|Third-Party Mark of Approval||Three “A”-level bond ratings||Pro Football Hall of Fame induction|
|Morning Habits||Rises early to hold “breakfast meetings” at Old Ebbitt Grill||Rises early to watch film at Redskins Park|
|Fashion Trademark||Wire-rimmed glasses||Wide-brimmed caps|
|Longtime Nemesis||At-Large Councilmember David A. Catania, who ripped Gandhi repeatedly on the Nationals stadium||New York Giants Head Coach Bill Parcells, who ripped Gibbs repeatedly at Giants Stadium|
|Early Hints of Dysfunction||Saamir “Sam” Kaiser, Gandhi’s general counsel, was convicted in 2002 of embezzling city funds. To settle with feds, he had to give back more than $500,000 he stole from the District.||LaVar Arrington, the Skins linebacker, was released in 2006 after being mysteriously benched by Gibbs. To get free agency, he had to give back millions he received from the Redskins.|
|False Savior||New Office of Tax and Revenue chief Sebastian “Ben” Lorigo, plucked from the Office of Integrity and Oversight earlier this month. Lorigo ran into quick trouble after admitting he hadn’t audited the property-tax department in five years on the job.||Top offensive coach Al Saunders, plucked from the Kansas City Chiefs last year. Saunders ran into quick trouble when his legendary 700-plus-page playbook failed to translate into a potent offense.|
|Overtrusted Underling||Former Office of Tax and Revenue Chief Sherryl Hobbs Newman, who found some success in various District government positions but whose performance was generally unimpressive. Gandhi brought Newman to OTR in 2005 to widespread bewilderment.||Former Skins quarterback Mark Brunell, who found some success playing for the Jacksonville Jaguars but whose Skins performance was generally unimpressive. Gibbs stuck with Brunell well into 2006 to widespread bewilderment.|
|Recent Antagonist||Harriette Walters, the head of the city’s property-tax refund accused of stealing millions by making out false tax-refund checks||Terrell Owens, the Cowboys wide receiver who caught four touchdown passes against the Skins last Sunday|
|Job Security||Gandhi has more than four more years left in his term as CFO. At a Nov. 15 hearing, he said, “I must…take action to repair what has been broken and to regain the public trust that has been so badly shaken.”||Gibbs has one more season on his five-year contract. “We’ll play it out,” he told the Washington Post over the summer.|
Marion Barry: Not a Tree Hugger
Last Thursday, pretty much all Wilson Building wags were occupied with the tax-scam hearings that lasted through the afternoon and evening.
But earlier that day and a floor below, Ward 8 Councilmember Marion S. Barry Jr., chair of the housing and urban affairs committee, held another hearing—one in which he was the only one at the dais. The lack of interest might have had something to do with the bill’s prosaic title: the “Square 5877 Residential Development Stimulus Act of 2007.”
LL has a better title: the “Save Horning Brothers $200,000 Act of 2007.”
Square 5877 is the piece of property slated to hold Horning Brothers’ “Stanton Square” project, a development of 187 townhouses that promises to “dazzle your senses with an array of quality features and stylish design that add up to a homeowning value unmatched by anything available in the city today,” according to the sales pitch on the Horning Web site.
Right now, however, Stanton Square is nothing but a wooded patch of land on the side of a hill in the heart of Ward 8. “Dazzling the senses” will involve the developer clearing away 99 trees of at least 55 inches in circumference from the property—and that’s by Horning Brothers’ count. Under the Urban Forest Preservation Act passed back in 2003, clearing all that arbor, at $35 per inch of circumference, means that the developer is required to pay nearly $195,000 into the city’s tree fund.
Barry’s bill, which has no cosponsors to date, would exempt Horning Brothers from having to pay into the tree fund, making it the first time any entity’s been given a pass on the tree law’s requirements.
The rationale for this seemingly bald exemplar of corporate welfare: affordable housing.
The “stimulus,” says Horning Brothers President David Roodberg, would allow for more units of affordable housing—he declined to say how many—or for a reduction in the subsidy that the city would pay for affordable housing at the site.
Horning Brothers also plays up the enviro-friendly aspects of the project, such as its “pocket parks” and “rain gardens” to collect runoff. Horning Brothers is also promising to plant nearly 300 new trees on the property. (LL’s grasp of geometry is sufficient to note that the circumference of those new saplings will be worth nothing near $195,000.)
“This is an overgrown 8-acre site,” Roodberg says. “We’re actually creating a better green space.”
Several representatives of Horning, including company co-founder Joe Horning, appeared at the hearing to support the bill. Lined up in opposition were members of several environmental concerns and reps from the District’s Department of Transportation, which oversees the city’s trees.
Department spokesperson Erik Linden says the District’s tree law makes no exceptions. “The act has helped DDOT preserve and grow our city’s tree canopy, and we’d like to keep it that way,” he says. “If this bill were to be approved, what precedent does it set for future developments where trees are at risk?”
Other greenies also proffered slippery-slope concerns, which Barry shrugged off. A typical exchange: “I know you said you don’t consider this precedent,” said GreenHOME executive director Patty Rose, “but I think the development community will.”
Replied Barry: “No, they won’t. I’ve talked to them about it.”
The likelihood of the bill getting out of committee intact is iffy at best, especially with At-Large Councilmember Phil Mendelson, original sponsor of the city’s tree laws, on the panel. Says fellow committee member Jim Graham, “I definitely have questions about this.”
Mendelson points out that Horning Brothers already received relief from other city requirements courtesy of the D.C. Zoning Commission. “The Council should think twice before heaping benefits on top of benefits here,” he said in a statement. “This strikes me as double-dipping at the expense of the city’s environment.”
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