Natwar Gandhi Sends Angry E-mail to the Post’s Colbert King

After King lumps him in with Kwame Brown and Harry Thomas Jr., the DC CFO calls King’s column insulting, offensive, and irresponsible.

By: Harry Jaffe

After Washington Post columnist Colbert King linked DC chief financial officer Natwar Gandhi for the fourth time in his Saturday essay to alleged irregularities in the awarding of the District’s lottery contract, the city’s top bean counter had had enough.

He ripped off an e-mail to King calling his most recent column “insulting and offensive” as well as “irresponsible.” Gandhi copied Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt, publisher Katharine Weymouth, and Post Company chairman Don Graham.

King, a Washingtonian who’s won a Pulitzer for columns on his hometown, mentioned Gandhi at the bottom of a screed on the recent round of corruption in the city council. He threw Gandhi into the mix with defrocked council members Kwame Brown and Harry Thomas Jr., both of whom have pleaded guilty to felonies and are headed to jail.

King was able to lump Gandhi in with the crooks because a former Gandhi aide, Eric Payne, is suing the city for allegedly firing him because he blew the whistle on favoritism in the lottery contracting process. Last week federal prosecutors asked for documents involved in Payne’s civil case.

What galled Gandhi, among other things, was King’s suggestion that Mayor Vince Gray hold up his reappointment to a third five-year term; the current one is up June 30. Gandhi told King that Payne was fired for “poor performance” and Gandhi’s hands are clean.

“There is no federal probe of my office,” he wrote.

Interestingly, while King has ragged on Gandhi, the Post’s editorial page has urged his reappointment. Will either have an effect on Vince Gray?

Here’s the full text of Gandhi’s note:

Dear Colby:

This is in reference to your WP column yesterday, “We’re to blame for the D.C. Council mess,” in which you write, “it would be irresponsible for Gray to reappoint Gandhi to another term as CFO without resolution of the federal probe, including Gandhi’s role in the matter. Let him stay on the job, but hold off on a new lease until the feds give the all clear.”

I find this personally insulting and offensive for following reasons:

• There is no federal probe of me or my office. We have not been notified, in writing, verbally or by any other means, that I am the target of investigation by the FBI or other law enforcement authorities. If you have evidence of such an investigation or wrongdoing, you have a responsibility to bring this information to the attention of your readers and law enforcement. Otherwise, it is irresponsible of you to suggest there is an investigation or misconduct by me, and it is equally irresponsible to connect my reappointment to a federal investigation which has nothing to do with me or my office. I have been the District’s CFO for eleven years and I am proud of my record and accomplishments.

• Eric Payne was not fired by for reporting incidents of supposed political pressure relating to the Lottery contract. In fact, I supported Payne’s recommendation to award the contract to Intralot, and submitted the Intralot contract several times for approval to the Council. Moreover, I am satisfied with Intralot’s performance as our Lottery vendor, which has brought millions of dollars of revenue to the District.

• Despite attempts to link his termination with politically charged issues in the District, the simple truth is that Eric Payne was terminated because of his poor performance issues as manager of the OCFO Contracts Office.

One might ask why Mr. Payne’s first attorney abruptly quit the case and why the testimony delivered under oath in the depositions has produced no hard evidence—other than his allegations of what took place in meetings and conversations where he was not present—of political pressure to award the contract to a specific firm.

Finally, I wonder why you so uncritically accept Payne’s statements and so abruptly dismiss what I and others in my office have to say. Frankly, these ad hominem attacks on me are what I would not expect from some one of your distinguished reputation.

If you wish, I would be pleased to discuss this matter further with you.

Nat Gandhi