- The Washington Times - Friday, April 19, 2002

It is fast becoming apparent that there might be no mayoral race this year. That is truly disappointing because, although Mayor Tony Williams has deep and wide support from Republican and Democratic D.C. voters, he has made some stupid policy and hiring mistakes. Besides, Mr. Williams running against himself would be no race at all.

Does the lack of a challenge mean everybody's happy, or that no one's waiting in the wings? The Republican with the most potential, D.C. Council member David Catania, has said no. The Democrat with the most potential, Council member Kevin Chavous, a three-term lawmaker who ran in the 1998 pack with Mr. Williams, is leaning hard toward running.

The year 1998 was Mr. Williams' and Mr. Chavous' first time on the mayoral stump. Mr. Williams, though, often trumped Mr. Chavous in campaign forums, sometimes even telling the audience to consider the man behind the curtain i.e., the new guy on the stump vs. the four challengers who all were veteran lawmakers. I can recall sitting next to Marion Barry, who was mayor at the time, at one forum and him asking me, "how's Kevin doing." When I told him that Mr. Chavous needs to be more articulate in his answers, Mr. Barry, after a half-hour or so, agreed and left the forum.

There have been many times since then that Mr. Chavous has given considerable thought to that campaign as this year's takes shape. In 1998, Mr. Williams, the city's former chief financial officer, won 50 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary versus Mr. Chavous, who led the also-rans with 35 percent. Indeed, Mr. Chavous garnered sizable enough results among the seven Democrats to encourage another go this year.

So, if this indeed will shape up to be a Democrat vs. Democrat mayoral race, let's look at a few unavoidables. First of all, there is a little ethics matter with which Mr. Williams must contend. The specifics, which are in the hands of the U.S. Attorney's Office as well as the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance, concern the mayor's possibly illegal use of funds from profit and nonprofit organizations. Mr. Williams has agreed to tesitify before the council about what he knew and when he knew. It is incumbent upon the incumbent that he be as forthcoming as possible.

The other unavoidable issues include education and economic development. Education, I think, is where Mr. Williams is very vulnerable and a point against a politician will surely translate into a point in the opponent's favor. For one, Mr. Chavous is chairman of the council's education panel, and although his proposal to institute universal preschool programs into the public school system is as terrible as the tantrums thrown by 2-year-olds, it presumably has support from constituencies in poorer neighborhoods ignored by Mr. Williams, as well as those in wealthier neighborhoods that connect with Mr. Williams.

One educational issue with which Mr. Williams has to be particularly careful is school reform. Mr. Chavous could easily scapegoat Mr. Williams for not supporting and reforming schools for several reasons, including the ever-present cry for more money (even the the school budget has increased 40 percent in three years), Mr. Williams' attempt to turn over several severely troubled schools to private firms, and the fact that under his watch the school system continues to blow its budget (the most recent excuses is special education). Of course, Mr. Williams' retort is a no-brainer. Sure, the mayor proposes the school budget, but Mr. Chavous and his colleagues ultimately decide how much schools will get, and school officials, not the mayor, decide how that money will be spent. Moreover, the responsibility of oversight and accountability fall to the council and the Board of Education the mayor can do little more than suggest, praise and complain. But lots of liberal blabber-mouths won't see it that way.

That brings us to economic development, or what some folks call the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately issue. Here is where Mr. Williams clearly has the upper hand. Mr. Chavous or any other critic can easily point to promises Mr. Williams has made but not kept. For instance, there still is no supermarket in Ward 8, and a huge undeveloped track in that ward called Camp Simms remains undeveloped. Also, the city still has no high-tech high, and when it comes to keeping teens challenged with significant recreational and library-based programs the city still falls short.

On the other hand, Mr. Williams can just as easily point to decentralizing the bureaucracy, a bustling downtown, an up-and-coming New York Avenue Gateway, more new single-family and afforable housing in Ward 8 than anywhere else in the city, lower crime and pathology rates … the list goes on. But I have to stop here lest I stand accused of endorsing Mr. Williams, who already has a million-plus war chest.

Let me make the situation clear, however. There are lots of positive things Mr. Chavous and Mr. Williams have done, and lots of things they have either totally ignored or simply mishandled. But let us look forward, and hope that a candidate of serious stature mounts a challenge to Mr. Williams. Otherwise, there is no race.

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