- The Washington Times - Friday, July 5, 2002

With more than $1 million in his campaign coffers and no serious competition, Anthony A. Williams appears to be a shoo-in for re-election as mayor of the District despite the ethical lapses, administrative problems and political faux pas that have tainted his tenure.
Mr. Williams this week said he plans to run an "active" campaign that focuses on the successes of his administration and his vision for the District's future.
During his weekly press briefing, he said most residents feel the city is heading in the right direction. And Wednesday's filing deadline for getting on the September primary ballot passed without a strong, well-known challenger stepping up to compete against the incumbent mayor.
Yet problems persist for Mr. Williams. Even his re-election announcement last month didn't occur without a hitch: His campaign was fined $4,000 for driving tent stakes into the pavement of New York Avenue without a permit.
The Rev. Terry Lynch, a community activist, says the mayor has overcome a steep "on-the-job learning curve."
"There remains serious personnel and management problems and a major political need to reach out to neighborhoods, where economic revitalization has not reached," says Mr. Lynch, executive director of the Downtown Cluster of Congregations.
The Democratic mayor could opt to run on his record, noting successes such as the end of the city's junk-bond rating, the dissolution of the congressionally appointed financial control board, bringing in 9,000 new public housing units, and improvements in trash collection and snow removal.
"City streets are being paved, and they are clean," says D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp, at-large Democrat and occasional mayoral critic.
Yet Mr. Williams' record includes problems that have harried and embarrassed his administration:
The Department of Motor Vehicles has been one of the best-performing agencies in the Williams administration, according to the mayor's "scorecard" on the city Web site (www.washingtondc.gov).
But recent reports in The Washington Times about the DMV's overbilling of drivers on parking tickets as much as $860,000 since 1999, long lines and waits at customer service centers, and frequent errors with its computer system showed residents' frustration with the agency.
With the help of D.C. Council member Carol Schwartz, at-large Republican and chairman of the committee that oversees DMV, Mr. Williams developed a plan to correct the agency's problems. He announced it last month.
Long-standing problems in the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department have yet to be resolved during the 23-month tenure of Fire Chief Ronnie Few, whose resignation becomes effective at the end of this month.
The department still faces deteriorating firehouses, a faulty radio system, obsolete vehicles, poor training and low morale among its more than 1,900 members issues that Chief Few was to manage when Mr. Williams touted his arrival from Georgia in 2000.
What's more, reports in The Times of gross errors in the resumes of Chief Few's three top aides for whom he had created jobs in the D.C. fire department with Mr. Williams' blessing and after promising the council he would not do so and the department's failure to meet its performance goals revealed how mismanagement had crept into public safety.
Mr. Williams appointed Assistant Fire Chief Adrian Thompson as interim chief as he searches for a permanent replacement for Mr. Few, the fourth fire chief of his administration.
Even with a hybrid school board of appointed and elected members overseeing operations, difficulties persist in D.C. public schools crumbling buildings, textbook shortages, low standardized-test scores and absenteeism.
Last year the school board exceeded its budget for the second consecutive year, this time by about $80 million. Budgetary constraints have prompted schools Superintendent Paul L. Vance to fire almost 1,000 employees, who must now reapply for their jobs under a new restructuring plan.
After-school, day-care, summer-school and breakfast programs for the poor were cut this year because of a lack of money. About 10,000 students will be able to attend school this summer, compared with 22,000 last year.
Mr. Williams lobbied to create a school board to which he could appoint some members and his efforts, among others, further blemished his ethical record.
The D.C. Office of Campaign Finance last year found he violated personnel regulations by using city workers to campaign for a favorable vote in a referendum to create the school board. The mayor was sanctioned but not fined.
Mr. Williams already had been fined $1,000 for not disclosing that he had earned $40,000 as a consultant when he ran for office in 1999.
More important and perhaps more damaging, the D.C. Inspector General reported in March that Mr. Williams' staff had raised $1.4 million to fund parties and events throughout the city some of which never materialized by setting up phony nonprofit groups. The Office of Campaign Finance has not yet issued a sanction in the matter.
The inspector general has referred some of the fund-raising cases for criminal prosecution and has said it is unlikely that Mr. Williams knew nothing about the unethical schemes a charge that hasn't seemed to hurt the mayor politically.
Mr. Williams' support for U.S. Rep. Constance A. Morella, in fact, evoked more outcry than his own fund-raising scandal.
The mayor held a fund-raiser for Mrs. Morella, Maryland Republican, that prompted the Democratic State Committee to censure him.
In his defense, Mr. Williams noted Mrs. Morella's influence as the chairman of a congressional committee with oversight of the District as reason enough to support her, despite the fact that his party is targeting her seat in the upcoming election cycle.
"He's overcome the fund-raising issues in his office and consolidated the power groups," Mr. Lynch says. "But he still lacks that personal touch and charisma."
Despite Mr. Williams' administrative, ethical and political problems, he stands as a seemingly unbeatable incumbent, says Philip Pannell, president of the Ward 8 Democratic State Committee.
"When somebody's got over $1 million in their campaign war chest, that gives people pause," Mr. Pannell said.

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