Williams Still Gets Around
Thursday, July 6, 2006
Where in the world is D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams?
On Friday, it was London. On Saturday, Istanbul. On Tuesday, he was in Paris.
If it's Thursday, it must be Johannesburg.
For the moment, that's where Williams plans to stay. The South African city is the final stop on a whirlwind tour of world capitals on which Washington's peripatetic mayor embarked June 28 and from which he is scheduled to return July 11.
The 14-day trip marks the mayor's longest absence this year. But it is hardly the only one. By the time he touches down Tuesday, Williams will have spent all or part of 60 days away from Washington, or nearly one in three.
Williams (D) has announced plans to retire in January and had promised to tone down the travel during his final year in office. His frequent trips have drawn criticism throughout his second term as mayor. "What I plan on doing now in the next year is to be really involved here in the city," Williams told reporters in November.
But an analysis of the mayor's public schedule shows that Williams's itch for the open road has been scratched only slightly less often than in 2005 -- his most active on record -- when Williams was president of the National League of Cities. Last year, the mayor spent all or part of 137 days out of town, or 37 percent. So far this year, he has spent 31 percent of his time out of town, more than in 2003 (29 percent) or in 2004 (26 percent).
Mayoral spokesman Vince Morris defended Williams's travel, offering a four-point rebuttal to those who say that the mayor should spend a little more time with the people he was elected to serve.
"One, he's in constant contact by BlackBerry and cell phone. . . . It's not like he's in a cave somewhere spelunking," Morris said. Secondly, as mayor of the nation's capital, Williams is inundated with invitations to represent U.S. cities abroad. Thirdly, Williams is determined to spread the word that Washington is no longer bankrupt and badly managed but is now a wonderful place to visit and do business. "After government, tourism is our largest industry," Morris said.
Lastly, Morris said, no taxpayer dollars are spent on the international trips. The mayor's expenses are generally covered by his hosts or corporate sponsors. And when he travels abroad, "he travels alone," Morris said. "He doesn't bring any staff."
Take the current journey. Only Williams's wife, Diane Simmons Williams, accompanied him to London for a conference on urban development sponsored by Eurocities, a network of European cities. The couple's expenses were covered by the central government of London, mayoral spokeswoman Sharon Gang said.
From London, Williams jetted alone to Istanbul to address graduates of Bahcesehir University, on the school's dime. Then it was on to the Turkish capital of Ankara for the fifth annual conference of the Glocal Forum, an international body dedicated to the "fundamental role that mayors and their cities play in forging a more balanced and peaceful world," according to the forum's Web site. The forum paid for the mayor's travel, Gang said.
Williams then joined his wife in Paris, at the French capital's expense, to unveil a painting of Rosa Parks and a statue of Thomas Jefferson on the Fourth of July.
But the mayor's stay was brief in the City of Light. The London School of Economics paid for him to hop an overnight flight to Johannesburg, Gang said. The school is sponsoring a series of conferences dubbed "The Urban Age" that aims to influence how cities are "studied, planned and managed," according to its Web site. Williams is scheduled to be a featured speaker.
Morris said that Williams is in demand at such conferences because he has spent the past eight years successfully reviving the U.S. capital. "If he was the mayor of La Plata or something, he probably would not be asked to serve," Morris said.