- The Washington Times - Monday, December 3, 2001

Throughout his three years as the District's mayor, Anthony A. Williams' political critics have dismissed the former chief financial officer as a congressional puppet and an unfeeling bureaucrat a man who just wasn't "black enough" to lead Washington.
Despite such criticism and conjecture, Mr. Williams enters his fourth year as an apparent shoo-in for a re-election victory next November. He has $758,000 in his war chest and a hard-won new reputation as a strong, not-so-silent type. D.C. political insiders can't come up with the name of a single legitimate opponent to run against Mr. Williams in the Sept. 10 Democratic primary.
Those most likely to run against Mr. Williams, are not. Kevon Chavous, Ward 7 Democrat, is campaigning to reclaim his seat on the council and is reluctant to run against Mr. Williams after losing to him by more than 13,000 votes in the last mayoral Democratic primary.
D.C. Council member Carol Schwartz, at-large Republican, has vowed she will "never run for mayor again" after losing her bid in 1998. "I think the mayor has done much better than we expected, and he seems to be getting the city on the right track in terms of economic development and sustaining the population," Mrs. Schwartz said during an editorial luncheon with reporters and editors at The Washington Times.
Some advisory neighborhood commissioners (ANC) and residents said the mayor had not silenced his critics, yet none of any prominence would utter public criticism of Mr. Williams for this report. All they will say is that he has a way to go before they can view him as a people's mayor.
So how did Mr. Williams shed his Clark Kent, bow-tie image? The events after the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon, and the anthrax scare have a lot to do with it he faced head-on the things people feared most.
On Oct. 18, the day technicians confirmed the Brentwood mailing center was contaminated with anthrax a bacteria few people knew anything about, except for the pictures they saw of emergency workers wearing protective gear that looked like spacesuits Mr. Williams walked boldly into Brentwood and two other post offices wearing only a suit and tie.
That visit helped break the spell of "anthrax phobia" that was gaining public momentum in the city.
His nationally publicized round-trip flight from Washington to New York with several governors on Oct. 6, when fear of flying was at its peak, earned him the praise of D.C. hotel and restaurant owners, whose businesses were being ruined by a stay-at-home anxiety that left the streets of the nation's capital empty.
He even had President Bush help convince the public it was safe to come back to the District's downtown when the two first families dined at Morton's of Chicago in late September.
Some may have dismissed both as political stunts. But they were brave ones, and they forced voters to look at Mr. Williams in a different way. Like New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, he came across as a man who knows how to keep a city calm during a crisis.
"He is an absolute lock to be elected for a second term," said Phillip Pannell, President of the Ward 8 Democratic State Committee. "The mayor gets high marks from most residents and community leaders."
Mr. Williams made a terrible first impression that of a hatchet man when former Mayor Marion S. Barry brought him here from St. Louis in 1995 to be the city's chief financial officer. Mr. Williams immediately was slammed as a maniacal, pink-slip-delivering CFO who thought nothing of firing mothers at Christmas time.
The budget's bottom line was all he cared about, say his friends and foes, despite seeing the city's lower-middle class and poor residents pushed out of the city and into Prince George's County by rising property taxes and soaring costs for homes both consequences of a booming housing market.
That first impression had not faded when residents of Marshall Heights in Ward 7, one of the city's poorest wards, drafted him to run for mayor in 1998.
Mr. Williams was not dismayed by those who did not want him as their mayor.
"Four years from now, I predict people aren't going to say, 'Wow, hell of a manager.' They're going to say, 'Hmmm, he's a real leader,' " Mr. Williams said a week before the election.
"He made me an early supporter, before he got in office, when he spoke out against a prison being built in Ward 8 Southeast," said Eugene Dewitt Kinlow, a trustee with the University of the District of Columbia.
Mr. Kinlow has butted heads with Mr. Williams on occasion, as when he objected to the mayor's plan to move Duke Ellington High School out of Georgetown, the richest part of the District, and into to Ward 8, the city's poorest ward.
He also is concerned that the mayor has not delivered on his promise to create economic growth and increase city investment in the often-ignored neighborhoods on the "other side" of the Anacostia River.
"I find that he is good at articulating what he wants to do, and I think he cares about the residents east of the river, but he has yet to deliver on many of those commitments," Mr. Kinlow said. One thing he is looking for is a UDC satellite campus east of the river.
Mr. Pannell, a board of education employee by day and political insider and community activist by night, worked with Mr. Williams during his campaign and, until recently, as a consultant on themayor's payroll. He said those who still fight the mayor are "terminally opposed to the mayor, and there is nothing he can do to please them."
The 2002 campaign contributions show the mayor getting wide support from residents all over the city. A large majority of his contributors come from individuals, not businesses and organizations.
"I think that speaks for itself. It shows a lot of community support," said Pat Elwood, vice chairman of the Democratic committee.
To get the best view of what a "new mayor Williams" looks like, sounds like and acts like, you needed a front row seat when he spoke in November to students at St. Mary's College in Maryland, where he delivered the Goodpastor Endowed Leadership Lecture.
First, Mr. Williams apologized to those who had come expecting "the nerd with the bow tie" that they see on television and in the papers. Instead, students saw a man dressed in a casual tattersall shirt, red tie, sport coat, walking shoes and khaki pants.
He appeared relaxed for the first time since the September 11 attacks and anthrax contaminations.
He did not deliver a company-line speech, which would have bored the students, but rather he won them over with a dry, self-effacing wit. "My wife, Diane, hid the bow ties today. She usually dresses me anyway, because I have no fashion sense," he said.
D.C.-born students of St. Mary's college wanted to thank the mayor for the city's program, which helps D.C. students attend colleges all across the country by subsidizing their tuition.
Thanks to the tuition assistance program drafted by Mr. Williams and D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton two years ago, James Vines, a Cardozo High School graduate and now a freshman at St. Mary's, is attending college. Twins Andrea and Adrianna Cofieod, graduates of the Maya Angelou Public Charter School, also attend St. Mary's as a part of the program.
"That's a major reason we brought him here," said St. Mary's President Jane Margaret O'Brien. "We wanted him to see his handiwork in action."
Mr. Kinlow said that accomplishment is one in which the entire city can take pride, along with getting broadband cable access installed throughout the city, improving services and building a bigger tax base.
The mayor also has overseen the construction of a new Pepco building on Ninth Street Northwest and has put construction of the new Convention Center ahead of schedule by shuffling money.
"I think he has shown some interest in rebuilding the neighborhoods with the Georgia Avenue revitalization project, and we hope to see it pay off in the future," said Petworth ANC Willie Flowers.
Democratic Committee Chairman Norman Neverson said, "I believe that the growth and beautification we have seen downtown will move out into the neighborhoods over the next four to five years under his leadership."
"I am trying to rebuild the city and run the city at the same time," Mr. Williams said.
"I rate my success by the quality of complaints. You never want the same complaint twice."
Those looking for sore points during the mayor's first three years can find them in the way he manages his staff, critics say.
Those residents still remember the high-profile problems within the mayor's executive staff. "He can't keep anyone in office for more than a year and, most times, less than that," said Lois Johnson, a retired office manager.
Mrs. Johnson, 62, a Ward 8 resident who was critical of Mr. Williams from the beginning, said he had to do better getting insiders to perform.
"He needs to stop letting people like Norman Dong [the mayor's former right-hand man] and some of these others take advantage of him, coming in here to further their own careers," Mrs. Johnson said. "I want to see stability in the office along with the improvements to services, and education has to get better, too."
Mr. Pannell said, "The major problem with the mayor's staff is they don't have any attachments to the neighborhoods where they live. I bet none of them could even tell you what the name of their civic association is," he said.
Whatever the mayor thinks of himself, his initiatives during the city's darkest hour have turned many of his harshest critics into cheerleaders.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide