Gandhi makes pre-emptive pitch to stay amid D.C. political turmoil

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Perhaps sensing the window is closing for his reappointment amid widespread corruption, chaos and a leadership shuffle in the D.C. government, Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi reached out to business leaders this week in an apparent effort to lobby for his job.

In an email Monday to D.C. Chamber of Commerce President Barbara B. Lang — sent from his private email account and obtained by The Washington Times — Mr. Gandhi defended himself against a recent column in The Washington Post that he found to be “offensive and insulting.”

“Dear all,” his email began. “Here is my response to Colby King’s 6/9 Washington Post column which I found to be offensive and insulting. I thought it might interest you. Warm regards. Nat Gandhi.”

Mr. Gandhi’s response to Mr. King, who only briefly referenced Mr. Gandhi’s reappointment in a column on public accountability in local government, was then appended to the email. The response has yet to appear online or in print.

Ms. Lang shared Mr. Gandhi’s missive and his personal note with her executive committee, identified by individual names and email accounts, in an email, a copy of which also was obtained by The Times.

“Dear Executive Committee Members: Dr. Gandhi shared this with me — thought you might be interested. BBL Barbara B. Lang President & CEO DC Chamber of Commerce.”

Mr. Gandhi’s apparent indirect lobbying effort comes as his five-year term is set to expire at the end of the month, and just after former D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown resigned and pleaded guilty to a felony in federal court. It also comes as the city waits for the results of a federal investigation into Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s campaign that already has taken down or otherwise implicated his top advisers in criminal wrongdoing.

In March, Mr. Gray indicated that a decision on Mr. Gandhi’s reappointment would come after the 2013 budget was approved, which occurred last week.

On Monday, Gandhi spokesman David Umansky said that the ball remains in Mr. Gray’s court and that any concerns about a further shake-up in the leadership of the D.C. government do not factor into Mr. Gandhi’s decision to defend himself.

“It’s up to the mayor to make a decision,” Mr. Umansky said. “An appointment is an appointment.”

Of Mr. Gandhi’s outreach to the business community, Mr. Umansky said it was motivated by feelings within the CFO’s office that Mr. King’s column was “incorrect and insulting,” but he did not offer any specifics. He defended Mr. Gandhi’s use of private email, a practice that has drawn criticism in the past, by insisting Mr. Gandhi was not conducting city business and was attempting to communicate personally with a journalist.

Asked why Mr. Gandhi then shared his personal communication with the business community, Mr. Umansky said, “Because he didn’t want the lies to stand.”

Asked whether political scandal in the District of Columbia, where the FBI is probing the $38 million D.C. Lottery contract overseen by Mr. Gandhi’s office, could affect Mr. Gandhi’s reputation on Wall Street, where the avuncular CFO is viewed as a steadying presence, Mr. Umansky said that “people are free to have their opinion.”

In a recent interview with reporters and editors of The Times, Mr. Gandhi said he hopes to continue to serve the District of Columbia for years to come. But whether Mr. Gandhi is reappointed to serve another term or serves at his own pleasure after his term expires, Mr. King’s most recent column struck a raw nerve.

“Dear Colby,” he began, “This is in reference to your WP column yesterday, ‘We’re to blame for the D.C. Council mess,’ in which you write, ‘it would be irresponsible for Gray to reappoint Gandhi to another term as CFO without resolution of the federal probe, including Gandhi’s role in the matter. Let him stay on the job, but hold off on a new lease until the feds give the all clear.’

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