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.’

“I find this personally insulting and offensive for following reasons,” he continues, before laying out a detailed argument in bullet points to refute charges of corruption that threaten to tarnish his office.

Mr. Gandhi goes on to deny any federal probe of his office, apparently in response to the recent news that the FBI has spoken to a former procurement officer, Eric Payne, who has alleged in a wrongful-firing suit that the lottery contract was fraught with illegal interference by Mr. Gandhi and various officials, including Mr. Gray and council members Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat, and Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat.

“We have not been notified, in writing, verbally or by any other means, that I am the target of investigation by the FBI or other law enforcement authorities,” Mr. Gandhi wrote. “If you have evidence of such an investigation or wrongdoing, you have a responsibility to bring this information to the attention of your readers and law enforcement. Otherwise, it is irresponsible of you to suggest there is an investigation or misconduct by me, and it is equally irresponsible to connect my reappointment to a federal investigation [that] has nothing to do with me or my office.”

Mr. Gandhi then defends his office’s award of the lottery contract, which was the subject of an investigation by the D.C. Office of the Inspector General that led to the death of a legislative proposal pushed by at-large independent council member Michael A. Brown to make the District of Columbia the first online gambling jurisdiction in the country, and that exposed the minority contractor of Greek gaming vendor Intralot as having received an invalid business certification during the procurement and contract approval process.

He also defends his decision to fire the former procurement officer who has alleged in federal court that he tried to resist efforts by Mr. Gandhi and his political bosses to interfere in a lawfully executed contract award.

“Despite attempts to link his termination with politically charged issues in the District, the simple truth is that Eric Payne was terminated because of his poor performance issues as manager of the OCFO Contracts Office,” Mr. Gandhi wrote. “One might ask why Mr. Payne’s first attorney abruptly quit the case and why the testimony delivered under oath in the depositions has produced no hard evidence — other than his allegations of what took place in meetings and conversations where he was not present — of political pressure to award the contract to a specific firm.

“Finally, I wonder why you so uncritically accept Payne’s statements and so abruptly dismiss what I and others in my office have to say. Frankly these ad hominem attacks on me are what I would not expect from some one of your distinguished reputation.

“If you wish, I would be pleased to discuss this matter further with you. Nat Gandhi.”

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