The D.C. Council confirmed Mayor Muriel Bowser‘s chief of staff, John Falcicchio, to be the next deputy mayor of planning and economic development. Falcicchio has served as the District’s top economic development official on an interim basis since July 2019, after Brian Kenner defected to Amazon.
Johnny Business, as he’s known around town, has been both Bowser’s chief of staff and an interim deputy mayor for the past year, and it doesn’t appear that will change after his confirmation, at least for now.
At-Large councilmembers Robert White and David Grosso cast dissenting votes, citing a lack of experience and general concerns over mixing his role as one of Bowser’s closest political advisors and control over economic development in the District.
“I don’t see the experience there,” White said.
“I think it is imperative in D.C. to do a better job of separating politics from economic development,” Grosso said. “Although I don’t have anything to point to that he’s done anything wrong here, it seems to me that we would prefer the mayor pick an expert in the economic development field and not a political player.”
Falcicchio writes in a text message that he’s not about to let “two former-staffers-turned-councilmembers” distract him.
“But rather I will continue to focus on putting in place the policies and processes to meet or exceed the mayor’s aggressive goals on affordable housing and equitable economic development so all Washingtonians have a fair shot,” he writes.
Falcicchio was part of the political operation that put Mayor Adrian Fenty into office and later worked as an advisor for the former mayor. He also managed Bowser’s Ward 4 Council campaign. From 2011 to 2013 he worked as a political director for the Democratic National Committee and then worked for a public relations firm in New York before taking a job on Bowser’s transition team when she was elected in 2014.
Falcicchio, who pulls in a salary of $217,330, has made many appearances in this column over the years, mostly as a behind-the-scenes operator. During the 2008 presidential election, he was dispatched as Fenty’s local get-out-the-vote man, and served as the party planner for Obama’s welcome shindig in 2009.
Falcicchio is a frequent denizen of the mayoral suites at Nationals Park and Capital One Arena. He’s also a friend to developers and nudged along a request from well-connected real estate attorney Ben Soto, who served as the treasurer for Bowser’s now-defunct FreshPAC and needed some help to unstick a permitting issue.
Last year, Falcicchio was reportedly involved in a “testy” exchange with the chair of the art commission in the midst of an art-vault control grab.
Not that Falcicchio is asking for any advice, but his predecessor from the previous administration offers a few words of caution. Chris Murphy, who was Mayor Vince Gray‘s chief of staff, has mostly good things to say about Falcicchio, but he echos the potential pitfalls that Grosso and White raised.
“I do think John is going to have to be careful to keep the inherently political decisions that go along with being the mayor’s chief of staff walled off from his responsibilities as deputy mayor,” Murphy says.