- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 14, 2006

A funny thing is happening on the way to next month’s inauguration of Mayor-elect Adrian Fenty: People aren’t calling Tony Williams names.

Mr. Bow Tie. Tony the Tiger. Bean Counter. Nerd Extraordinaire. But no more.

These days he is Mayor Williams or Tony. And, most respectfully, simply The Mayor.

Mr. Williams earned respect the hard way.

Lots of important figures in Washington have nicknames — Slick Willie (Bill Clinton), Hammer (Tom DeLay), Deal Breaker (Sharon Pratt, who lost the Redskins to Maryland), Coach (Dennis Hastert), to name a few. And there eventually were 16 reasons why Marion Barry was dubbed Mayor-for-life.

Tony Williams, who was chosen by Marion Barry to be the city’s chief financial officer during its most troubled financial times of the mid-1990s, is no exception. Initially, people (including veteran reporters), called him Bow Tie behind his back. These are people who didn’t know Tony Williams and didn’t want to know him. His very politics — where’s the money coming from and where’s the money going — made them natural adversaries.

D.C. was broke as a hant at the time — both literally and figuratively. The coffers were empty, and like Rodney Dangerfield, we couldn’t get no respect from Wall Street. We had to go on our knees to the federal government. We also had too many yes men in City Hall. The one politician we could count on to tell us the truth — D.C. Council Chairman John Wilson — had gone on to glory.

City Hall was a choir with no director.

But that didn’t matter. All his critics knew was that Tony Williams wasn’t from Washington so he couldn’t be trusted.

What a difference a few years made.

Just three years after becoming a Barry appointee and playing a pivotal role in turning the city off the road of dire financial straits, Bow Tie became Mr. Bow Tie. The turnabout signaled something far more significant. D.C. residents — the ones who own homes, pay taxes, raise their own families, utilize the schools, libraries and recreational facilities and have deep stakes in the District — began looking at Mr. Williams as a potential CEO.

Tony the Tiger would shake the tail of the status quo.

The Bean Counter would ensure that the city delivered balanced budgets and achieved surpluses.

The Nerd would travel the globe, telling anyone and everyone that the nation’s capital is a viable place for business and tourism.

The naysayers continued to beat him down like a dusty throw rug.

They complained — in fact, thwarted — his attempts to take over the troubled school system. And while they wailed like the dickens when the city’s public hospital closed, they have, for the most part, come around to his position: The problem wasn’t D.C. General Hospital per se, but the fact that uninsured and underinsured residents used the emergency room as if it were the office of their primary care physician. The behavior was making residents sicker.

While the health-care situation has changed, The Mayor himself has admitted that his biggest regret was not improving the schools — this despite the fact that the school budget grew 49.8 percent (local dollars alone) during his two terms.

The criticisms of the Williams administration have grown somewhat tempered over the last four years, though. While his adversaries stopped most of the name-calling, they began using nastier terms to describe him and his policies. For luring thousands of new taxpaying residents, “Gentrifier,” became Tony Williams’ middle name. Socialists and other liberals tossed the term around as if it were a dirty word. But how else could the city afford the enormous costs of social and “affordable” housing programs if new taxpayers didn’t begin calling the city their home?

The worst of all labels came in 2004, the first year of heated rhetoric about a new publicly financed baseball stadium. There were several positions to take on the stadium proposal — whose chief cheerleader was The Mayor. None of the positions was cut and dry. But the clique that said more money for schools, not the stadium, was the most irritating of all. The loudmouths didn’t understand how Wall Street works. They were uniformed about the school budget. And, worst of all, they didn’t try to find out.

All they were interested in was disparaging The Mayor. He was called a “bow tie-wearing punk.”

These are the days of our time in the nation’s capital.

We have a mayor who fought for children by putting money behind the rhetoric, putting his politics on the line by working with Congress to get school vouchers for poor children, and trying to improve the health of poor families by creating “insurance” programs when none were available. All the while, The Mayor’s economic-development policies mean our skyline is marked with cranes and new rooftops, and the various projects in the pipeline call for more in the outyears. Our housing market has cooled somewhat, but remains vibrant because while the quality of life is not quite where we want it, it sure ain’t what it used to be.

Of course, none of the heavy lifting of the past eight years could have occurred without the help of Congress and the 13 members of the D.C. Council. But I have to say, thanks, Mr. Mayor. Had any one of the other Democrats become mayor instead, I’m not certain there would be as much to be thankful for.

Don’t forget the children.

For all your years of public service, blessings to you and yours. God’s speed on your next journey.

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