- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 4, 2000

It is way too early to write Mayor Anthony Williams' epitaph, though some of his detractors would have you believe otherwise.

Mr. William's errors in judgment have made for great media coverage, such as his accepting the resignation of a white aide whose use of the word "niggardly" in budget discussions was misperceived as a racial slur. Or the time the mayor fired his chief of staff because she did not meet his standards, leading blacks to complain that the mayor preferred a lily-white, all-male kitchen cabinet. Or when the mayor proposed moving the city's predominately black university across town to an economically deprived and mostly black section of the city without having considered the public reaction. Or when he and the council bickered over what he deemed a "grotesque" package of tax-cutting legislation that would give significant breaks to poor blacks and Hispanics. All those stories captured headlines.

In one or two of those instances, such as the "niggardly" flap, the mayor lost political capital, but he always rebounded which is interesting considering the fact that, for a while there, it seemed as though all in city hall were wholly preoccupied with racial rhetoric. No mayor, not even the industrious, bean-counting, bow tie-wearing Anthony Williams, can please all of the voters all of the time. Yet he tries. He tries very hard. And for all his hard work there are measurable accomplishments.

Of the 28 short-term goals the Williams administration outlined in early 1999, the majority, 20, have been met, including the pothole blitz, centralized information services, after-school computerized learning centers and a more business-friendly regulatory environment. Some of the longstanding problems, though, remain. For example, while motor vehicle-related offices stay open later to accommodate working-class stiffs, the waiting times are still atrocious. Sure, the hours-long waits are more comfortable now that seats are provided, but the process of being forced to blunder from one location to another, infrequent computer crashes and two-to-three hour waits at inspection stations mean motorists remain at the mercy of a bureaucracy that refuses to enter the 21st century.

While Mr. Williams might not have foreseen the difficulty in fixing the city's many problems, he now knows where the trouble spots are. He knows that if he does nothing for poor neighborhoods in Southeast, he will be judged insufficiently compassionate. He knows that if he were to withdraw the appointment of a fiery black minister, he would be labeled a turncoat. He knows he cannot rescind the much-needed tax cuts lest he risk being called a traitor. Moreover, he knows that he cannot acquiesce to the council's every whim or he would be branded a rubber stamp. The terrain around here may be like a minefield, but the mayor is getting more adept at negotiating his way through it.

Those are the perceptions and the future realities in mostly black Washington. And, 12 months into his four-year term, Mr. Williams is playing smart politics with his staff and with his policies. The mayor's policy priorities? A politician can never go wrong focusing on children and families, as Mr. Williams is with foster care, adoption programs, round-the-clock day care, prenatal and elder care, affordable housing, an attractive capital city.

For a nerd who was politically challenged at the outset, Mr. Williams is positioned to earn his merit badges. And he must do so in 2000. Make that early 2000, before he gives his first State of the District address. He must persuade residents to join him in counting down the accomplishments of his administration not programs that were initiated under Marion Barry but implemented by the Williams team. He will have to prove that the status quo and bad management have no place in his administration.

And, just as he gave his sense of urgency to the early days of his administration, he will have to do the same every few months or so just so voters (and his lieutenants) know he means what he says. His administration needs to reshape, on the voters' behalf, the nation's capital into a thriving, hospitable and respectable city.

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