It has taken nearly two years, but Mayor Anthony Williams now has completed an astounding transformation from colorblind, apolitical technocrat to color-obsessed racial politician.
In The Washington Post’s lead Metro story on Sunday, April 16 (“Mayor Wants Inner Circle to Reflect City”), Mr. Williams discussed his administration’s intent to continue filling its senior manager ranks with African-American and other minority candidates, thereby denying equal consideration for qualified white candidates.
“One of the legacies I want to leave is that one of the finest-run cities in the country was run by an African-American team,” the mayor told The Post. Though that declaration may seem noble on its face, some of the mayor’s aides aren’t shy about their hopes that these race-based appointments also will help silence local critics who have questioned whether Mr. Williams is “black enough” to run the city Marion Barry dominated for almost 20 years.
Being a member of the sizeable white minority and a taxpayer and voter in the District, I can no longer hope to have my rsum considered by Mr. Williams. But because I love my city and want any mayor at its helm to succeed, I hope he will consider this cautionary advice about his discriminatory hiring philosophy.
What if, despite the best efforts of the mayor and his African-American team, the District fails to become “one of the finest-run cities in the country”? What if, in fact, snow and trash removal problems persist, streets and alleys remain in disrepair, low-income housing shortages worsen, public schools further decay, care for mentally and physically disabled residents deteriorates, criminality within the police department escalates, budget auditing and oversight grows more laughable, and the city government’s problems in applying for and receiving federal grant monies persist?
Well, if the mayor’s administration was a demographically balanced, multicolored blend of black, white, brown, yellow and red, there might still be a few wags inclined to kick us when we’re down. But by and large, most observers would see such failure as further evidence of the intractable nature of the problems many cities face and the inescapable need for surrounding suburbs to pitch in. With an all black inner circle, however, such failure will invariably if unfairly boost the pernicious stereotypes about black incompetence that Mr. Williams says he wants to disprove.
As far as the mayor’s African-American critics who question his “blackness” and who have yet to get over the banishment (temporary though it may be) of Mr. Barry from our local politics, they will never be satisfied. This small but vocal minority within our black community has been happy to sow racial division in the District for years, and no “whites need not apply” sign hung by Mr. Williams in the window of city hall is going to change that. Ironically, it has been the mayor’s weakness in the face of our city’s bellicose anti-white conspiracy theorists that has fostered an environment in which Mr. Barry is feeling strong enough to make yet another comeback, one that would surely jeopardize Mr. William’s hopes of consolidating his own political power.
From his failure to defend a former white aide’s perfectly appropriate use of the word “niggardly” to his proud announcement that he’ll blatantly discriminate against talented, hardworking, good-hearted white folks who’d like to play a part in their city’s revitalization, Mr. Williams’ pandering to the race-haters has become far more dangerous than he and his neophyte staff can even begin to imagine.
They have yet to learn that the only way for any mayor in this city to once and for all silence those who would divide rather than unite us, is to insist vociferously upon a merit-based hiring structure throughout city government. Only when objectively measured skills and achievements become the criteria for employment within a mayor’s administration can his or her city truly hope to move toward a more tolerant, less fearful future in which racial stereotypes become irrelevant and racism becomes the infrequent exception to the rule of racial harmony.
In fairness, candidate Anthony Williams never presented himself as a racial healer eager to move the District past the divisions and race-baiting of the previous administration. But I and countless thousands of other voters of all races who supported him had hoped and prayed he would turn out to be just that. It took Nixon to go to China, and we thought a soft-spoken, bow-tie wearing black man who’d risen from foster care, adoption and poverty to an Ivy League education and considerable success as a respected public servant could be the one to move us past the racial tension that has been palpable in this town for far too long. We were wrong. And Mr. Williams has squandered an important opportunity.
Darren McKinney lives in Northeast Capitol Hill and writes frequently about race relations.