- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 3, 2002

Until a few weeks ago, the key players in Tuesday's primaries were set. Mayor Anthony A. Williams led a Democratic field of five that included a former D.C. Council member, the Rev. Doug Moore. Republicans fielded no mayoral contender. That essentially meant the incumbent was running against himself and on a record that, compared to his challengers, was no contest at all. The situation dramatically shifted following a ruling by the elections board that forced the Williams campaign to launch a write-in candidacy. Enter a new candidate, the Rev. Willie Wilson, who said he is running because of Mr. Williams' "arrogance" and "insensitivity," among other reasons. This election, though, is about sensibilities and leadership. It also is about who amid a precarious economy, a climate of racial divisiveness and post-September 11 realities can best maintain order and guide with a steady hand.

Mr. Wilson supported Mr. Williams in 1998, but the two parted political ways when Mr. Wilson discovered that neither he nor Mr. Williams could stop the inevitable: the closure of D.C. General Hospital as a full-service facility. Mr. Wilson, an old-school Baptist minister, has vowed to restore D.C. General as a full-service hospital and to be "creative" in how he develops education, recreation and housing policy. He also said he wants to spend more local and federal tax dollars on health, housing and education programs. He also wants to dole out tax breaks which almost always get a hoorah from us. And, clearly revisiting the spend-happy mindset of previous administrations, Mr. Wilson does not believe his new policies would bloat the bureaucracy or create deficits. His rhetoric offers no decisive suggestions on curbing spending, balancing budgets or, for that matter, even developing a budget. None of that is surprising. After all, Mr. Wilson, though the pastor of a considerable congregation, doesn't manage that church the trustees do. Moreover, Mr. Wilson wants to create what he calls a "workers tax," better known as a commuter tax, on teachers, police officers and others who work in the city but live elsewhere. A Willie Wilson administration would change the fortunes of the nation's capital.

The following points about Mr. Williams' work in the city must be kept in mind:

• In 1998, then-Chief Financial Officer Tony Williams, working with the control board and Mayor Marion Barry, made executive decisions that generated a record-setting $186 million surplus for the city. We continue to reap surpluses.

• Once elected mayor, Mr. Williams continued to hold himself and his appointees absolutely accountable, proposing consecutive balanced budgets and receiving clean, unqualified audits.

• Whereas the city was losing residents until the late 1990s, a reverse trend is emerging.

Thanks to confidence in the Williams administration and tax legislation from the D.C. Council:

• The working poor, uninsured and underinsured not only have medical coverage, but access to various doctors, clinics and hospitals rather than the emergency room at D.C. General.

• Although rent control remains a staple of D.C. politics, the council led the mayor toward landmark housing legislation that aids low- and moderate-income families, encourages the rehabilitation of historic homes and cracks down on slum housing. That should even please the liberal Mr. Wilson and his supporters, who think the words "affordable housing" have never crossed the mayor's lips. In fact, Mr. Williams is former chief of the Community Development Agency in St. Louis and former assistant director of Boston's Redevelopment Authority.

The Williams administration is not flawless. The mayor waited too long to discover that some of his appointees were least likely to succeed. Some of his motor vehicle and transportation policies are driving motorists mad. Also, considering the roles the mayor can and cannot play regarding education the mayor cannot set school policies or budgets, while he can appoint members to the board Mr. Williams falls short in at least two key areas. He must be more vigilant regarding traditional and charter facilities, and he must push harder for parental involvement.

A more serious and recent criticism of Mr. Williams is his failure to prevent the disgraceful petition fiasco. Voters hardly expected the mayor to comb through signature after signature on his own nominating petitions, but Mr. Williams simply wasn't paying attention. Whether it occurred because of thoughtlessness or because he was too busy being mayor is inconsequential now. He accepted personal responsibility for the petition mess, apologized and moved head-on into what clearly will be a historic election, since no write-in candidate has won a primary in the District.

The petition flap, however, has people talking and not just about nominating petitions. Mr. Wilson is criticizing Mr. Williams' politics, a very easy thing for political foes to do when they have nothing substantial to offer as alternatives.

To that end, The Washington Times is pleased to endorse Tony Williams as a write-in candidate in the Democratic primary. Mr. Williams has proven managerial and mayoral records and steady hands, and he has the sensibilities and political leadership necessary in these uncertain, post-September 11 times. In 1998, Mr. Williams promised "one government, good government, self-government." He delivered.

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