Housing Complex

Summarily Ousted, Klein Isn’t Sure Whether He Would Have Stayed Anyway

Taking questions in the Reeves Center. (Lydia DePillis)

Last night, District Department of Transportation Director Gabe Klein got a letter delivered to his office at the Reeves Center on U Street. The contents weren't entirely unexpected: He had been getting "inklings" over the last few months that he wouldn't be asked to stay on in the administration of mayor-elect Vince Gray.

Actually, the two haven't talked for the last three months. Although Klein says they once worked closely together on projects like the 11th Street bridge, communication largely ceased after the "kerfuffle" over streetcar funding back in May.

And even now, Klein isn't sure that he would have stayed even if Gray had asked him to.

"My palms were sweating yesterday as I was walking around the Wilson Building," he said in his office this morning, in a wide-ranging discussion with reporters. "And it wasn't because I thought I was going to leave, it was because I thought they were going to ask me to stay, and I didn't know what my answer would be."

Why? Because at that very moment, the Council was hashing out the final gap-closing budget measures. One of the things they cut was DDOT's "unified fund," which isn't just a pot of money: As funding that DDOT generates and gets to keep for its own priorities, it's allowed the agency to be more flexible and function much more like a private business in its operations than other bureaucracies within District government. Effective yesterday, all the revenue DDOT generates from things like meters, permits, and fees will go straight into the city's general fund, and doled back out to DDOT at the Council's discretion.

"Getting rid of our unified fund really will fundamentally change the way this agency works, from an entrepreneurial agency to a sort of standard traditional government agency, with more central decisionmaking downtown, and probably more administration at my level," Klein said. "I prided myself on my creativity, my ability to build a great team and execute projects. It's probably not a good fit going forward. You know, it's just a matter of philosophy."

Having that kind of budget discretion, along with Mayor Adrian Fenty's entrepreneurial spirit, was a big part of what had lured Klein to the directorship in the first place.

"If you could come to the table with a great idea that will make the city better, and fiscally responsible, with benchmarks and data to show that it would work, you had a really good shot that it would happen," he said.

Klein tried to allay concerns that bike lanes would be painted over and the streetcar brought to a screeching halt. Even as the unified fund was being cut, funding for the H Street-Benning Streetcar was approved, and he hasn't heard anything that would indicate that the Gray administration wouldn't continue to build on the success of Capital Bikeshare (which he sees as his biggest legacy).

"I firmly believe that once that line is operational," he said, "that stake's in the ground for the streetcar, and the rest will happen."

But he did recognize that the breakneck pace at which he and Fenty made change was at times divisive, and focused criticism on himself. I asked him why debate over things like streetcars and bike lanes had gotten so acrimonious.

"Some of this is played up in the media. People act like I sit around and draw bike lanes all day," he said with a wry smile. "But there are some divides in the city, and I think it's foolish to ignore them. I think they're based on geography, topography, I think we have some surburban neighborhoods, and some very dense urban neighborhoods."

"People talk about a racial divide," he went on. "I have to tell you, I have so many friends and supporters in Wards 7 and 8. I'm much more aware of a age divide. And I'm not going to claim to know what it's about. But whether it's older, white folks from Ward 3, or older black folks in Ward 5, there's certain people that don't agree with some of the changes that we're looking at."

Klein didn't say where he'd be doing next–he just learned he would be out of a job yesterday, after all. But he could see himself working in government again sometime.

"This is the best job I have ever had," he said, firmly.

  • Jon Bon Jovi

    Gabe maybe you can open a bike shop and sell bikes.

  • Jon Bon Jovi

    Gabe stop dreaming, I doubt very seriously, you have any black friends. People tend to use the term friend incorrectly. Some need to look up the definition of the word friend.

  • too bad

    Gabe Klein did a great job. Whoever Gray picks is going to have some very very large shoes to fill.

  • noodlez


  • read scott martin

    JBJ? Seriously. Anonymous posts are poison.

  • Jon Bon Jovi

    Read Scott Martin, don't hate on me because I am speaking the truth. I doubt Gabe Klein has black friends he invites over to his home or socialize with. People do tend to use the term friend loosely. Gabe will be unemployed soon and he does have experience on bikes. He can open up a bike shop with his experience because he was lacking transportation experience and education in transportation.

  • Jon Bon Jovi

    I am white and I don't have black friends I invite to my home. I have black associates, but they are not my friends. This isn't a bad thing, but I just don't have black friens. Let's face it, we still live in a mostly segregated society.

  • http://www.zipcar.com zipcar_rebel

    Gabe, Gabe, Gabe we hardly knew ye! From your days as zipcar office manager (and no, the VW bug really wouldn't start), to dupont circle house flipper, to purveyor of hard boiled eggs (the sad spectacle of the smart kafes and their hip, transgender sales people hoping and waiting for someone to come and buy said eggs was a precious tableau), to defiler of union station - not to mention the bike lanes to nowhere - what will we do without you? This has to be the most classless, imature exit ever. Suggestion: why don't you, Bryan, and Linda race the smartbikes down PA avenue! The winner gets a QR tag tattoo! (and a year's worth of hard boiled eggs).

  • http://www.zipcar.com zipcar_rebel

    news flash - hide your chickens! (or maybe not..). The on the fly web site is back! Messed up, but back (perhaps hosted by OCTO?). So...it looks like he does have a gig after all!

  • EP Sato

    Good riddance. Increased bike access without any rider responsibility classes, registration requirements nor insurance nor helmet requirements for people who commute on these vehicles that can go as fast as some scooters? This is a ticking timebomb waiting to happen.

  • Chgobluesguy

    I enjoyed getting lectured by Klein -- who lives on U Street, is childless, and drives a Cooper Mini, I believe -- on car usage. I really did. I know DC will be a far better place with bike lanes and streetcars long after he leaves JAWB.

  • Anonymous

    Amen, Chgobluesguy, I love to hear childless people talk about riding bikes in the cold with two kids under 10 in one of those stupid little carts pulling behind. What I save in gas on my SUV, I'll be spending at the doctor's office if the kids get sick.

  • Wrack

    That's great then. Let's keep having a bunch of kids and leaving them a filthier, starker, less-safe city to inherit. Good thinking there. Real smart-like.

  • stella

    a) people don't get sick from being properly dressed in the cold.
    b) children who live in NW, with their parents can take public transportation. it's not just for black folks from ward 8.
    c) DC isn't even that cold
    d) gabe klein stunk.
    e) people with children dont need big cars. or even cars. really. i swear. i promise.
    f) i have 13 children, and 2 bicycles, and we all get around quite nicely.

  • Motorist

    Fair well Gabe, sorry you tarried so long. You and fenty can now jog and trot and bike all day, maybe both of you can be run over by some renegade hit and run biker.

  • DCDem

    Won't miss Klein, I hope he takes his segregated entourage in DDOT with him, starting with his Communication Director and Deputy Director of Resources (who can't count).