- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 18, 2001

The city is smack in the center of an interesting crossroads. For the most part, the mayor and the council performed as expected these last two years. They fought over tax reform but not appointments, and bickered over spending priorities but not voting rights. They also agreed to disagree on who should control the public school system.

That battle over schools was particularly divisive and racially decisive. Majority-black school districts and old-school stakeholders wanted things to remain the same with an all-elected school board. Voters who live in economically stable areas approved a referendum to establish a school board comprised of elected and mayorally appointed members.

The school referendum and other political skirmishes ended with fairly predictable outcomes because both the mayor and the council pretty much followed voters' instructions. And, at this juncture, life in the nation's capital is all the better because of that relationship. But what about five, 10 years down the road? Where is the city headed? And, more importantly, who will lead it there?

Interestingly, residents and businesses made things easy for the mayor and the council the last two years because they didn't express their priorities in broad terms. Voters didn't just say "cut our taxes," or "trim the bureaucracy" or "improve schools." They handed the mayor and the council specific tasks and a single deadline immediately.

Accordingly, tax relief came early on, the council made reforms in worker's comp, and businesses won other tax breaks, too although not enough. The city cut its payroll as well, and restored some services that make neighborhoods look cleaner than they have in a decade. That the national economy continued an upswing means business is booming downtown, big-box retailers and new commerce are peeking at nontraditional corridors, home sales are quite brisk and crime is remarkably low. Indeed the city looks good. Really good.

Mayor Williams must not lose sight of the fact that voters did far more than hand Harold Brazil, Kevin Chavous, Jack Evans and Carol Schwartz defeats in the 1998 race for mayor. They re-elected all four in their respective November 2000 council races so that the fun can begin anew this year.

The council will not take new defeats lightly and has restructured itself so that, again, certain outcomes will be predictable. For example, the mayor's political allies remain seated: Mr. Evans is chairman of finance and revenue; Mr. Chavous is chairman of education and libraries; and Mrs. Schwartz is chairman of public works and the environment. That setup means the mayor, as well as voters, can expect a lot of Williams-bashing.

Voter confidence and the continued support of business, however, remain for the mayor to win or lose since taxpayers' priorities are unchanged: more tax reforms, less red tape for businesses, more educational options and reforms; and more tight budgets.

Mr. Williams already knows how to get there. That he met 68 percent of the goals his administration set forth a year ago proves as much. The challenge is for him to step forward and claim the lead.

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