Loose Lips

Worst. Job. Ever.

How Long Will D.C. Mayor Vince Gray's New Chief of Staff Chris Murphy Last?

Last week Mayor Vince Gray introduced the city to his new chief of staff, Chris Murphy, an accomplished go-getter the mayor says will help reinvigorate his administration and move past the various missteps of its first few months.

Murphy, along with new deputy chief of staff Andi Pringle, immediately started a charm offensive with the media and the mayor’s own staff.

“Andi and I just wanted to let you know how excited we are to be working with you and how much we appreciate all the good work you are doing for Mayor Gray and for the District,” Murphy wrote to the mayor’s staff in an email just before midnight last Tuesday, his first full day on the job. “There is so much knowledge and know how on this team, only by tapping it all can we truly succeed.”

Several mayoral staffers LL spoke with say they were impressed with Murphy’s friendly approach and are excited about his new gig. But the prospect of Murphy’s top-down review of the Office of the Mayor, its 85 or so employees, and its $12 million budget is making for some anxiety in the Wilson Building.

“Yes, there are some people who are very nervous,” says one high-level mayoral staffer.

Murphy and Pringle also held off-the-record sessions with local reporters, dubbed “chew and chats,” to try and ingratiate themselves with the various hacks who populate the District’s media landscape.

Their first attempt did not go well. According to multiple people present, early in the first session with reporters, Murphy said the media had blown Gray’s various missteps out of proportion and had not given the mayor a fair shake—a position the assembled reporters did not take kindly to. Add an awkward spat with D.C. Watch’s Dorothy Brizill over various perceived slights, and “it never kind of recovered from that,” says one reporter. (LL had a different chat with Murphy and Pringle, and things went fine, though it was also off the record.)

Things got worse for Pringle pretty fast. Later in the week, Brizill reported that she had voted in last year’s mayoral primary while living in Maryland. Brizill also filed a complaint with the Board of Elections and Ethics alleging the same thing. By Wednesday, Pringle had resigned.

It wasn’t the best start at winning over the grumps who report on the city’s news, but they are only one of many constituencies Murphy will have to learn to navigate successfully—and quickly.

Mayoral chiefs of staff in this town have a tendency to disappear faster than Spinal Tap drummers, with some crashing and burning at neck-snapping speeds.

Consider this pattern: The first chiefs of staff to Gray, former Mayor Anthony Williams, and former Mayor Sharon Pratt all flamed out within the first three months of taking the job.

Pratt’s first chief of staff, Joe Caldwell, was brought on with some fanfare as one part of a Ronald Reagan-type “triumvirate” leadership team. A Washington Post article in 1991 had anonymous administration sources sniping about Caldwell less than three months in, saying that he lacked “the necessary political experience and has had trouble directing the flow of call, paperwork and personnel to and from the [mayor’s] office.

Williams’ first chief of staff, Reba Pittman Evans, also left within the first few months “amid questions of her leadership skills,” Washington Business Journal reported. “It wasn’t a good fit,” Evans, who left office with a tidy $50,000 in separation pay, told WBJ.

Gray’s first chief of staff, Gerri Mason Hall, was forced out in March after questions arose over her involvement in the murky business of how her son and former mayoral candidate Sulaimon Brown both landed city jobs. Hall’s not-so-original spin on her dismissal: “It was not a good fit.” (Could be worse, though: LL checked, and so far, Hall has not been given any separation pay, much less 50 grand.)

The bad news for Murphy: The successors to those early failures didn’t fare so well themselves, either.

Pratt replaced Caldwell with Patricia Worthy, a friend from law school. Worthy only lasted a few months. While Worthy was out on medical leave, Pratt told the Post her chief of staff “should feel free to look for something else more to her liking.” Ouch.

William’s second chief of staff was Abdusalam Omer, a longtime friend. Omer was eased out after about two years, in part for his role in a fundraising scandal that used nonprofits to funnel contributions from businesses linked with the city. Williams went through chiefs of staff at pretty quick clip. Omer’s successor, Kelvin Robinson, quit just before a probe by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel into whether Robinson violated the Hatch Act by asking city employees to contribute to Williams’ re-election campaign. Robinson, who ran unsuccessfully against Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells last year, settled with the feds by agreeing not to work for the District government for two years, according to the Washington Times.

Former Mayor-for-Life Marion Barry had plenty of chief of staff problems of his own. His de facto first, Ivanhoe Donaldson, pleaded guilty several years after leaving the job to stealing $190,000 worth of city funds. Donaldson’s short-lived replacement, Clifton Smith, would go on to manage the campaign of the Rev. Walter Fauntroy—when he ran against Barry in 1990. For a lengthy period during his first term, Barry simply went without a chief of staff.

All this to say: Being chief of staff to a District mayor is a difficult job that has left some very accomplished people looking awfully bad.

“There’s no training for it,” says Karen Tramontano, who was Pratt’s third chief of staff and managed to last the remainder of the term.

Tramontano says a good chief of staff has to walk a “really fine line” between being an effective traffic cop and becoming a “barrier to the mayor.”

“The other thing is, you’re always the bad guy,” says Tramontano. “I can count the amount of times in three years and eight months I said ‘yes’...very few.”

Murphy says he’s not spent much time pondering the fate of those who have gone before him. “I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about what job comes next for me, I’m pretty focused on the one I have,” he says. “I’m really committed to helping this mayor succeed and hopefully that will speak for itself.”

Murphy’s right: His work will one day speak for itself. The question people in the District may be asking is what the final message will be.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

Got a tip for LL? Send suggestions to lips@washingtoncitypaper.com. Or call (202) 650-6951.

  • Drez

    Maybe someone in the Gray admin should reach out to Tene.
    They've done crazier things...

  • Truth Hurts

    Groundhod Day II = One City

  • Truth Hurts

    Worst. Mayor. Ever.

  • Java Master

    This guy will be gone within the year.

  • Skipper

    Odd that there's no mention of Fenty's chief of staff history.

  • DCDem

    Tene was, basically, fired by the progressive's hero slavemaster Adrian Fenty. Why would Gray even consider her.

  • GT

    And an article update, Deputy chief of staff Pringle just quit this morning after less than a week on the job!

    Hahahaha...you really can't make this stuff up! The fail of this administration is astounding.

    "One City"...in the toilet!

  • Mary

    The Mayor needs to resign and take his whole staff with him. Gray likes the title but does not want to do the job. His cover up stories are sounding ridiculous.

  • drez

    Not so. She lasted 2 years, and became tired of the horrible hours.

  • Sir Francis Walsingham

    Linda Wharton-Boyd saw Andrea Pringle as a threat. She feeds information to Dorothy Brizill in order to survive and save her butt. She is both a survivor and skilled DC Government bureaucrat. Mayor Gray should place her at an agency and hire a modern, youthful, experienced, and knowledgeable Communications Director.

  • My Name is Linda

    @Sir Francis - Not cute and NO COMMENT!

  • NoneOtherThan

    Is "drez" tene dolphin??? Seems odd that you would know all of these details about a has been Fenty supporter that nobody cares about anymore. Extremely suspicious.

  • Drez

    Lol. Oh, please.
    If I was I certainly wouldn't be hoping to get caught up in the One City vortex.
    I only put her name out there because she survived that post for years with no hint of scandal or even major drama.
    Something One City can't seem to do for even weeks.

  • dcboy

    Anyone remember when we had a good, young, progressive mayor and we traded him in for the current one? Nice work morons.

  • What the flocka?

    Again, this harem of women that Mayor Gray seems to go to is becoming a bad joke. Is there a cosignment shop of black females who need to work for our government. I know many careers are made or broken over cocktails but this geritol and gin has become nauseating.

  • oneshittty

    What a joke. Gray will be unemployed by this time next year.

    ditto dcboy.

  • Really?

    Anybody remember that billion dollar surpuls that week down the drain in the last admin?

  • http://happyone.org Thequietstorm

    Chris Murphy, please ask your supervisor, Weak Ass Gray why in the hell did he place Lisa Mallory, his sister in-law as Agency Head of Employment Services.

    Because, she dates, Chief Ellerbee, or stands as the Mayor's sister-inlaw, or lacks real leadership skills.

    Tell us, when are you going to correct the matters that exist at this Agency, for which this woman is clueless.

    Did you know, that Mallory hird Gabby Frazier, a well-liked Ward 8 resident, as the Director of Worker's Compensation, who also was clueless. Gabby had to be walked out on last Friday for committing FRAUD, as the Director of this department.

    Walsh the KKK just left, and now Mallory the DUM DUM enters under Gray.

    What in the hell is going on. The lesser of two evils. No the blindness of DC voters placing ignorant and unable Mayors into office.

    Things were much better under Anthony Williams.
    Lisa is just a pussy cat, who awaits to be told What, When, WHere, and How to get things done.

  • Drez

    @ really:
    If you get out now and then and spend some time in DC you might notice some renovated schools, parks, roads, etc. But why bother when you don't care about any of those things, right?
    By the way, can you guess how many pink slips were handed out to DC residents today? Hundreds. And these are folks who Williams and Fenty saw fit to keep employed.

  • Really?

    Oh and did we ever get to the bottom of the tens of thousands of dollars Michelle Fenty received from the Anacostia Waterfront Project in 2006. Fenty was on the council then right?

    Oh yeah that are $10.9 given to lomax is small change too...right Drez?

  • Really?

    Comment has been is still awaiting moderation...all today when will it be release.

  • Truth Hurts

    @ # 17. You mean the fund/budget Gray marshalled through the council while he was chair?

  • Really?

    Drez....really? Any good "fiscal" leader knows that you have to prioritize. Those parks are nice and some schools to, but how are we going to maintain them?

    Maybe you believe that fiscal prudence is giving folks like Omar $4.2 million management fee for being the middle man. Or maybe it’s ok to give away a $10 million gift to the now defunct peacoholics. With all their hard work do you feel safer Drez? I guess when you get a contract/grant that didn’t provide expectations or milestones then the results shouldn’t be important.

    Or maybe it’s fiscally smart to over spend the Summer Youth budget by a measly $30 million…puhah…what’s $30 million?

    Oh and know in these hard times you know those little doggie woggies are supper happy with their $400k doggy parks.

    And who cares about security fee’s being waive for events. D.C. doesn’t need the revenue. An Like that $485,000 fee that was waived for the National Marathon alone. In hard times like these it’s a wise decisions?

  • Really?

    Oh and did we ever get to the bottom of the tens of thousands of dollars Michelle Fenty received from the Anacostia Waterfront Project in 2006. Fenty was on the council then right?

    Oh yeah that are $10.9 given to lomax is small change too...right Drez?????

  • Truth Hurts


  • Crook

    Leave it to REALLY and we would have a billion dollar surplus during a recession with broken schools, broken infrastructure and run down parks. ummm ok...

    What an idiot.

  • Get real


    You really have no clue, do you.

    Every normal thinking DC resident and DC Government Worker