DC Mayor’s Musical Chairs

DC Mayor’s Musical Chairs

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One thing you can never knock Washington, D.C.’s local government for is their ability to embrace sudden staff changes.

Shortly before Thanksgiving, Mayor Vincent Gray announced his latest executive team shakeup. And these picks come straight from the offices of sitting members of Congress, no doubt. Gray introduced Sheila Bunn as his newest deputy chief of staff. Pedro Ribeiro will now serve as his communications director. Linda Wharton Boyd, the former head of communications, will take over operations on Gray’s “passion projects” at the Department of Health. Her primary focus will be on substance abuse prevention efforts in the District.

Boyd’s “reassignment” is actually a demotion.  Or: a nice way of keeping her quiet while she keeps her city salary.

Mayor Gray is once again shuffling the top people around him to calm fears of disgruntled residents while projecting leadership strength. Since taking office earlier this year, Gray has found himself drowning in scandal because of his political picks and appointees.

On the executive team, there was controversy about Andrea “Andi” Pringle, his previous hire for the deputy chief of staff position. Shortly after starting the position, a community activist filed a formal complaint with the DC Board of Elections and Ethics citing Pringle’s votes in September 2010 in the District when she was actually a Maryland resident. Instead of bringing more negative press to the team, Pringle quietly exited her position as quickly as she started.

Just a few weeks later, Gray had to remove Robert Mallett as a nominee to the DC Board of Elections and Ethics who did not meet the city’s three-year residency requirement to serve on the board. The Mallett flap showed a weakness in the Administration’s vetting process. Now, complete background checks involving the city’s Office of Attorney General are now the norm.

The new staff changes were designed to bring more stability and voter confidence. With so many scandals or near misses in Gray’s short term as the city’s mayor, surveys showed in June that Gray was quickly losing faith from the voters that put him in office.

With the latest hires, Gray has brought in the solid experience of Congressional staffers as fresh faces in city government. Bunn served as chief of staff to Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC). At the same time, Pedro Ribeiro comes from the office of Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-California). Meanwhile with Boyd already familiar with the inner workings of DC government, she’ll probably fit in well at the Department of Health – if they let her.

The new hires are hitting the ground running in their roles. About her work as the deputy chief of staff, Sheila Bunn had the following to say to The Washington Post:

“I want to get around and talk to folks to see where they think there are problems and if there’s room for improvement, internally and out in the community. Down to the man on the street, people [need to have] a better understanding of the things [that Gray] is doing.” said Bunn.

While it’s good to see Gray listened to District voters by making major changes on staff, the jury is still out on whether or not it will work. Now, the business of the District must once again take priority over staff shakeups. Gray and his team face the challenge of winning voter confidence about the issues that matters to them most – from schools and housing to jobs and economic development.

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