- The Washington Times - Friday, September 13, 2002

Tis really no great surprise that Anthony A. Williams, with all his money and mighty backers, was handily renominated as D.C. mayor even after another in a serious series of embarrassing ethical lapses.

The bigger surprise is that Teflon Tony now says he's "humbled" by the Houdini-esque experience. "This brush with political death," the insolent and insular incumbent reportedly states, will make him a different mayor should he win in the November general election.

Just keep our fingers crossed and pray. Mr. Williams is not known as a man who keeps his word. In the meantime, we can thank the Rev. Willie F. Wilson for his opponent's much-needed makeover.

The best thing that happened to Mr. Williams' tortuous campaign and to this divided city was Mr. Wilson's challenge as a write-in candidate. Not only did the impassioned Baptist minister put the fear of God into the incumbent's tepid voter base, Mr. Wilson also lit a fire under those disillusioned D.C. residents who galvanized around his day-late-and-dollar-short write-in campaign. "In my neighborhood, I've seen people get involved who haven't been for years," said one poll worker in Ward 5.

"The one thing I've learned from all this is that I'm going to get involved and go to meetings and hearings," said Muriel Martin, a Dunbar High School teacher who campaigned for Ward 5 D.C. Council challenger Harry Thomas Jr.

Nonetheless, Terry Lynch, executive director of the Downtown Cluster of Churches, "finds it troubling" that the majority of registered D.C. voters did not cast ballots, and that hundreds of thousands more didn't even register.

However, Mr. Lynch credited Mr. Wilson's candidacy because it "gave a voice to a lot of have-nots and gave them a candidate they felt excited by."

Judging from the blinding smiles and billowing shouts of the happy poll workers who crammed into El Tamarindo restaurant Tuesday night, Mr. Wilson's ability to give these folks newfound hope was welcome reward itself. "When was the last time you saw so many folks out on this corner?" asked one observer who was enjoying the revelry at the raucous Wilson "victory party."

Some thought it odd that Mr. Wilson claimed victory on election night before his screaming supporters. While his bid to become mayor was unsuccessful, his bigger victory lies in energizing an important segment of this city.

Make no mistake, Mr. Wilson will not be ignored as a legitimate power broker for that slighted constituency he most aptly represents. Indeed, "the Wilson voter is the Barry voter," said Boyce Slayman of the Wilson campaign, noting that his candidate targeted areas of Wards 4, 5, 7 and 8 strongholds for former Mayor Marion Barry to make the most of their limited resources.

Community activist Lawrence Guyot, who proudly worked on Mr. Wilson's behalf, said the minister's mayoral bid actually became "a crusade, not a campaign, evidenced by the enthusiasm and commitment of those who participated."

For his part, Mr. Williams should not misinterpret his re-election as a mandate or a measure of his tenure. Most voters were "conflicted" by the choices that left them little alternative.

For the two words most often used by those who feel deeply disregarded by this uptown, downtown mayor were "arrogant," and "abandoned." Granted, I spent most of primary day in Ward 5, where Mr. Wilson appeared to garner more votes among these working-class folks.

Indeed, Mr. Williams would do well to remember the message brought by the minister's fervent followers. They include seniors and Latinos in Ward 1, such as Manuel Liriarte, who "supported Reverend Wilson because I believe he has leadership skills and a vision for all the people." Like many others, Mr. Liriarte cited affordable housing as a big issue the mayor must address.

The District is facing an $323 million budget shortfall, primarily owing to a loss of tax revenues. Now, it's wait and see just how humble Teflon Tony will be when the hard cuts in this city's budget must be made. Will the burden fall, as it has, on the young, the poor and the elderly? As those Wilson supporters are left once again to wonder, they can only heed his charge to "keep hope alive."


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