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Williams Questions 'Energy' for 3rd Term

Mayor Leaves Door To Reelection Open

By Lori Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 21, 2005; Page B01

Politically battered after nearly 10 years in District government, D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams said yesterday that he might not have "the energy, the tenacity, the discipline, the focus" to serve as mayor of the nation's capital for a third term.

But Williams (D) said he might yet seek reelection next year. And after months of indecision about his political future, Williams, 53, said he plans to start getting "some signals out" to political donors, community activists and clergy sometime this summer.

Williams was given an "unforgettable" ovation at the Nationals' home opener but is well aware that most of the fans were not District residents. (Susan Walsh -- AP)

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"I've been sitting in the frying pan since, well, as [chief financial officer], I was in the frying pan," he said. "As mayor, I'm in the frying pan. I'm just sitting here on the griddle now, and I've got to really think, you know, do I want to stay here on the griddle?"

"You really should not do this job unless you're willing to put in that enormous amount of effort," he added. "You should not do the job unless you're willing to take risks. And you shouldn't do the job unless you're willing to lose the job, too.

"That's an important qualification. In other words, [you have to be] willing to take some risks, make some decisions, that may alienate your constituency."

In a wide-ranging luncheon interview with Washington Post reporters and editors, Williams said his administration repeatedly has lived up to that last qualification. Since he took office as mayor in 1999, Williams has drawn criticism and often protests for an array of controversial decisions, including closing the city's only public hospital, attempting to take over the elected school board and endorsing the use of private-school vouchers to "rescue" children from poor-performing public schools.

Williams said he had the good of the city at heart in each case. But he acknowledged that those decisions nonetheless have sparked "skepticism out there in the electorate" about his leadership. And his successful quest for a baseball team -- particularly his offer to spend public funds on a stadium project that has been estimated to cost as much as $581 million -- has fanned doubts about his commitment to help the District's poorest residents. In some areas, residents have said they have been left out of the economic renaissance that has swept through wealthy neighborhoods and transformed the city's once-dingy downtown.

The Washington Nationals remain "a political liability," Williams said, adding that most of the 45,000 fans who gave him an "unforgettable" ovation last week at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium before the team's first regular-season home game are residents of Maryland and Virginia and do not cast ballots in the District's race for mayor.

"I may not be the world's best glad-handing politician, but I've been elected mayor twice. I understand politics. And I definitely understand where the state line is," he said.

Williams said he is working to combat skepticism about baseball, and his leadership, among residents. He contended that even as his administration worked to bring the city out of bankruptcy, it has overseen a dramatic decrease in violent crime; dedicated millions to fixing crumbling public schools; obtained federal cash to rebuild blighted public housing; and pumped cash for the first time into a special fund for affordable housing. And Williams said the budget he proposed this spring places a new emphasis on "lifting up all communities."

Still, Williams said, he worries that he might no longer have "the enormous amount of energy that the job requires." And he worries about the toll public service is taking on his family, including his wife, Diane, who does not want him to run again.

"I'll give you an impact on the family," Williams said, launching into a story about a Valentine's Day trip to Puerto Rico that he was forced to cut short when a blizzard hit the District.

"So I spend two days in this storm, running around to various community this's and that's. Finally, Diane comes back. So I decide I'm going to take a break, have a nice little dinner with Diane," Williams said. "So I pick her up at the airport, we're having our little dinner. I'm going back out into the snowdrifts, right? But, sure enough, the next day I look in my e-mail."

There, he found a missive from an angry woman who spied him enjoying wine and dinner with his wife while "my snow wasn't plowed on my street."

The mayor laughed. "That happens all the time," he said.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company