- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 13, 2006

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams yesterday said his successor, Adrian M. Fenty, faces an arduous task in trying to take over the District’s troubled school system, a feat Mr. Williams himself failed to accomplish during his two-term tenure.

“The good part of Adrian’s message is he’s picking the hardest things to do,” Mr. Williams said during an interview with The Washington Times. “The hard thing is that he’s picking the hardest things to do.”

Recalling the successes and failures of his mayoral terms, Mr. Williams said that he would not attempt another schools takeover if he were to remain in office, chiefly because of his unsuccessful endeavors to do so in 2001 and 2004.

But he would defer to Mr. Fenty, a fellow Democrat, if the mayor-elect does seek control of the school system.

Mr. Fenty, who currently is serving his second term as Ward 4’s representative on the D.C. Council, opposed Mr. Williams’ efforts to take charge of city schools. As a mayoral candidate, Mr. Fenty said he would likely try to assume control of the school system if elected.

“If in his judgment, he thinks it’s better to work with the status quo, I’ll support him,” said Mr. Williams, who will cede the mayor’s office to Mr. Fenty Jan. 2. “If in his judgment, he thinks it’s best to proceed with a mayoral assumption of control, I would support him as well.”

Mr. Williams, 55, became the District’s fourth elected mayor in 1999, inheriting a government plagued by financial and management failings under Mayor Marion Barry, a Democrat currently representing Ward 8 in the city council.

He was re-elected in 2002 after consistently producing balanced budgets and largely succeeding in improving government services.

Yesterday, Mr. Williams said that he has relished encouraging the perception of him as a bow-tie-wearing bookworm, then turning that perception on its head with his wit.

“I was never like the big man on campus, and people made fun of my head, so I made up for it by always cracking jokes,” the mayor said. “I like making people laugh, even if it’s at my expense. That’s cool.”

Mr. Williams said the greatest accomplishments of his terms include restoring fiscal responsibility in the District and passing 10 consecutive balanced budgets.

He is equally proud of improving the city government’s customer service, pushing a voucher program for low-income students and establishing a health care alliance that provides insurance for unemployed residents.

“I thought it was important to take a stand that I believed in,” said Mr. Williams, who also helped bring Major League Baseball to the District and begin efforts to revitalize the Anacostia waterfront. “Not one person supported it, but I think most people would agree now that the health care alliance was a good thing for the city.”

Mr. Williams said his failures include not drumming up enough support for moving the campus of the University of the District of Columbia east of the Anacostia River.

He also said he would have collected his own signatures for the 2002 re-election campaign, thus avoiding an election scandal that forced him to run as a write-in candidate.

“I would’ve sat out on Connecticut Avenue and collected them in a weekend,” he said. “End of story.”

Mr. Williams was born in Los Angeles and adopted at the age of 3 by postal workers Virginia and Lewis Williams III.

He held several government positions, including president pro-tempore of the board of aldermen of New Haven, Conn., and executive director of the Community Development Agency in St. Louis.

In 1995, Mr. Barry selected Mr. Williams to be his chief financial officer as the District was facing a projected deficit of more than $500 million and a bond rating worse than junk level.

Congress also had instituted a financial control board to manage the District’s dealings as the city sat on the brink of insolvency.

By fiscal 1997, Mr. Williams’ work had created a budget surplus of $185 million, but it hadn’t won him many friends along the way. He had created an impression that he was a hatchet man, a bean counter who only cared about the budget’s bottom line.

Still, the combination of financial progress and the District’s raft of troubles under Mr. Barry had done enough to earn Mr. Williams widespread consideration, if not admiration.

Residents of Marshall Heights in Ward 7, one of the city’s poorest areas, drafted him to run for mayor in 1998. The rest is soon to be D.C. history.

Mr. Williams said he plans to stay in the District, perhaps teaching, practicing law or working as a consultant.

He also hopes to be involved on the boards of nonprofits dealing with education, environmental and adoption issues.

“It’s been a great run,” Mr. Williams said. “We now expect the very best of our city, and I think that’s good.”

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