- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 29, 2005

You know there was “Dancing in the [D.C.] Streets,” as Martha Reeves and the Vandellas sang, after Mayor Anthony A. Williams announced yesterday that he will not seek a third term in office.

One person told me that a cabdriver learned of Mr. Williams’ decision and said, “Well let me jump out of my car and dance in the street.”

But who would suspect that leading the chorus line might be Mr. Williams and his wife, Diane? Watching the anticlimatic announcement at the Hillcrest Recreation Center from a seat in the control room at WRC-TV (Channel 4), one might get the mistaken impression for a moment that the First Couple was about to spring a really big surprise and he might actually seek re-election after all.

Shucks, how much more fun might that outcome have been for everyone who has been anticipating Air Tony’s news for weeks?

Judging from the Cheshire cat grins on their faces, the First Couple are happier than even Mr. Williams’ biggest detractors that their wild escapade through the D.C. political Wonderland is finally winding to an end.

Mr. Williams chose the Hillcrest location because it was where “the dream” or, as he quipped, “to my critics, the nightmare,” of his seven-year tenure as mayor began. It was there that he was drafted to run for office by Southeast residents, many of whom didn’t want or could no longer get an audience with Mayor Marion Barry.

Though Mr. Williams touted that “I believe deep in my heart … that I have taken this city further” than his predecessors, he also acknowledged that “there is unfinished business” and “there’s a lot of work to do.” For example, “rebuilding the poorest neighborhoods in our city,” which he repeatedly promised but failed to deliver.

Since the dream-deferred issue was raised, the other question to be asked is — whose nightmare? The Williamses, weary of poor public life even though they have trotted around the globe freely and frequently? Or D.C. residents weary of his pro-business politics and his pro-gentrification policies? The minority business contractors who say the Williams administration let big business and developers run amok downtown at their expense? The parents who say their children’s schools and recreation centers were sacrificed at the altar of baseball?

Yes, thanks to a historic housing boom, the Williams administration and the D.C. Council balanced the city’s budget. Yes, the Harvard-educated accountant presented a nonthreatening image of the nation’s capital to the world. But Teflon Tony has some pretty hefty lifting to do in the next 15 months if he intends to improve his lopsided legacy for those now dancing in the street about his departure.

First, he may have to stay in the city for more than a few days without needing to take sick days. Second, he may want to stop deferring all but his ribbon-cutting public duties to City Administrator Robert C. Bobb. Just maybe, he might not want to look so happy about abdicating his Emperor Has No Clothes throne.

Think about it: Have you ever seen Mr. Williams so slappy-happy and at ease in public as he was yesterday, standing in front of that huge D.C. flag and throwing in the towel? He ostensibly wants to allow the field of wannabe successors to “move on” with the 2006 mayoral race unencumbered by his shadow. When Mrs. Williams started waving her arms and hopped to her feet liked she had caught the Holy Spirit at a religious revival, Mr. Williams smiled broadly, stopped his slap-myself-on-the-back speech and asked his wife, “Oh, you really like what I’m saying?”

“I’m allergic to bees,” she snapped, then returned the smile, as someone rushed to move her chair to the other side of the stage in a moment of comic relief that instigated laughter.

But this atypically private political wife, who let it be known from Day One that she would not be forced to accept the role and responsibility of first lady, couldn’t hide an unmistakable look of relief.

Clearly relieved of the pressure and burden of “devoting 11 years of my life in the frying pan,” the mayor and his missus bordered on being punch-drunk. The uncharacteristically loose mayor even peppered his off-the-cuff podium remarks with an errant curse word to describe the bees that showed up to pester his wife just as he was about to make a serious point.

It is no secret that Mrs. Williams does not enjoy the public limelight. When Mr. Williams visited The Washington Times this past summer, I asked him how much of a factor his wife would be in coming to his ultimate decision. He basically brushed aside the question. “She’s a strong woman who can hold her own,” he said.

She’d have to be. It cannot be easy duty being the spouse of a busy politician, least of all one who is not popular with half his constituency.

Yet, I’d being hearing all summer from their associates and friends that the major reason for Mr. Williams’ hesitance to run for re-election was to please his wife. After all, marriage is a compromise and there appears to be genuine, respectful caring between the First Couple.

“She was adamant and consistent that she didn’t want him to run,” said one D.C. lobbyist.

“It’s really Diane, she’s the one who wants him out,” said a D.C. business owner.

Yesterday, Mr. Williams himself characterized his wife as “the real chief executive of our family.” And, just maybe, Diane Williams is taking over for lead singer Martha, of the “Dancing in the [D.C.] Streets” Vandellas.

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