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    Q&A With Anthony A. Williams

    Anthony A. Williams
    Anthony A. Williams
    (file photo)

    "Levey Live," appears each Tuesday from noon to 1 p.m. Eastern time. It is a live, moderated discussion offering washingtonpost.com users the chance to ask questions directly of the people who make the news and the people who report it.

    Today, we present another in our series of special "Levey Live" shows focusing on the campaign to become the next mayor of Washington, D.C.

    Bob Levey
    Bob Levey
    Todd Cross/TWP
    My guest is Anthony A. Williams, the Democratic mayoral candidate. Williams was previously the District of Columbia's chief financial officer, a position he held from October 1995 to June 1998. Williams, 47, resigned the office to run for mayor. Williams was formerly chief financial officer for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He holds degrees from Yale and Harvard Universities. He and his wife live in Ward 2.

    The text of the chat follows.



    Lorton, Va.: What is your position on a commuter tax? Should residents of Virginia and Maryland who work in the District be required to pay such a tax?

    Anthony A. Williams: I believe that the District should be treated as any other city should be treated. Many other cities have the ability to "tax income at its source" and the District should be no different. We should have the ability to levy a "reciprocal tax", meaning that the residents of Maryland and Virginia who work in the District would pay a tax but would be able to credit this tax against their Maryland or Virginia returns.

    Therefore, workers in the District would be paying a different tax, not a new one. We have to work with the states involved, the federal government, and District leadership to see that the District is treated as it should be, and everyone pays a fair share.


    Washington, D.C.: What role do you foresee the next mayor playing vis a vis the public schools? It seems like the schools have many chiefs these days. Will the next mayor be one of them? Over the long run, would you like to see the mayor assume more control over the schools and the elected school board have less (or no) control?

    Anthony A. Williams: This is a good question. Actually, we have gone from a situation where we have too many employees to a situation where we now have too many chiefs! Too many cooks do spoil the broth, to coin the old cliche.

    I think that the mayor's key role is in the following areas: one, budget, setting priorities for school management on a neighborhood basis; and two, providing leadership for our city, uniting our government and city in preparing, and supporting, children outside of the classroom. For instance, a large number of our children hail from single-parent homes, where mothers are looking for work. We need to look at the support we provide her, as a working mother who must provide structure and foundation for her child to learn.

    All of this will take an investment priority from the city, and, significantly, the cooperation of business, nonprofits, and the faith community.


    Washington, D.C.: Do you believe Washington residents deserve a cut in income taxes? Isn't there some way to make it possible? Wouldn't an income tax cut spur growth?

    Anthony A. Williams: Two things are true. Citizens don't make decisions to stay or leave a city primarily on tax grounds. And the citizens of our city are the most heavily taxed people in America. What to do?

    I think our first order of business is to focus the limited tax cutting ability we have – we are $3 billion behind on capital investments on small businesses, those businesses most likely to grow and provide jobs for our residents and an expanded tax base for our government. I do think that federal aid should be invested as in tax cuts for residents, and I strongly support Congresswoman [Eleanor Holmes] Norton's bill for a progressive flat tax and an expansion of no capital gains in the District.


    Bob Levey: You have been criticized for living in Washington less than three years and voting only once in the past five elections. Do you think it might be an asset to be the new guy on the block?

    Anthony A. Williams: The low number of persons voting in the last election I hope is a remnant of disillusionment and disenchantment built up by years of over-promising and under-delivering by the District government. People drafted me to run for mayor because they wanted to bring new energy into the political process, provide people with a choice, and point our city in a new direction that welcomes new residents, and hence, new tax-paying citizens.

    I think we need an "open door" approach. While I regret not voting in special council elections, I note that overwhelming majorities of District citizens also did not vote, because they felt it didn't matter. I think I set an example by leaving my job and risking my livelihood to give citizens a new vision for our future.

    On the other point, I think a fresh perspective is helpful. I believe I see potential in our city that the candidates from the past don't see. I really see that that this is a great city with overwhelming potential!


    Columbia, Md.: Although Washington, D.C., is THE capitol of the United States of America, it has a very poor image. What are your plans for improving this image and presenting it in a more positive way?

    Anthony A. Williams: Well, first of all, there has to be an impact to back up a better image, or else we're talking more rhetoric, and not results. The most important thing we can do is to manage our government in such a way that we command the respect of our country. With this foundation, we have the ability to then put out a welcome mat for the District to the world, letting everyone know that a new day has dawned in our nation's capital.

    But again, results have to measure up the rhetoric.


    Bob Levey: Any comment on Mayor Barry's controversial view that the D.C. Council "ought to reflect the [racial] makeup of the city"?

    Anthony A. Williams: A majority of District residents feel as I do – and as our courts and Congress have felt – and that is that the makeup of a local legislature should reflect the diversity of the local public. Having set this as an ideal, we have to distinguish ideal from reality, personal aspiration from personal choice.

    I believe as an African American in maximizing the political potential of our people, but I DO NOT believe that race should play a part in an actual voting decision. Race in the ballot box should be irrelevant.


    Bob Levey: Half an hour remaining with our guest, Anthony A. Williams, Democratic candidate for mayor of Washington, D.C.


    washington,d.c.: PUBLIC WORKS IS IN SHAMBLES. EVEN [Chief Management Officer Camille C.] BARNETT CAN'T EVEN BRING IT UNDER CONTROL. DO YOU PLAN TO TOTALLY REORGANIZE THE DEPT. AND BRING ORDER BACK TO THE CITY WHERE A RETURN TO NORMAL SERVICES WILL BE A 1ST TRUE TEST THAT YOU CAN BRING BACK ORDER AND CONGRESS WILL SEE FOR ITSELF THAT WASHINGTON, D.C., IS TRULY ON THE ROAD TO RECOVERY AND A STEP CLOSER BACK TO HOME RULE WITH THE MAYOR IN CHARGE OF THE CITY GOVERNMENT.

    Anthony A. Williams: Our approach to agency management has two components: initial bypass surgery followed by long-term rehabilitation. What do I mean? First, we have to distinguish in our agencies the critical from the casual, the necessary from the nice. That is, we have to focus and concentrate our time and attention on the essential things public works does and apply whatever is necessary to realizing that objective. To give you an example, in the Office of Tax and Revenue, we went from 55 among the states – and there are only 50 states – to the first rank of states in sending back tax refunds. OVER 160,000 IN LESS THAN 30 DAYS! This was faster than the IRS, and was done by "agency bypass surgery". If there's a blockage in the agency, you've got to detour around it.

    Rehabilitation calls for managed competition. Give our employees the tools, resources, and training to compete and they will do a better job at less cost to the taxpayer. This is the experience in comeback cities such as Philadelphia, Detroit, and Indianapolis.


    Bob Levey: You haven't won ringing endorsements from any of the men you beat in the Democratic primary. Will this be a factor on Nov. 3?

    Anthony A. Williams: Yes and no. Yes, I believe I have received solid endorsements from my opponents. If you compare my endorsements to those from your archives, I'm sure they stack up. And no, I don't think the degree of endorsement is that important in any case. Endorsements merely give the endorsee access to a group of voters. The candidate has to work that group and forge a connection on his or her own. Nothing is handed to you.


    Washington, D.C.: What is your opinion on sometime proposals by supply-siders such as Jack Kemp that the federal income tax should be greatly reduced in the District, particularly in more downtrodden areas, in order to stimulate business growth?

    Anthony A. Williams: As I noted earlier, I think that Congresswoman Norton's plan is an ingenious way to get blood out of a turnip, or dollars from a Republican-majority Congress. I support the Kemp-Norton plan for a progressive flat tax and not capital gains throughout the District.


    Bob Levey: The Post recently called you "The anti-Barry." Fair? Accurate?

    Anthony A. Williams:

    You've got two cars heading for the same destination: support for our youth, dedication to our seniors, encouragement of development in our city. The Barry model overheated in its later years with an overemphasis on air conditioning, radio and stereo, and nice add-ons while the transmission and power plant were in need of a major tune up. Finally, the engine just broke down.


    My "car" offers a good engine, great transmission, but we've got not too comfortable seats and AM radio. In the final analysis, I think people realize it's what's under the hood that counts.


    Washington, D.C.: What is your opinion of Barry administration?

    Anthony A. Williams: As I have said before, we have seen a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions. We have had a mayor of prodigious talent and substantial knowledge of government with the ability to literally "go to China," using his credibility in our city to point it in a new direction. And he didn't.

    At the same time, the mayor has set a standard with his commitment to youth, youth leadership, seniors, small business, and development generally, particularly downtown. No one can accuse me of being a Barry apologist. We've had too many battles for that; but no one should count me as a Barry basher either. He has contributed to this city and it's now time to look forward, not backward.



    Bob Levey: The bow tie has become your signature. Why do you like bow ties so much? Do you find them hard to tie? Do you mind it when people say that wearing a bow tie makes you seem stiff and formal?

    Anthony A. Williams: Why do I like bow ties. Hmmm. The questions you get on the campaign trail. I like them because they show reserve, and I think reserve is important in getting things done. Keep a low profile, share credit, and look what you can accomplish.

    But I also like them because they show individuality and conformity at the same time. They're never really in fashion and at the same time very expressive. They are sometimes eye-catching and at the same time cheap. Check it out, they're half the cost of a regular tie.

    Finally, I like them because they irk my wife, who is really not a big fan of them.


    And I do prefer the straight-edged type, with a small knot. I'm not a big fan of the 8-foot wingspan bow ties you sometimes see.

    That's it for bow ties.


    Bob Levey: That's it for today. Our thanks to Anthony A. Williams, Democratic candidate for mayor of Washington, D.C. Be sure to join us next Tuesday when we will take a look at Congressional races around the country, and how they are being affected (or not) by the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal.


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