Williams Inaugurated as D.C. Mayor
Washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Saturday, January 2, 1999
Anthony A. Williams became the District's fourth mayor this afternoon, pledging to build an independent, world-class city and urging its residents to help him do it.
Williams, 47, the former D.C. chief financial officer credited with guiding the city government out of a fiscal crisis, recited his oath of office at 12:15 p.m. as it was administered by D.C. Superior Court Judge Eugene N. Hamilton.
Williams smiled, then kissed his wife, Diane, and his mother, Virginia Williams, as thousands watched in the atrium of the Ronald Reagan International Trade Center in downtown Washington.
The new mayor declared a new beginning for the city and vowed to run a government that puts children first, keeps streets clean and answers the phone calls of its constituents. He also pledged during a 20-minute address that his administration would be "a tireless, tireless champion" for self-governance.
But he said he needed help.
"Well, Dr. King, those people of good will are here today. Aren't they?" Williams asked, drawing applause and cheers. "We are putting our bodies and souls in motion. And a great deal will be done."
Invoking a football analogy, he asked residents to take to the field and leave the cheering and booing to others: "Come on out of the stands, people. Suit up. Get in the game. Let's win this together."
His installment brought an end to the era of Mayor Marion Barry, who exits after four terms but leaves a vastly different office from the one Williams will enter. Last month, the financial control board established by Congress agreed to give Williams most of the authority it stripped from Barry in August 1997.
Williams hoped to sign that agreement today and said he will quickly work with the board and Congress to identify the criteria needed to restore home rule.
Barry, meanwhile, was emotional as he passed the District seal to his successor and spoke for the final time as mayor. He urged the city to embrace Williams and thanked its residents for their faith, their love and their forgiveness.
"I can't think of any place I'd rather live, any place I'd rather be," he said, his voice hoarse from a cold.
Barry pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped his face and eyes as he closed his remarks. The audience rose to its feet, clapping.
The two-hour ceremony, held indoors because of the threat of sleet and snow, also included the swearing in of three new and two incumbent D.C. Council members.
The focus, however, was on Williams, the adopted son of Los Angeles postal workers who received degrees from Harvard and Yale before a public service career that led him in 1996 to become the District's chief financial officer.
He planned to step as mayor into his new office for the first time this afternoon, then attend a private reception at One Judiciary Square. Thousands of supporters were expected to return to the Reagan building tonight for the inaugural ball. Tickets for the 7 p.m. gala remain available at $35 apiece.
One wild card, however, was the weather. Organizers were unsure whether the severe winter weather predicted for tonight might cause them to alter the events, but Williams told reporters he was confident the city's Public Works Department was prepared for any storm.
He'll meet with his cabinet officers Monday and distribute orientation packets that outline his expectations and how his administration will work. Each officer will be called upon to deliver status reports on their departments within a week, Williams said.
He also said he hopes to schedule friendly brown-bag lunches to meet with city employees. Asked whether workers should worry about their futures, Williams responded, "If they don't do their job, then, yeah, they ought to worry."
But much of the day's rhetoric was about hope and promise.
It started at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Woodley Park, where 2,000 people crammed a ballroom to christen the Williams era with prayer, song and speech over plates of eggs, bacon, sausage and muffins.
Joseph Weinberg, senior rabbi of the Washington Hebrew Congregation, likened Williams's inauguration to an impending marriage. "Our city is the good and healthy bride," he said. "And we rejoice that it has found a gifted and talented groom in the person of Anthony Williams."
Throughout the event, Williams seemed at ease. He wore a gray pinstripe suit and his trademark patterned bow tie, often cracking a smile and welcoming the cameras and questioners who approached him and his wife at the table.
He quipped that one senior citizen had warned him, "It's all downhill from here, baby." And, as the event ran long, he lobbed a friendly jab at Barry. "We have to get down to the swearing in," he said. "Nothing personal, but I want to take office."
Civic, political and religious leaders paraded to the microphone to pray, offer advice and support. D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp reminded the crowd to keep their expectations realistic. Alice M. Rivlin, chairman of the financial control board, spoke hopefully that the new administration would “work the control board out of a job." And Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) told Williams, "We know we must do more than pray for you."
Williams briefly thanked his supporters and his parents, whom he credited with pushing him and not giving up hope. He urged others to do the same for their children.
"I stand here and I represent that there is that hope and there is that opportunity down the road," he told the audience.
More than three dozen family members and in-laws attended the ceremony, and his mother, a professional opera singer, sang twice during the day's events.
It was less than a year ago that Williams, being hailed for orchestrating the District's financial turnaround, flatly stated that he would not seek the mayor's seat. But he resigned in May to run for mayor, three weeks after Barry announced that he would not seek reelection.
His candidacy built momentum through the summer, riding his image as an outsider who swept in to rescue the city. Today, he stressed that he is not a professional politician but instead became a product of “that political process we call democracy” and thanked the grass-roots group that urged him to run.
“These were everyday citizens who decided they wanted a policy wonk in city hall and then made it happen through coalitions in every one of our 140 precincts,” he said during his address.
He easily won the Democratic nomination in September over three D.C. Council members and topped a fourth, Republican Carol Schwartz, by 2-to-1 in the November general election, though both elections were marked by low turnout.
The council he will work with also changed today, adding three new Democrats.
Jim Graham will replace long-term incumbent Frank Smith Jr. in Ward 1, and Vincent Orange will replace veteran Harry Thomas Sr. in Ward 5. Phil Mendelsohn becomes an at-large council member.
His arrival ended the 21-year council service of Hilda H.M. Mason, the 82-year-old D.C. Statehood Party matriarch who has served the city in elected office since 1972, first as a school board member and since 1977 on the council.
John P. Martin can be reached at email@example.com or by phone at 703-469-3179.
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