News & Politics

2006 Washingtonians of the Year: Natwar Gandhi

“I have never done more important work in my life.”

Photograph by Matthew Worden.

Quick: Where is Natwar Gandhi in charge of the money?

Hints: His city has its highest-ever bond ratings. As a percentage of budget, it has more reserves than most states. Once half a billion dollars in the hole, now it’s one of America’s most solvent cities.

If you’d guessed the District of Columbia even a few years ago, you might have been laughed out of the room. Nat Gandhi got that reaction when he told his General Accounting Office colleagues that he was taking a job with Anthony Williams, DC’s federally installed chief financial officer. No wonder: After the Marion Barry years, DC financial records were literally in piles on the floor. Gandhi, as head of the tax office, fired most top officials and found new revenue sources. In the 6½ years since then-mayor Williams made him CFO, Gandhi and his staff have turned in only balanced budgets and clean audits.

Gandhi’s gotten grief for the closure of DC General Hospital and praise for his spending cap for the new baseball stadium. Without his guidance, there probably wouldn’t be a stadium site, let alone one on schedule. Both decisions came from the same iron will and reverence for honest math. “That’s the whole idea of this office,” he says: “to make sure this city never again goes bankrupt.”

The once-poor Indian immigrant loves his adopted country and city enough to write two poetry collections in their honor. And whereas former Federal Reserve chair Alan Greenspan once said he did calculus problems for fun, Nat Gandhi takes his grandson to Nationals games. “A great city should have great museums, monuments, and universities,” he says. “A great city deserves a great stadium.”