Despite controversy, Mayor Hancock isn’t worried about DIA CEO Phillip Washington’s federal nomination

Biden tapped Denver’s top airport official to run the FAA, but an investigation regarding his time in LA could derail the nomination.
2 min. read
Phil Washington, candidate to become CEO of Denver International Airport, sits in an office in the City and County Building. June 23, 2021.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Mayor Michael Hancock and Denver International Airport (DIA) CEO Phillip Washington said Wednesday that they're not worried about the recent search warrant involving Washington's previous job leading the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority, which could derail his nomination to lead the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

President Joe Biden tapped Washington to head the FAA in June. In September, LA sheriffs named him in a search warrant of an LA supervisor's home, surrounding allegations of favoritism in awarding a contract during Washington's time in LA. The warrant asked for communications with multiple people, including Washington.

Washington told Bloomberg earlier this month that the allegations were false. At the DIA budget hearing on Wednesday, both he and Hancock expressed full confidence that the nomination will move forward. Denver knew about the investigation when Hancock appointed Washington in 2021.

"It is the same allegations, it is the same individual who was disciplined, so it's the same thing, and quite honestly with the timing of my nomination I expected it," Washington said at the budget hearing.

Hancock said Denver residents should continue to expect leadership change at the airport, but for future goals to stay the same.

"He's gonna stay here until whatever they decide to do in Washington," the Mayor said. "The reality is we're gonna lose Phil [Washington]... We are committed to this master plan and vision as Phil's laid out."

Some aviation officials interviewed by Politico have chalked the controversy up to LA politics, and critics of LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, including the LA official served the warrant, have accused him of using investigations to target political foes.

Councilman Kevin Flynn, who pressed Hancock and Washington on the issue at the hearing, said he thinks it's all politics. But he worries about the rumors' effect on the airport. If Washington receives the nomination, DIA would lose its CEO and get a new mayor, since Hancock's term is up in July.

"The uncertainty around the renewed interest in the internal political investigations [Washington] left behind in Los Angeles could have an unsettling effect on our airport," Flynn said.

The White House told CNN they plan to "let that process play out" regarding the nomination, declining to comment on the LA allegations. A hearing with the Senate Commerce Committee, which vets nominees, has not yet been scheduled.

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