Schwartz, Williams Talk of Firings
and Michael H. Cottman
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, October 24, 1998; Page C01
Mayoral hopefuls Carol Schwartz and Anthony A. Williams yesterday described plans they would implement during their first six months in office, and both candidates said they would not hesitate to fire city employees for incompetence.
"There are people who are not doing their jobs," said Williams, the Democratic nominee. "I think there ought to be accountability and consequences."
"I'm going to be firing people if they're not able to do the job," said Schwartz, the Republican nominee. "Government employment, whether D.C. or federal, is not until-death-do-you-part. . . . I think you have to do your job."
The issue of whether the new mayor elected on Nov. 3 would preserve a city work force that has faced layoffs and firings in recent years has been a swift undercurrent during the primary and general elections. Williams and Schwartz addressed the issue in a spirited exchange yesterday during a 90-minute luncheon meeting with Washington Post editors and reporters. They answered questions on subjects such as education and the tenure of Mayor Marion Barry.
Williams said that if he wins election, he will dedicate the first six months of his administration to identifying five to 10 areas where readily visible improvements could be made in government services.
"Maybe it's answering the phone, maybe it's cleaning the streets; maybe the storm drains, getting your [license] plates renewed," Williams said. "Things, that if we can turn around, we restore hope and confidence in government."
Schwartz said the initial push under her administration would be to lower taxes, reform regulatory affairs and develop a business environment to encourage international trade. She said she also would concentrate on improving schools and other quality-of-life issues that would attract the black middle-class back to the city.
Williams again defended the firings as necessary, acknowledging that they need not have been handled so abruptly, with employees escorted from their desks by law enforcement officers.
Williams said the workers had been warned of their poor performance for several months. He said they were told: "Folks, we got to get on the ball. Our government is financial crisis. . . ."
"I have said that I would do things differently" if people were fired now, he said. "But I would have done what I did because I think it was right for the future of our government."
Although Schwartz said she would consider firing people who failed to respond when given more training, new equipment and better salaries, she criticized Williams as callous for firing "mainly single, mainly minority women."
"It's not the firing of people, it's the way in which it was done," Schwartz said. "If these people had been stealing money, I would have had police escort them out too. But they weren't escorted to the U.S. attorney's office, they were escorted to the door."
Schwartz compared Williams's treatment of those employees with that of Frederick L. King Jr., the former director of the city's lottery agency. Williams authorized a $50,000 separation package for King despite the discovery that King had used city credit cards to pay his rent at a luxurious downtown apartment building.
"He wasn't escorted out the door; he was given $55,000 to say goodbye with," Schwartz said.
Williams countered with a question implicating Schwartz, who returned to the D.C. Council in 1997 after an eight-year hiatus, in the city's financial crisis.
"Where were the voices when we hired the thousands and thousands of people who never should have been hired?" Williams asked. "Where were voices in oversight . . . when we got critical collapse in procurement, critical collapse in personnel and millions of tax returns on the floor? Where were the voices when we got almost $80 million of tax receivables . . . laying around on the floor?"
Asked whether the mayor could bring influence to bear to improve the city's schools, both candidates acknowledged that the mayor has no direct supervisory role. But they agreed that the mayor's office can be used to push for quality education.
"I think the mayor could use . . . a bully pulpit to advance education," Schwartz said. "We have to make sure that those dollars get funneled where they should get funneled to. There is not enough money going directly to the classrooms."
Williams said many teachers will retire in the coming months and years.
"The good news is we have an opportunity to create a package of incentives to bring in a whole new cadre of teachers who are up to the job of teaching our children in the next century," he said.
Both candidates were asked about Barry's legacy.
Schwartz said that there was hope for the District when Barry first took office but that the city was not served well by Barry in the end.
"I do think the last two terms of his being mayor were not in our city's best interest, and so I give him a lot of credit . . . for leadership ability, but I do not think our city is in better shape having had him for 16 years as our mayor."
Williams praised Barry for reaching out to all sections of the District, but compared Barry's life to a Shakespearean tragedy.
"I think that I would want to honor the positive contributions the mayor's made certainly in development, in commitment to youth, commitment to senior citizens, commitment to education," he said.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company