- The Washington Times - Friday, June 29, 2012

Natwar M. Gandhi moved closer to another five-year term as the primary gatekeeper of the District’s piggy bank on Friday.

The D.C. Council’s Committee on Finance and Revenue voted 4-1 in favor of Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s decision to reappoint Mr. Gandhi as the city’s chief financial officer, setting up a vote before the full council at its July 10 legislative session.

Mr. Gandhi enjoyed the support of business leaders and committee Chairman Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat.

The reappointment will put to rest months of speculation about whether the council and Mr. Gray, who had recently criticized Mr. Gandhi for issuing revenue estimates that understated the projected amount of cash flowing into city coffers, should extend the longtime CFO’s tenure with the city.

While many parts of the nation were battered by the financial recession, the District has enjoyed a promising fiscal outlook and economic growth — factors that made Mr. Gandhi’s reappointment a likely result.

The sole “no” vote on the committee came from David A. Catania, at-large independent and a persistent critic of Mr. Gandhi’s fiscal calculations and ability to manage his office’s responsibilities.

On Friday, Mr. Catania highlighted the 2007 arrest of an employee in the Office of Tax Revenue who was charged with stealing almost $50 million over the course of nearly 20 years and significant cost overruns from the amount Mr. Gandhi had projected for the taxpayer-funded construction of Nationals Park.

“Again, Mr. Chairman, these are simply highlights,” Mr. Catania said, adding later, “I think we can do better. Others disagree, but my conscience won’t let me cast a vote in favor of his reconfirmation.”

Committee member Marion Barry, Ward 8 Democrat, agreed that financial controls appeared to be lacking under Mr. Gandhi’s command, yet it was not enough of an issue to sway the former mayor’s vote.

The CFO faced unusual scrutiny earlier this year when Mr. Gray sent a letter in March to Mr. Gandhi’s office — which is supposed to be independent of the mayor’s administration — that suggested his latest revenue estimates were “unrealistically low.”

The public spat played out after city workers demanded repayment for furlough days they took in 2011 as a costs-saving measure, only to see the District gain a $240 million windfall by the end of the year.

Mr. Gandhi, who has served as CFO since 2000, defended his projections as “realistically conservative.”

Mr. Gandhi also faced heat recently over the city’s controversial online-gambling law, which was ultimately repealed by the D.C. Council. A report by the D.C. inspector general said the city’s lottery contract with the Greek company Intralot “materially changed” to include online games shortly after the contract was approved in December 2009 and that it should have been rebid for a fair competition.

Mr. Gandhi, whose office ran the lottery procurement that led to the Intralot award, has rejected that conclusion, arguing that each bidder weighed in on potential online games during the lottery procurement process.