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The two had long-standing ties: Chief Ellerbe served as a committeeman for the Ward 7 Democrats, the area of the city where Mr. Gray lives and which Mr. Gray represented on the council before he became council chairman and then mayor. Chief Ellerbe also made some modest financial contributions to Mr. Gray’s mayoral campaign, offering $175 in three donations.

In January 2011, the fire chief in a televised interview with WRC-TV Channel 4 reminisced about watching Mr. Gray play softball, as his father did.

“I’ve known the mayor since I was 14 years old,” Chief Ellerbe said.

The Gray administration declined to comment when asked whether any of those factors played a role in Chief Ellerbe’s selection. Mr. Gray told the Washington Examiner in January 2011 that he chose not to conduct a search for a fire chief because he wanted “to get permanent leadership in there.”

“I have been through interim leadership before, and it creates instability,” Mr. Gray told the newspaper. “I feel great about Ellerbe taking over.”

It’s unclear whether any complaints similar to the Sarasota complaint were filed in the District over the course of Chief Ellerbe’s career. The point man currently handling Freedom of Information Act requests in the fire department, Gerald Pennington, said city law provides for no access to personnel records and that equal employment opportunity complaints of discrimination or harassment were not subject to disclosure.

D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, charged with vetting Chief Ellerbe’s nomination, said he “did not see” the Sarasota personnel file or the complaint against the chief.

“We talked to Chief Ellerbe regarding his experience in Sarasota,” he said of the vetting process. He said committee staff spoke with the D.C. unions that represent firefighters and paramedics and ran a “Google search” on Chief Ellerbe.

The D.C. Firefighters Association raised objections during Chief Ellerbe’s confirmation hearing, saying the union thought a national search was appropriate. Ed Smith, president of the union, said he still thinks a national search should have been conducted.

“Given the size of the city, the fact that it’s one of the biggest departments in the nation and especially the threat of terrorism, what we have to respond to, absolutely we should have had a national search,” he said.

Anne Renshaw, president of the D.C. Federation of Citizens Associations, was a member of the transition committee charged with making recommendations to Mr. Gray about fire and emergency medical services priorities.

Ms. Renshaw also supported a national search and said she came away from the process disappointed, in part because an executive summary of the committee’s work presented to Mr. Gray by his transition team was not voted on or agreed to by committee members.

“I feel cheated,” she said. “I think the citizens should feel cheated it was not done correctly.” Ms. Renshaw said she thinks “there must be a national search for a department as important as the fire and EMS department in the nation’s capital.”

Asked about the fact that Chief Ellerbe’s personnel file was not requested by city officials, she replied, “I would say that’s very disturbing.”