Thoughts on a Job Well Done
By Ann Geracimos
Anthony Williams was the unassuming, unpolitical, bowtied mayor who came into office with just the right mindset and skills the District needed to save it from itself.
Count yourself lucky, Washington. He provided gumption and guts enough to raise the city's reputation in the eyes of the country and the world - not to mention giving residents in the region a sense of selfrespect that had long been lacking in the political arena.
He never was more than he said he was, and that was enough. Beginning life as a foster child who didn't speak until way beyond the norm, he graduated from Yale. Yes, his legacy is mixed. But aware of the importance of the bottom line in civic affairs, he was determined to bring development to the city to increase the tax base. What got left behind, perhaps, were transportation matters, the importance of good relations with Council members, and affordable housing for an increasingly strapped low and middle class worker base.
As a personality, he could be acerbic and ascetic, sly or grimacing. Few dared criticize his smarts, however. He kept to his program with a protective wife by his side. Keeping to her philosophy of never giving interviews, Diane Simmons Williams did not agree to be photographed with her husband for his farewell portrait in Washington Life. Asked to provide a few words of advice for the incoming mayor and his wife, she demurred - as did Tony Williams through Diane. "Keep your thoughts to yourself" is about all she offered along this line. As did he until the end when he let loose with some sharp-tongued retorts to criticism about his contributions to the city. But that is his privilege, and will be more so now as a private citizen settling into a private office in Anacostia and considering a range of new options for his next phase.
But, first, a vacation in Argentina, which no one dared call a taxpayerfunded public relations jaunt.
BY JIM ABDO
I remember the first time Mayor Williams and Diane came out to our country house. They arrived on a Friday evening to be celebrate Diane's birthday with us for the weekend. The Mayor looked tired and stressed from a long week. It wasn't until after my wife Mai's dinner and a glass of Scotch under the stars that "The Chief " (which is what I call him) started to relax. I remember telling him that one of my favorite ways to decompress is to climb in my tractor and bush-hog the hay fields.
I woke up the next morning around 6:30. The Chief was already up with his first cup of coffee, reading on the porch. The first thing he said to me was, "So tell me more about this tractor." Ten minutes later we're out by the barn, I'm topping off the diesel, going over instructions on the controls, the hydraulics and gears. He gives me a quick thumbs up, closes the cab door and off he mows.
Four hours go by. I've now been downgraded to using the small open air tractor and am being harassed by horse flies, bees and the day's heat. Meanwhile, the Chief is sitting pretty in the glass enclosed cab of the big tractor, with the AC blowing, my Johnny Cash CD playing and a nice cigar in his mouth. I radio him, asking, "Have you had enough, or should I bring out diesel?" He radios back, telling me to "bring more fuel and a few more cigars." Meanwhile, I'm wondering how long is this going to last.
It's now been five years since I've cut the main fields. The Chief has mowed them every year ... at least twice a season. I look forward to him no longer being mayor. We'll get to spend more time together. And he'll be on the small tractor.
My Mayor, My Friend
BY MARK D. EIN
I distinctly remember the first time I met Tony Williams. We were seated together at a lunch shortly after he took office and he immediately impressed me as a very smart, practical and thoughtful man. What he may have lacked in flash, he made up for with substance. I remember thinking this is the kind of man we need to lead our city. After lunch, he was surrounded by District residents - each of whom had an issue that they wanted him to solve or a problem that they wanted him to fix. I was struck not only by how accessible people viewed their mayor but also by their hunger for a leader who would take concrete actions to improve life in their city.
Over the years, I built a personal friendship with the Mayor and Diane that would include going to dinners, celebrating birthdays, attending basketball and baseball games and working on projects and causes to help the city. I got to know the man who led our city and built great respect for his character and determination to effect change and make D.C. a better place. I could see also the frustration and the toll of criticism - not because he took it personally, but because it was standing in the way of getting things done. When we would go out, nothing would make me happier than the steady stream of people expressing appreciation for the specific things that he had done.
Tony Williams leaves behind a city that is wellpositioned to thrive into the future. Historians will look back on the Williams administration as an inflection point in Washington's history - a period where we went from a laughingstock to respected and from nearly bankrupt to as financially strong as any city in America. When you see Mayor Williams on the street, please tell him how much you appreciate what he did - he earned it and deserves it.
Anthony Williams: One of Washington's Historic Heroes
BY MAX BERRY
In introducing Mayor Williams many times during the past eight years, I have often stated that he has done more good for Anacostia than all of the other mayors in Washington's history put together. I believe this to be a fact, and it is an indication of how great this Mayor has been to the benefit of all parts of our Nation's Capital. He has brought significant numbers of low income housing to Anacostia and many other parts of our city. Williams has done a remarkable job stimulating new retail establishments, restaurants, hotels, apartments and other valuable enhancements to our city. This reflects an economic boom under the Mayor's reign. Each achievement means more jobs created, and significant tax revenues for our District's treasury. When Williams was director of the control board, our city was bankrupt and a disgrace internationally. Foreign embassy personnel often tried to avoid coming to Washington because they considered it "hazardous duty." Williams changed this, and has built a city, over eight short years, of which we can all be proud of, and which is held in high esteem throughout the world. He made the hard decisions that he promised during his initial campaign.
Tony Williams is not the typical politician. He, with Councilman Jack Evans, championed bringing baseball to Washington and they succeeded. Had other mayors accomplished this, they would have received a ticker tape parade down Pennsylvania Avenue. Tony Williams got boos for something which we will all enjoy and cherish for many generations. He balanced our books and got us out of bankruptcy. He has not received the accolades, cheers and credit he deserves for a job very well done. These words echo the thoughts of many citizens of the District who appreciate these efforts of this Mayor. Tony won't be forgotten.
The People's Mayor
BY JACK VALENTI
Being mayor of a major U.S. city is akin to solving the Rubik's Cube in a new format every day. Very few mayors go on to to higher offi ce because a mayor makes dozens of key decisions each day and offends hundreds of voters in the doing. A mayor is closer to the daily morale and practical grind of everyday living - humdrum yet highly important things like scouring the streets in a snowstorm, picking up garbage, making streets safe, paving over the potholes that rattle the bones of the strongest built cars. These are the diurnal journeys of voters and voters can be snarlingly tough on mayors when these daily chores go undone.
Tony Williams can step down feeling a harmony of both relief and pride. He was a healer in the city, never reproachful or imperial, never an emotional rouser unsettling various segments of his constituency. Rather he was comfortable in his skin and comforting to the unreason of various political groups.
You saw him at public events. He reached out, alongside Diane, his wife, to folks in every area of this international city - multi-colored and a bewildering quilt of cultures. People want to know their mayor cares about them, cares deep inside his gut, and most folks can tell how deep and how real is the emotion. They knew Tony Williams cared and that made a difference. That's why Tony can pass the mace of offi ce on to Adrian Fenty and know that he did his best. And his best was pretty damn good.