Opinion: The Race Is On

Less than 18 months into Mayor Vincent Gray’s term in office, the race is on to succeed him.

With scandal swirling around him, some believe the mayor may be forced to resign or become so weakened that he couldn’t run for reelection.

The Washington Post, The Washington City Paper and other media outlets are writing about potential candidates: D.C. Council members Jack Evans, Muriel Bowser, David Catania and Tommy Wells.

(The City Paper’s Loose Lips columnist thought the Post list was too predictable, so the column offered up a couple of out-of-the-box names, including yours truly. We thought we’d play along and issued the most meaningless of political statements, saying we “have no plans at this time.”)

Evans certainly is not playing around. He knows a special election could pop up at any time.

“You know, again, I’ve made no secret that I would love to be mayor of the District of Columbia,” Evans said on the WAMU 88.5 Politics Hour with Kojo Nnamdi. “And if that opportunity ever presents itself to run for it, I’d definitely take it.”

Catania, Bowser and Wells are being publicly coy.

But all of the potential candidates are anxious for the playing field to come more into focus. Is U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen going to take down both Council Chairman Kwame Brown and Mayor Gray? One of them? Neither?

"[We'd] like this to get over with," Evans said of himself and some of his colleagues. "So we would encourage the U.S. attorney to move as quickly as he can and come to a decision and move forward."

• Succession quagmire.

We wrote last fall about who automatically succeeds the mayor or chairman should either resign. Now with rumors swirling around the chairman's fate -- and no direct comment from him -- here's a brief recap.

Should Chairman Brown resign, the council would meet and pick a temporary chairman from among the at-large members (not just from the majority party, as we originally stated). It’s widely believed that that person would be Democrat Phil Mendelson. A special election would be held in about three months. It is also possible that Brown might step aside from the chairman's job without resigning, turning the day-to-day responsibilities over to chair pro tem Mary Cheh of Ward 3, who would preside indefinitely.

If Mayor Gray were subsequently forced from office, Mendelson, the acting chairman, would move up to acting mayor. The council would have to reconvene again and appoint another at-large member (not just from the majority party, as we originally stated) as a second acting chairman. We’re still researching what would happen if Cheh is presiding if Gray were to resign.

It’s a chessboard of possibilities, and several council members are now studying it closely.

• Gandhi stay or go?

Whatever happens, one of Mayor Gray’s big decisions is whether to reappoint independent Chief Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi to another five-year term. He’s held the post since 2000.

Gray has been disappointed that some of Gandhi’s revenue projections haven’t been as positive as they might be. The projections can mean the difference between funding a number of programs or projects and not. Gray has hinted he’d like a chief financial officer who is less independent.

Gandhi has suffered withering attacks from at-large member Catania, who believes Gandhi should have resigned some time ago.

A recent letter to the editor in The Washington Post assailed Gandhi’s management of his office. It was written by two people -- Bill Lightfoot, a former council member and chair of Adrian Fenty’s campaigns for mayor, and Marie Drissel, a community watchdog critical of how Gandhi runs his entire operation.

But Gandhi draws praise from Ward 2’s Evans, chair of the powerful Finance and Revenue Committee. Evans says Gandhi’s reputation on Wall Street is strong and that any attempt to remove Gandhi would haunt the city’s credit ratings.

What will Gray do about Gandhi?

It’s possible the mayor could do nothing, allowing Gandhi to continue to serve as long as no one else is appointed. Gray has his hands full with the scandal swirling around him. He doesn’t need to have Wall Street casting a wary eye toward D.C. But if he came up with a strong replacement, it could show that he remains firmly in charge of the city.

We await Gray’s decision.

• A final word.

Harry Thomas Jr. will be going off to prison soon to begin serving his 38-month sentence for looting grant funds intended for young people.

A federal judge ruled last week that Thomas must repay $353,000 to the city, although it’s unclear how and when he’ll earn money once his prison term is served.

We did check with the city’s finance office to see how much Thomas legitimately earned as a council member from Ward 5. Here are the stats:

  • Total salary: $607,623.94.
  • Health insurance benefits: $62,953.19.
  • Retirement plan cashed out: $30,046.59.

All of these amounts are separate from the theft of $353,000.

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