Williams Wins Big in D.C. Mayor's Race
and Yolanda Woodlee
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, November 4, 1998; Page A1
Anthony A. Williams, the Harvard-trained, bow-tied technocrat whose no-nonsense management style and assurances of solid fiscal leadership resonated with voters, soundly defeated Republican challenger Carol Schwartz yesterday to become the fourth elected mayor of the District of Columbia.
The election marked a watershed for the city, bringing the Marion Barry era to a close and creating an unprecedented white majority on the elected D.C. Council. It came as Republican Sen. Lauch Faircloth, the District's Nemesis on Capitol Hill, was ousted by North Carolina voters and with the D.C. financial control board ready to empower the new mayor with responsibilities that Congress stripped from Barry last year.
"Today in our city a voice was heard. . . . Our entire city spoke with one voice. They said, 'We want our city back,'" Williams told a throng of cheering supporters at the Mayflower Hotel last night. "A new era has dawned in our city."
The notion of a "new era" had become the evening's theme minutes earlier when Mayor Barry took the podium to introduce the man who would become his successor.
"Washington is going into a different era, an era where we're going to gain self-government," Barry crowed. "Senator Faircloth has lost, lost, lost. Gone. Dead and buried. . . . He's so busy picking on me and the residents of the District of Columbia that he neglected his constituents in North Carolina. Now he can go back and deal with the pigs. Goodbye, Faircloth."
The Williams victory represents a profound shift in leadership for the District: He is a bird-watcher who owns three canoes and earned three Ivy League diplomas moving into an office occupied by a charismatic and controversial former civil rights leader for 16 of the past 20 years.
Williams, the former D.C. chief financial officer, credited as a central figure in the city's financial resurrection, won by better than a 2 to 1 ratio, sweeping to victory in all eight wards. His victory was tempered slightly by the lowest turnout in a mayoral general election since 1982. After elections in 1990 and 1994 that drew more than half the city's registered voters, yesterday's turnout was just 39 percent.
In the closely watched D.C. Council race, Democrat Phil Mendelson and Republican incumbent David A. Catania easily won the right to fill a pair of vacant at-large seats, ousting Statehood Party candidate Hilda Mason from a seat she has held since 1977. Independent Beverly J. Wilbourn finished fourth.
The victories of Mendelson and Catania produced a majority-white council in a city that once touted itself as "Chocolate City" and, despite a declining black population, still is 62 percent African American.
D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) won 90 percent of the vote in coasting to a fourth term in Congress.
The mayoral race pitted Williams, a low-key political newcomer who lives in a rented house in Foggy Bottom, against Schwartz, a feisty veteran council member making her third bid for the city's top elected office.
The stakes in the mayor's race were raised considerably by indications that the control board intends to delegate powers to the new mayor. Though there has been no formal announcement of that intention, sources told The Washington Post that the mayor-elect would be empowered to run virtually the entire District government and would meet with control board members tomorrow to chart a transition plan.
An early transfer of power would allow the next mayor to begin work on the city budget and to shape daily decisions ranging from trash pickup to pothole repair to the delivery of health care and job-training services.
Council member Kevin P. Chavous (Ward 7), who finished second in the Sept. 15 Democratic primary, said the Williams victory yesterday "sent a message to the National Republican Party that this city is not going to be taken over."
"It is clear that the Republicans have imposed the most repressive approach that we've seen in 100 years," Chavous said. "It was important to send a message that we're not going to let them take over."
Another council member whom Williams defeated in the primary, Harold Brazil (At Large), expressed delight at the election results and satisfaction with Faircloth's defeat.
"I'm not sure that he had the city's best interests at heart," Brazil said. "I think it will be a new day for the city. Some talented people are coming to the city council. The signal is that the power will come back more quickly to the mayor. . . . There is great opportunity here, and the city will do well."
Yesterday's vote brought closure to an election year notable for a pair of surprises.
The first came in late May when Barry put an end to months of speculation with the announcement that he would not seek a fifth term in the office he had held for 16 of the past 20 years. The second came 10 days later when Williams announced that he would resign as chief financial officer to enter the race.
Williams's entry vastly changed the playing field for three council members who had prepared to run against Barry or against each other in the Democratic primary, never expecting that their greatest challenge would come from a man who had lived in the District for less than three years and had never run for office here.
Williams handily defeated the three Chavous, Brazil and Jack Evans (Ward 2) on Sept. 15 and immediately became the front-runner in a city where nearly 78 percent of registered voters are Democrats.
The general election pitted Williams, a newcomer with a reputation as a financial manager but a novice politician, against Schwartz, who first had run for political office in the 1970s and is among the city's most popular officials.
She attacked Williams as an interloper who lacked the skills and knowledge to manage the city. She criticized him as a heartless bureaucrat who fired hundreds of city workers without warning during his overhaul of the city's finances.
Williams, counting on polls that showed him leading by an overwhelming margin, did a political rope-a-dope, backing away from Schwartz's punches for much of the campaign while stressing his own credentials.
The campaign that ended yesterday was considered by some veteran political observers as the least racially charged in the city's history, with the white Republican and the black Democrat drawing support that transcended race.
That race-neutral voting was apparent as voters emerged from their polling places yesterday.
African American Bernice Howell, 60, a health caregiver, voted for Schwartz because "we need a change."
"She's been around for a few years, and a lot of times people have determination and sooner or later they get what they want." said Howell, who voted for Barry four years ago. "She came to our church, and I was impressed with some of the things she said."
Nancy Lightel, a federal employee who is white, said she voted for Williams.
"It was a tough decision," she said. "I wanted someone new in there, to see if they could do something. Carol Schwartz, I know, has been around, and last time I did vote for her. I'm not sure my decision was a good one, but . . ."
At 10 last night, Schwartz entered her party to the sound of the song "Ain't No Stopping Us Now" wearing an electric blue dress and flanked by her three adult children. She hugged supporters and smiled broadly while others wiped away tears.
She began her remarks by saying, "Well folks, tonight I stand proud. Tonight we all stand proud." She thanked her supporters for their dedication and for demonstrating strength and diversity.
"I've learned the only safe thing in life is to take a chance, to stand strong, to fight for what's right," she said. "That way we can never lose because courage is its own victory."
Schwartz congratulated Williams on his win and said that despite the spirited campaign, "the real battle for our city's future is just beginning."
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