- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 25, 2002

When it looked as though D.C. voters were about to be overwhelmed with more of the same in the 1998 mayoral race, taxpayers in one corner of the city began huddling with those in another. They concluded that the best way to rescue the city from political doldrums was to convince a technocrat nicknamed Mr. Bowtie to run for mayor. The moniker easily translated into a campaign, because the familiar preppie ways of Anthony A. Williams stood out from the usual crowd. Now that Mr. Williams is seeking re-election, voters no longer ask about his politics. This time around, he has to defend himself as a black man an irony of "the least, the last and the lost" mantra of the civil rights movement and the success of black America.
Mr. Williams was adopted by a Roman Catholic family and reared on the West Coast. He was educated on two ivy league campuses. He also served in the Air Force. When you add it all up, his roots stand in stark contrast to the mostly protestant, largely Baptist and certainly Southern backgrounds of Washington's usual political players. For example, the mayor's most serious challenger this election, the Rev. Willie Wilson, is a Baptist born in Newport News, Va., who came to Washington to attend Howard Divinity School. Another example is Marion Barry, who is from Itta Bena, Miss., and helped organize student sit-ins.
In 1995, then-Mayor Barry appointed Mr. Williams his chief financial officer. At the time, the District was mired in mismanagement, and saddled with poorly written and executed contracts, and unmotivated employees. Even taxing residents and businesses accurately and efficiently (tax returns were in boxes) eluded the Barry bureaucracy. Moreover, the city's coffers were dry and poorly performed audits meant the city was the dread of Wall Street. A former auditor for the Department of Agriculture, Mr. Williams' mission which was necessarily refined by Congress to grant the CFO independence from the political whims of the Barry administration was to straighten out the books. He carried out his mission in a behind-the-scenes style that Washington was unaccustomed to. Once, for example, at a Barry retreat in 1996, Mr. Bowtie had the perfect opportunity to kick back and swap tales with other Barry advisers. Mr. Williams sat aside in the same room with colleagues but somehow not at the same party.
Mr. Williams practices a different style of politics. While grass-roots politics used to mean everyone jumps on the bus to go to the polls or a candidates' forum, the 1998 Williams campaign started with a couple of dozen key supporters and, along the road to victory, picked up voters who, either no longer wanted to ride the bus or who had been kicked off the bus.
Campaign donations tell a similar story. In 1998, the Williams campaign amassed a war chest of $10, $20 and $25 donations. This year, he stood out for generating a $1.4 million war chest, much of it from businesses, that scared off well-known potential challengers, including Republicans. He was cruising to certain victory in September.
The momentum changed in early July. First, the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics ruled that Mr. Williams' nominating petitions were riddled with forgeries and that his name, therefore, would not appear on the ballot for the Democratic primary. Mr. Williams sued, and lost. Then, the board turned over to federal prosecutors its evidence that the petition collectors committed fraud. Then, the board hit the Williams campaign with $277,000 in fines. Meantime, one of his key supporters in 1998, Mr. Wilson, launched a write-in campaign against him.
It all makes Mr. Williams a perfect target for those who question his ethics, management style and his blackness. He explains himself by saying he should have paid more attention and not hired a campaign manager who had just come off a campaign in Detroit. He defends his blackness in a similar fashion. "The fact that I could come [from] adoption and be where I am, I should be seen as a success."
Mr. Williams might be contemplating more than another four years as mayor. After all, for this husband and father, there is more to his life than elective office. He does, though, understand the stakes. "I think people feel more comfortable with the mayor being struck low out there as public servant … [as] opposed to a mayor running unopposed, cruising at high altitude and occasionally waving to the crowd." Typical Williams: Straight, with a twist of wit.
Anthony Williams is who he is: a successful, middle-class black man. He does not have to apologize for that.

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