At Start, Williams Lacks Recognition, Cash
By Yolanda Woodlee and Hamil R. Harris
Although Anthony A. Williams's entrance into the District mayor's race generated excitement in political circles yesterday, the reaction of many ordinary Washingtonians yesterday was: "Who's he?"
Williams joins three Democratic D.C. Council members Harold Brazil, Kevin P. Chavous and Jack Evans who already are jockeying for the attention of voters who say their names are unfamiliar. In that regard, Williams, who announced his intention to run Saturday, is in the same boat: About 70 percent of people surveyed recently by The Washington Post said they knew little about him.
"All I know is that he is on the control board," said Richard Campbell, 70, who was attending Israel Baptist Church in Northeast Washington yesterday. "I don't know anything about him, but I don't know anything about any of the candidates."
As Warren Mynor, 26, walked from Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church in Northeast Washington after services yesterday, he paused thoughtfully when asked what he thought of Williams's candidacy.
"Who is he?" Mynor said.
Contrary to Campbell's belief, Williams is not a member of the D.C. financial control board, although he has worked closely with the board as the city's chief financial officer, a job he has held since 1995.
It is a position he must relinquish to avoid running afoul of a legal prohibition that bars government employees from running for partisan political office.
Control board Chairman Andrew F. Brimmer said yesterday that he will insist that Williams vacate the post swiftly so that an interim replacement can be named to oversee city spending and help get the city's fiscal 1999 budget approved on Capitol Hill. Brimmer said he would discuss the matter with Mayor Marion Barry, who has the authority to name a new chief financial officer, subject to the control board's approval.
The most likely candidate for the interim job, people familiar with the matter said, is deputy chief financial officer Earl Cabbell, who is credited with cleaning up the city's annual financial audit.
Politicians and analysts speculated yesterday on what a Williams candidacy will mean in a city still reacting to Barry's announcement that he will not seek a fifth term.
"The mayoral campaign has been lackluster," Barry said yesterday. "Tony's entry is going to ignite some excitement about this campaign."
Council member Charlene Drew Jarvis (D-Ward 4) said that Williams has not been "constituency-tested."
"Tony's candidacy is an interesting one, but his position as CFO has insulated him from the effects of unpopular decisions since he is in an appointed office and could not be fired by the mayor," she said. "He now has to test his mettle among voters."
Ronald Bitondo, a Democratic committee member from Ward 3, said Williams will be a fascinating candidate, but won't receive his support.
"I don't want to say he has tunnel vision, but when you come right down to it, what does he know except the books, and is the next mayor going to be in charge of the books?" Bitondo asked.
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) said she will remain "studiously neutral" when it comes to supporting the mayoral candidates, but stressed that the role of mayor is still relevant, despite the congressional action that stripped the office of most of its power.
"People are missing the point," she said. "They think because the mayor doesn't have authority now, the mayoral election isn't important. It's more important because getting it back will be significantly related to who we elect this time."
Williams began his campaign in an aggressive mode.
"I may have some baggage, and may even have a station wagon full of baggage, but at least I have a car," Williams said. "The other guys are walking? Where is their record?"
The other candidates took a different view.
"It's always the new guy or gal who is the sought-after one, but once you get into the fray, the newness wears off and then you have to answer, what are you going to do for the citizens?" said Brazil (D-At Large). "What do you represent? I'm not sure he has that connection with the people that we have."
Evans and Chavous both said it's too early to tell how Williams will affect the race, but they said they will not change their strategies.
Businessman Jeffrey Gildenhorn, who also is seeking the office, described Williams as a "formidable candidate [who] adds strong credibility to this campaign."
The District's two prominent business organizations said they welcomed a Williams campaign.
"It clearly adds an interesting dynamic to the campaign," said Ted Trabue, an official with the D.C. Board of Trade. "You have someone who has successfully straightened out government programs from the executive branch, versus the other candidates who have had more oversight responsibility."
A. Scott Bolden, president of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce, said that although Williams brings credibility, the "real challenge is whether he knows how to win the race."
"We've had very talented people to run before, but none were able to out-campaign, out-politick a talented candidate like Marion Barry," Bolden said.
Williams will meet tonight with a "Draft Anthony Williams" committee that was formed after he made an impressive appearance at a Hillcrest Civic Association meeting this year. The committee, a cross-section of District voters, worked to persuade Williams to run for mayor. The 7 p.m. meeting, his first with the group, will be held at Holy Comforter Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southeast Washington.
Marie Drissel, a committee member, said raising money for Williams will be easier now that he has entered the race. So far, she said, the committee has about $7,000.
"We're very glad that a group of ordinary citizens have had a significant impact in the city," said Lucy Murray, another member of the draft committee. "We now have a race, but Williams still has to go out there and earn our votes."
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company