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D.C. Notebook: Gandhi Leaves Behind Good Will on Capitol Hill

When Natwar Gandhi steps down in June after serving for more than a decade as the District of Columbia’s chief financial officer, he’ll leave behind a legacy of having helped lift the city from a financial slump to become a booming economic engine.

He’ll also have played a key role in jump-starting conversations about the next steps for giving D.C. increased self-determination, most recently and notably the momentum surrounding budget autonomy for the District.

It was after Gandhi’s testimony at a May 2011 Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on the District’s fiscal 2012 budget request that Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., suggested he might like to be the Capitol Hill champion for unlinking D.C.’s budget from the congressional appropriations process.

“The independent officer … testified that the District was in better shape than any jurisdiction in the United States,” Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton recalled. “The testimony of the CFO … was very helpful in the chairman’s decision to support budget autonomy for the District.”

Gandhi told CQ Roll Call that he believes his part in bringing D.C.’s finances into the black also inspired in members of Congress a certain confidence in the city that could extend to giving local officials a wider berth on their own affairs.

“Being able to manage our finances well is a precondition of people feeling more confident about budget autonomy,” he said, adding that despite the complicated relationship between Capitol Hill and the federal city, he never felt alienated or undermined by congressional lawmakers.

Issa said he will miss Gandhi, but the California Republican said his true legacy has yet to take shape. “A well-run city … has to be about the systems, not about one person,” Issa said. “So I believe [Gandhi’s] legacy will be judged by whether those systems transcend time, and I believe they will.”

Frederick Douglass Statue Still Waits for Capitol Home

A statue of Frederick Douglass commissioned by the District of Columbia seven years ago is still in limbo at One Judiciary Square, a victim of the rule that only the 50 states can display statues of their native sons and daughters inside the Capitol complex.

But the Douglass statue’s stint in the local government building might be nearing an end. After a five-year battle, President Barack Obama signed into law last year a bill allowing D.C. to display its very own statute of the famous abolitionist and one-time District resident under the Capitol Dome.

The law says the statue must be installed in the Capitol by September 2014, and before that time there are many logistics to consider, including placement and a date for a formal reception. The Joint Committee on the Library oversees those logistics, but it hasn’t yet formally organized for the 113th Congress.

That didn’t put a damper on Monday’s early send-off that local officials and residents gave the statue, completed seven years ago by architect Steven Weitzman on commission from the city. Weitzman, along with Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, Mayor Vincent Gray, city councilmembers and others gathered at One Judiciary Square to celebrate the statute’s impending departure.

Though the event might have seemed preemptive, Norton said it was fitting that a celebration should take place on what was Douglass’ home turf, during Black History Month.

“We wanted a celebration to make sure the Frederick Douglass honored here, representing the District of Columbia, was not just being honored as the great abolitionist,” Norton explained, “but also as a person … deeply, deeply entwined in this city.”

Wells Files Paperwork for Mayoral Run

Councilmember Tommy Wells, the Democrat whose jurisdiction over Ward 6 includes Capitol Hill, formally launched an exploratory committee Monday to consider a mayoral bid next year. Mayor Vincent Gray’s first term in office has been marred by questions about how he and his allies conducted his 2010 campaign, and he is expected to face a possibly crowded Democratic primary.

In an interview with CQ Roll Call last summer, Wells outlined his vision for a city under his leadership that would build on the successes he has had in Ward 6. His goals, he said, would include expediting the installation of streetcars throughout D.C., improving access to Union Station and continuing to develop the Southwest Waterfront.

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