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"Levey Live" archives

Q&A With Mayor Anthony A. Williams

Tuesday, July 27, 1999

"Levey Live" appears each Tuesday from noon to 1 p.m. Eastern time. It's your chance to talk directly to to key Washington Post reporters and editors, local officials and people in the news.

Bob Levey
Bob Levey
Craig Cola/
Bob's guest today was Anthony A. Williams, Mayor of the District of Columbia, who also served as the District's Chief Financial Officer from October 1995 to June 1998. Before working in the District government, Williams served as the first CFO for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and as the Deputy State Comptroller of Connecticut. He also served in the U.S. Air Force.

Anthony A. Williams
Anthony A. Williams
Williams holds degrees from Yale College, where he graduated magna cum laude, Harvard Law and the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. Born in Los Angeles, Williams presently resides in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood with his wife and daughter.

Please check out's D.C. Government Special Report.

Here is a transcript of today's session:

Bob Levey: Like it or not, the fate of the District of Columbia still depends greatly on Congress. How is your relationship with the committee chairs? Do they treat you with respect, or do they simply do whatever they want to the city's agenda, regardless of what you say?

Anthony A. Williams: My relationship with the committee chairs is actually quite good. I believe that they have been respectful of our efforts to manage a consensus budget.

Bob Levey: you came into office promising to root out dead wood in the D.C. government. Have you done so? If not, why not?

Anthony A. Williams: My approach on this has been twofold: one, to use aggressively the tools I already have; and two, to fold a lot of the productivity issues into the need for a comprehensive labor strategy. On the first front, we are using the excepted service ranks of management and the new provision for a new class of managers to bring new talent and initiative to our government. On the second, we are investing in our work force while using the bargaining process to make labor a part of the turnaround in our agencies. The verdict is out on this, but it has great promise.

FFX, VA: Bob,
Love the format. Loyal daily reader here, as well as a loyal attendee each Tues. & Fri.

Mr. Williams,
When will DC put meters in the taxi's? Unless you have memorized the zone map, taxi users in this city, can not ever be sure that they are being charged correctly. I used to work downtown, and the fare would vary each time I took a cab from office to metro stop. Why the refusal to move to meters?

Anthony A. Williams: My goal is to make sure that our cabs are professional, clean and are good ambassadors for our city. After all, tourism is the second largest industry in our city. We are doing a study and following that, will be working with the stakeholders and cabbies toward this goal.

Washington DC: Mayor Williams,

First, I'd like to thank you for the accessibility you've shown as mayor. My question is - will we see DC schools openings late again this year?

Anthony A. Williams: Schools are the most important thing we do in local government, which is why I'm disturbed by the circus over at the Board of Ed. I've made changes in our procurement program to make sure that we are supporting the schools as best we can. I see no reason why our schools can't open on time.

Arlington, VA: Do you think DC will become a state in the next 50 years? Or, at least gain certain state rights?

Anthony A. Williams: The clock is ticking. I believe push will come to shove and the Courts, initially, and the Congress, ultimately, will have to ask why the District can be a state for every reason except the most important right in the pantheon of democratic rights: true representation.

The short answer is yes.

Arlington, VA: When Marion Barry left office, and you entered, my husband and I started to think seriously about moving back to the District after a several-year hiatus. However, after witnessing the many hiccups that have marked your tenure to date, I'm not ready to believe that D.C. is on the rebound, and we have put our move on hold. What positive things have you accomplished, and what other projects are on the horizon?

Anthony A. Williams: I would take my tenure so far as a powerful reason for you to move. After all, I can trace all of my "hiccups" to my effort to successfully move this city in a different direction. We are now more customer friendly, cleaner, and business friendly as well. Further, I set a series of goals for myself and have met the overwhelming majority of them: over 200 nuisance homes converted to home ownership; one stop line for customer service; the first inventory of property by the District, enabling us to better market our neighborhoods for investment.

On top of all this, we are moving toward a new approach to labor, a new health care strategy that puts patients first and saves money, and a focus on our neighborhoods.

Come on in, the turbulence is all associated with needed change.

Bob Levey: You took a lot of grief during the campaign about your bow ties. Now they're bugging you about the shorts you wore the other night when you went for a walk in Adams-Morgan. Fair? Irrelevant?

Anthony A. Williams: I pay it no mind.

Bob Levey: You got a pretty rocky reception when you visited East Capitol Dwellings after the murder of Helen Foster-El. Some residents (and Ms. Foster-El's minister) accused you of showing up only when TV cameras were on hand. Was this criticism justified?

Anthony A. Williams: NO. I will have delivered more--and maybe talked less--in Southeast when all this is over. It's impact that counts. In countless neighborhood meetings, we are crafting strategies that partner government with the private sector that will stabilize our neighborhoods. We are already working with the East Capitol community to revitalize both the housing and commerce, with a new supermarket on the site.

Also, when I said I hadn't "been there" I referred to real life experience living there. I've been to countless "meetings" but I still believe it would be patronizing to pretend I know what living in East Capitol is really like.

Washington, DC: Do you think congress will pass the in-state tuition break for DC high school students anytime in the 3-6 months?

Anthony A. Williams: Yes. And I believe it should, as is complements the work the College Access Program is doing on the private side.

Bob Levey: You said you simply forgot to list that $40,000 in consulting income on your income taxes. Do you feel that people bought that explanation?

Anthony A. Williams: Whoaa. It wasn't my income taxes, it was my campaign finance report. I did not route my contracting through the campaign's finance and legal teams, preferring to do it myself. Well, it was a do it yourself job!

Washington DC: Mayor Williams
I've lived in the district for a few years now, and am always amazed at the vast polarity between the rich and the poor. Do you think the root cause of this differs from other metropolitan areas or is this simply a "big city" problem?

Anthony A. Williams: Cities around the country have dramatically lost population over the last 50 years, and a huge part of this out migration was the middle class. The middle of the bell curve deflated!

Washington, DC: I really don't have a question, but I do have a comment. I think you are really doing a great job running the city. As a lifelong resident of DC -24 years old-, I have seen a lot of improvement in service since you took office. Just today, I had to get a renewed driver's license. I was in and out in 1 hour, 10 minutes. I was impressed!! Thanks. Keep up the good work.

Anthony A. Williams: Thank you my friend. I believe we've passed the point of no return: we've made real progress but we can't turn back, and, we can't simply stop. (We're out in the middle of a stormy sea).

Washington, DC,: Obviously, Levey is feeding you the easy questions and withholding the tough ones.
One of the major problems in the city are drugs and there are numerous open air drug markets that are well known. Why are they not nightly harassed by the police so they will not have a place to do business or will not have the clientele? Make a couple of special squads of cops to do this on a nightly basis and soon the problem will not be around.

Anthony A. Williams: You've made a good point. It's so good a point that we are actually working on it as I speak. In six neighborhoods we are working on what I call Partners in Problem Solving. The idea will be to combine all of our public safety resources to bring down and keep out drug markets in the effected neighborhoods.

Stay tune next month for details.

Washington DC: Is it true that Arlene Ackerman is asking for a raise and bonus? While she has made significant progress, isn't too early to declare victory and bonuses?

Anthony A. Williams: No one likes to talk about raises and bonuses but I can tell you, it's hard out there to get good people. I have always believed that we should pay our people well and hold them accountable.

Boston Massachusetts: Mr. Mayor, Why do you let yourself be categorized as a "beancounter" when your career has been one of developing and implementing public policy? How can you make the media focus on your actual role?

Anthony A. Williams: I just want to be judged on results. I think the results we accomplish will be seen to be more than an accounting exercise.

Buffalo, New York: Mayor Williams,

As a former DC Area resident who maintains ties to the area, let me congratulate you on your performance as mayor to date, and wish you the best of luck with those unending challenges. One question: why has reform of the Motor Vehicles Division been such a hard nut to crack? Everyone I know in DC is unanimous about the need to improve this agency's performance, but for some reason, it resists all attempts at reform. Why is this? And wouldn't the meat-ax approach, i.e., suspensions, firings, shape-up-or-ship-out warnings, etc., work in this case? How about the appointment of a czar to whip it into shape? Keep up the good work!

Anthony A. Williams: I'm confident that our new Director of DMV, Sherryl Hobbs Newman will in fact crack the nut. Some initial steps have been taken but an enormous amount of work remains. For instance, we are looking to put DMV on line, to create neighborhood based centers, and to improve the processes and service. No stone will be unturned. People will see continued improvement.

Bob Levey: Yesterday, you announced a program to steer more D.C. government contracts to D.C. companies. But what if a D.C. company doesn't submit the low bid? And what if that company isn't the best choice for the job?

Anthony A. Williams: This is all controlling for the right price and quality, for which there cannot be a substitute.

NW DC: Have you finally backed off your plan to move UDC out of Van Ness and into SE. In a time where perception is important, it looked like you wanted to move it in order to use the valuable land for something more lucrative than the University -just put the school on land no one else wants-. Did you really think people wouldn't notice and complain?

Anthony A. Williams: Sorry, but it really wasn't about that. Every one of our agencies has been asked to manage its balance sheet. What does that mean? It means that if one is land rich and cash poor, one should at least explore some basic questions. Also, every agency has been asked to look at what impact relocated operations can make in our neighborhoods, both in terms of service delivery and economic impact.

As for now, I am busy recruiting the very best people I can find for the UDC Board. As the governing body, I will have to address the questions I've asked of all agencies.

Columbia Heights, DC: Mr. Mayor, how do you get folks to have the patience for long-term solutions in our city? Obviously, our problems have been decades in the making. Will people be satisfied with incremental improvements, or will they rebel when they realize everything isn't going to change overnight?

Anthony A. Williams: I try to balance it by seeking to show short term results that complement a longer term design and build strategy. This is really no different from the tradeoffs business managers make in managing investor expectations.

Washington DC: You are answering questions from residents from Virginia and now from Boston. What about my questions about a grocery store in Ward Eight. Are you committed to a grocery store, if yes what specifically are you doing to ensure the residents east of the river that a grocery store will be built?

Anthony A. Williams: I've travelled thousands of miles, and have talked to executives of all of our major food retailers, and I am confident we will see major retail investment in all of our neighborhoods. As to the line of questions, I'm just answering what comes up on the screen.

For real.

Northwest Washington DC: Pls ask him when the road ripping will stop and what is going to be done to restore the damaged roads. I am a D.C. resident and voted for Williams. We are entitled to know this.

Anthony A. Williams: We are developing a transportation plan to better coordinate the road work, and we are also introducing tighter performance contracting to see that the work done actually leaves the roads in better shape. Finally, we are looking at ways to have the telecommunications people and DPW do a better job on the road cuts, which reduce dramatically the life span of a road.

Bob Levey: Now that a few months have passed, what's your view of the famous "niggardly" episode? In retrospect, should you have handled it differently?

Anthony A. Williams: Make decisions "you" have to make, when "you" have to make them. That's lesson one. Lesson two, don't get jittery about criticism that you're "not black enough". You are what you are, and besides, a predominantly African American city elected you Mayor.

Washington, DC: Could you please shed some light on the status of the curfew for DC's teens. Do you support this??

Anthony A. Williams: I think we need a two prong approach: strong enforcement of the curfew with a comprehensive effort to give kids alternatives to standing on the street in the first place. This is why I pushed through $15 million for a new youth investment partnership. As a new report shows again, we are failing our children, and there can be no excuses.

Washington, DC: Did the prostitution question come up on your screen? I'm frankly tired of it and I just settled on my place in Logan.

Anthony A. Williams: Combatting prostitution should be part of a zero tolerance approach to neighborhood crimes. I will pay a visit to Logan Circle and talk to neighborhood leaders and our police officials.

NW Washington DC: I know there has been much hype about the rat problem in DC. I live in a neighborhood with a large, disgusting rat population. I should be able to enjoy my yard without the fear of rats!! What do you plan to do about this unsanitary problem?

Anthony A. Williams: We have taken a number of steps. We are hiring more inspectors, issuing thousands of new trash cans, and bringing in the world expert on invertebrate biology. He is developing for us an overall strategy that we will share with the Council and control board. With a massive, consistent approach, we can get on top of this problem.

WDC: I'll ask this question again, what is being done about the meters not accepting the new quarters? They take the quarters, but don't register the time.

Anthony A. Williams: Call 727-1000 and we'll see that the meter is fixed.

WDC: I'll ask this question again, what is being done about the meters not accepting the new quarters? They take the quarters, but don't register the time.

Anthony A. Williams: Call 727-1000 and we'll see that the meter is fixed.

Bob Levey: Has the MCI Center truly energized downtown as much as many people say? Sure, if you run a parking lot or a restaurant, the news has been all good. But what about retailing, office building growth, small business?

Anthony A. Williams: It's all about critical mass. The MCI Center itself will not bring downtown where we want it to be, although it can play a big part. With the new developments planned or in progress in the area, our downtown is well on its way. It's our neighborhoods that need the real attention.

Washington, DC: I am a struggling mother who is looking for a permanent job so that I can get off Public Assistance. Is it possible that you can open up more job opportunities in the District Government for those who want a "GOOD" job that pays enough to maintains a home, take care of the home, and provide ample enough food so that the occupants of the home can dine sufficiently?

Anthony A. Williams: Call 727-1000 and ask for the number for "Answers Please", and they will connect you to resources, whether it be transportation, job readiness preparation and counseling, day care, and placement.

washington, dc: How do you feel about dc's reputation? Arlington va's question reminded me of how many hoops I've always felt that DC has had to jump through, as not many people thinking of moving to other cities are coordinating their move with the successes of an elected official. Do you feel that, no matter what your successes, the reputation of DC will drive people away from it, and lead them to overly analyze and criticize what you've done?

Anthony A. Williams: I believe the reputation of our city is improving. The problem we have with our suburbs and a sometimes holier than thou attitude is actually quite typical of the situation you'd face in Detroit, or Oakland, or LA. It's the cards we're dealt. (Excuse the grammar!)

Bob Levey: Many thanks to Mayor Williams for a spirited session. Be sure to join us next Tuesday, Aug. 3, at the same time, when our guest will be Tracy Grant, the newly appointed managing editor for the new mid-day on-line edition of The Washington Post. And don't forget the Friday anything-goes version of this show. We call it "Levey Live: Speaking Freely." It appears every Friday from 1 to 2 p.m. Eastern time.

© 1999 The Washington Post Company

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