- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s pick to head the increasingly vital D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics faces an uphill route to confirmation because of his residency status, an issue that derailed another mayoral pick mere weeks ago.

Mr. Gray announced that Robert L. Mallett, city administrator under former D.C. Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly from 1991 to 1995, as his pick for chairman of the body that oversees elections and ethical standards among D.C. officials.

Yet Mr. Mallett may need the D.C. Council to grant him an exception in order to take the job because he has not lived in the District for three consecutive years leading up to his nomination, as city law requires.

The law was reiterated in an elections reform bill that passed the council in 2009, when Mr. Gray was council chairman.

Council member Muriel Bowser, Ward 4 Democrat and the new chairman of the Committee on Government Operations, said she is not inclined to support an exception for Mr. Mallett.

“I don’t see what the rationale would be,” she said. “Is there a shortage of people who have lived here for three years who could serve?”

The issue appeared to have caught the Gray administration off guard, despite a bevy of personnel missteps, including the departure just two weeks ago of the mayor’s pick for deputy chief of staff. Andi Pringle resigned after about 10 days on the job amid controversy involving her vote in last year’s city elections while living in Maryland.

Mr. Gray on Wednesday also picked Stephen I. Danzansky, a registered Republican, and Devarieste Curry to fill the remaining seats at the elections board. All three nominees are lawyers.

The nominations were supposed to fill vacancies on the three-member board and calm fears that the BOEE would be unable to function as it heads toward primary elections in April and attempts to ameliorate ethical issues that have hung over several elected officials throughout the year.

Yet D.C. Watch’s Dorothy Brizill, a longtime city government watchdog whose research brought about the Pringle affair, noted that Mr. Mallett had worked in New York City from 2001 to 2009 before returning to work at United Health Group in the District last year.

Mr. Mallett told reporters at the mayor’s news conference that he returned to work in the District in May 2010 and two months later bought a home on Linnean Avenue Northwest.

“I think this is something you would have to take up with the mayor,” Mr. Mallett told Ms. Brizill when asked about the residency requirement.

Mr. Gray re-emphasized Mr. Mallett’s qualifications, and said of the residency question, “If that is something that becomes an issue, we’ll address it.”

Later in the day, a spokeswoman for the mayor said the director of the Office of Boards and Commission, Ron Collins, “is exploring other alternatives to the Mallett nomination, including the possibility of seeking a waiver to the residency requirement.”

Council member Mary M. Cheh, who introduced the Omnibus Election Reform Amendment Act of 2009, said Mr. Mallett appears to require the exemption from the council, even if he meets the “spirit of the law” because he previously had lived in the District.

The law says a person cannot be a member of the board unless he or she “has resided in the District continuously since the beginning of the 3-year period ending on the day he or she is appointed.”

“The idea of that was to get someone who had a connection, of a firm and substantial nature, with the District,” said Mrs. Cheh, Ward 3 Democrat.

Ms. Bowser said the mayor’s office did not provide her the names of the mayor’s nominees until the night before the announcement, and she tuned into the news conference.

“The law is clear, it’s not ambiguous,” she said of the residency issue. “Everyone is concerned about ethics, and for two straight months I’ve been saying the best thing that we can do about ethics is have a strong leader of the Board of Elections and Ethics.”

Ms. Bowser said the nominations had not been formally transmitted to her office as of late Wednesday, but she has set aside dates in October for a “vigorous” vetting process of all three nominees.

If confirmed, Mr. Mallett would replace Togo D. West Jr., a widely respected leader who served as chairman for about a year before deciding to step aside.

Shortly before his departure, Mr. West referred a campaign finance case against D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown’s 2008 re-election committee to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, citing reporting irregularities that could amount to criminal conduct.

Mrs. Cheh said she is not familiar with Mr. Mallett, but she did play a role in referring Mr. Danzansky, a Ward 3 resident, to the mayor after numerous people told her that he would be a good pick.

Mr. Danzanksy, as a Republican, will satisfy a legal requirement that a member of the minority party serve on the board.

Four other minority-party candidates who were not Republican, including independents and members of the D.C. Statehood-Green Party, were considered.

“But Mr. Danzansky by far was a better candidate than all the others combined,” Mr. Collins said.

Bob Kabel, chairman of the D.C. Republican Committee, publicly thanked Mr. Gray for choosing Mr. Danzansky after the nominiee’s introduction at the John A. Wilson Building.

Mr. Danzansky retired in 2005 as the founding CEO and president of the Mary Baker Eddy Library for the Betterment of Humanity.

Ms. Curry is a partner as the McLeod, Watkinson & Miller law firm and serves as vice chairman of the legal ethics committee on the D.C. Bar.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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