On the Trail With Anthony A. Williams
Friday, Aug. 21, 1998
Part of a series chronicling a day with each major candidate for D.C. mayor.
Aug. 20, 9:20 a.m.:
Tony Williams is warming up.
He carefully picks at his blueberry muffin, listening to the three ministers who have joined him for breakfast at the famed Old Ebbitt Grill. Heís uttered only a few words since climbing into the campaign Dodge at his Foggy Bottom condominium 30 minutes earlier. Williams seems comfortable in the silence.
Besides, his audience is not a hard sell.
They like him, like his mother, like his idea for a technology high school in Southeast Washington, like to talk about other ideas. He collected one campaign check before the waitress filled his coffee. Heíll get two more before their bill arrives.
In between, the conversation follows an oddly logical path.
Douglas E. Moore, a Methodist minister and former D.C. Council member who addresses Williams as "Mr. Mayor to Be," pores over a dish of eggs and wonders aloud if leasing capital equipment such as cars might not be financially appealing for the city. Talk of equipment leads to computers, computers to technology, technology to jobs, jobs to workers, workers to education, education back to Williamsís proposal for a tech school.
"The greatest thing you can do for this city is to get the churches to establish a coalition with the schools," Charles Alford, associate minister at New Macedonia Baptist Church in Southeast Washington, tells Williams.
The candidate agrees.
"Everyone beats up on it, but Iím a big believer in the whole Hillary [Clinton line], 'It takes a village to raise a child,'" Williams says, echoing a point heíll repeat later in the day.
The gathering is small, but its occupants have great reach. Besides his political background, Moore is an activist and president of his own gas company. Alfordís church is in Ward 8, crucial in the 1994 mayoral race. The third participant, Rev. Willie Borden, is a minister at Scripture Cathedral Ministries in Northwest Washington. His superior, Bishop C.L. Long, hosts an AM radio program; Williams wants to be a guest.
Breakfast runs long and Williams arrives later than expected at his campaign headquarters across from Farragut Square. Itís sparse a cluster of rooms with partitions, magic-marker posters, two copiers, no windows, just enough chairs and busy.
Williams stands in the center of the office, his arms outstretched, poring intently over a newspaper. Heís scanning a list published in The Post's District Weekly of all the contributors to the mayoral candidates. His roll of contributors fills a page and a half.
Heís supposed to be making fund-raising calls, but thereís no time. The schedule is crowded: a private meeting with a downtown developer, rescheduled from the previous day; lunch with business executives; a visit to a community newspaper; a press conference on a new policy proposal; two meet-and-greet fund-raisers and two forums with the other candidates.
The last one is intriguing. Not only will it air live on the cityís cable station, but word is out that Mayor Marion Barry will moderate, an unusual role for a sitting mayor. Barry hasnít backed a candidate; his support could be the X-factor.
Anything is possible.
12:41 p.m.: Preaching to the Choir
The warm-up is over. Williams is on.
Maybe it was lunch a tuna sandwich, his favorite, and the first real sustenance of the day. He thinks heís lost weight since he started campaigning in June. More likely, itís the crowd that energizes him: 18 developers and real estate executives, gathered in a second floor conference room at CB Commercial, 700 14th St. NW, to hear the candidate.
His gray-pinstriped jacket is draped over a chair. The signature bow tie is in place this one blue with white dots. He jokes about his pants, which heís had since graduate school. They ride a bit high at the ankles. His wife hates them, calls them the Flood Pants. "Always have to be prepared," he quips.
He stands next to a flip chart, a blue marker in his hand, illustrating answers to their questions, as if he were back teaching at Columbia or Southern Illinois.
What about the cityís working class? Itís like this, he says, drawing a camel-back curve to show how upper-income and lower-income dominate the population and the middle is missing, a trend many cities have endured.
Will the economy continue to surge? Another page, blue streaks, one for revenue, another for expenditures, and shades in between to show the boosts he credits to the national economy, which he canít control, and to city leadership, which he can.
He is relaxed, an all-star shortstop gloving grounders in batting practice. He knows that some say the mayorís seat is his to lose. He tells the business people he believes he can win each of the cityís eight wards. He means it. And he asks them to stand behind him after the election.
"This city has tremendous potential, if we just stop whining and get with the program," he says. He also asks them to stick with him as change eases in, "because the first year is not going to be pretty."
As they leave, the business people pass their cards to Williamsí aide, Tiffany Blackstone. Each will get a follow-up letter or call.
Continues on next page.
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