John Falcicchio Muriel Bowser 2018
John Falcicchio, recently ousted from D.C. government, speaks with Mayor Muriel Bowser at her 2018 reelection party. Credit: Darrow Montgomery

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Pick a political scandal from the past eight years of Mayor Muriel Bowser’s tenure in office, and John Falcicchio was the one managing the fallout. In a head-spinning turn of events, Falcicchio himself is now at the center of the scandal that needs managing.

That has made the events of the past four days all the more chaotic for Bowser’s team. Wilson Building insiders have described to Loose Lips a general sense of shock at Falcicchio’s departure, as well as confusion about the administration’s future direction, punctuated by the revelation Monday afternoon that a sexual harassment allegation prompted his sudden resignation. What at first appeared to be a story that would get a small bit of local news attention and generate gossip among D.C. politicos quickly ballooned into a scandal that will dominate the District’s political landscape for the foreseeable future.

“When you talk about the Green Team, it’s Muriel, Adrian [Fenty], and then John,” Eric Jones, a top lobbyist for the building industry, marveled to LL, recalling Falcicchio’s long history in D.C. politics. “What does this mean for the city, for economic development in the city, for all sorts of things? A lot of people are waiting with bated breath right now.”

A sexual harassment scandal affecting a top deputy would be a damaging development regardless of who was involved, but it’s difficult to overstate how central Falcicchio was to the basic operation of Bowser’s government.

As chief of staff, deputy mayor for Planning and Economic Development, and top political confidant, Falcicchio was perhaps the most central figure in the administration other than the mayor herself. Accordingly, insiders are already speculating about what kind of consequences this could have for Bowser legally, beyond the simple politics of this scandal—Bowser told reporters Monday that her in-house legal team is investigating the matter, but there is no telling whether that will be the end of things.

Falcicchio’s accuser, who has asked to remain anonymous, has hired Debra Katz, one of the most prominent attorneys representing survivors of sexual harassment and assault in the #MeToo era. Considering she’s also brought legal cases against high-profile celebrities including chef Mike Isabella, it’s not hard to imagine a similar suit against both Falcicchio and the city itself in the future. A spokesperson for Katz’s firm tells LL that the complaint against Falcicchio was filed “internally” and “we have every confidence that the mayor is handling this properly.”

Then there’s the question of who will possibly fill Falcicchio’s shoes in government. Administration officials describe him as Bowser’s enforcer, top salesman, and even a personal friend. She’s seen a variety of other key advisers leave government and, like any mayor entering a third term in office, has had to deal with quite a bit of turnover among her agency heads.

Tommy Wells, the former Ward 6 councilmember and agency director turned top Council lobbyist, is seen as a stabilizing force, as is senior adviser Beverly Perry (though she does not seem to wield the same influence in the building as she did several years ago). Yet the absence of trusted veterans like ex-City Administrator Rashad Young and former Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice Chris Geldart (who both left amid varying degrees of scandal) has been particularly felt among Bowser officials.

Bowser’s pick to take over as chief of staff, Lindsey Parker, has some experience in the administration after serving as both assistant city administrator and chief technology officer, but doesn’t have the same political background as Falcicchio. And the mayor’s selection of Keith Anderson to head DMPED on an interim basis has raised some eyebrows considering the well-documented problems at the agency he’s run for years, the Department of General Services. (There have also been rumors about additional staff changes at DMPED in the wake of Falcicchio’s departure; an agency spokesperson referred all questions to the Mayor’s Office of Legal Counsel, which did not immediately respond.)

Adrian Fenty, John Falcicchio, and Muriel Bowser at a campaign event in 2007.
Adrian Fenty, John Falcicchio, and Muriel Bowser at a 2007 campaign event. Credit: Darrow Montgomery

“Muriel and John were a team and they were a very able team,” says Tom Lindenfeld, a political strategist who worked closely with Falcicchio for years dating back to their time on Fenty’s 2006 campaign. “When you remove a key player in any organization, it’s going to be an adjustment to pick up from there. Change is not impossible, but it’s going to take some adjustment.”

There’s no good time for an administration-consuming scandal, of course, but it’s hard to imagine a worse time for Bowser to try and make these adjustments. For one thing, the city is still coping with the fallout from Congress’ most significant intervention in the District’s affairs in decades and is gearing up to fight additional attempts by House Republicans to block police reform legislation. (Falcicchio was, of course, deeply involved in Bowser’s lobbying efforts on the Hill.) And then there’s the matter of the city’s new budget, which the mayor is legally required to present to lawmakers by Wednesday.

Council sources say Bowser has not announced any plans to reschedule the budget’s big unveiling, set for a big mayor-Council breakfast at MLK Library Wednesday morning. But the event, traditionally a huge gathering of agency heads, lawmakers, and other politicos, just won’t be the same without Falcicchio putting his best spin on Bowser’s latest spending priorities.

“John was so central to so many of her housing priorities, in particular, we’re wondering who we’ll be negotiating with on the budget right now,” Jones says.

Of course, Falcicchio’s absence as a policy gatekeeper isn’t all bad news for those with ideas disfavored by the man known as “Johnny Business.” Ward 2 Councilmember Brooke Pinto reintroduced a bill Monday aimed at spurring downtown’s recovery, which she says previously found only “limited support” from DMPED when Falcicchio ran the shop. She hopes the legislation (which would expand tax breaks for office building owners looking to manage conversions into housing and incentivize businesses to relocate downtown, among other changes) gets a fresh look this time around.

“We’ll work with whoever is running DMPED to move this forward,” Pinto says.

Bowser wouldn’t address questions about the significance of Falcicchio’s exit Monday, saying only that “there is no reason for our important work on behalf of residents of the District of Columbia to slow down because of John’s departure.” Considering that this is pretty much the only subject Wilson Building wags can talk about at this moment, it’s hard to imagine how that prediction holds up.

This story has been updated.