Tony Williams's Excellent Adventure
We already knew that when the big blizzard hit, Mayor Tony Williams cut short a vacation in Puerto Rico -- where he was spending Presidents Day weekend with wife Dianne -- and made his way to the nation's capital in time to appear on the 11 o'clock news. Yesterday we got the fascinating back-story of Hizzoner's Sunday train ride from Newark to Union Station.
"My pregnant wife and I were on the same train," a Washington lawyer told us, asking for anonymity because his law firm does business with the city. "The train was so full that we had to ride between the cars in the baggage compartment. The mayor, however, was in the mostly empty front car along with the Philadelphia Seventy-Sixers."
We hear that Hizzoner and a couple of friends had been met at the Newark airport by a delegation of New Jersey Transit cops, who gave them a ride to the Amtrak station and put them aboard the car occupied by the hoopsters. "After the Sixers got off in Philly, we were allowed into the car, and all the unwashed masses got to eat their leftovers -- boxes of pizza and Popeye chicken," our informant went on. "They tore at the food like wild animals....We sat right in front of the mayor."
Close enough, in other words, to overhear the mayor and his pals discussing Sixer shooting guard Allen Iverson's headgear ("Did you see that do-rag?" Williams marveled), and to eavesdrop as Williams conferred on his cell phone with communications director Tony Bullock.
"He was upset about a recent article concerning some gift that he received" -- a Post report on a $500 Mont Blanc pen that scandal-ridden teachers union president Barbara Bullock (no relation to Tony) had paid for with union dues. "I felt like I got jumped," the mayor complained to his spokesman. Then the conversation shifted to more important matters.
"Clearly, the question of how he would be perceived by the public was weighing heavy on his mind," our spy recounted. "He was worried about the type of entrance he would make at Union Station. He must have said 100 times, 'It's not like I am wearing a Hawaiian shirt and shorts' and 'It's not like I'll be stepping off the train to the beat of the samba drums.' "
Yesterday Tony Bullock insisted that the conversation was about physical warmth, not public image. "For all I knew, he'd run to the plane wearing nothing but shorts and a T-shirt," Bullock said. "He asked that somebody bring an EMA" -- Emergency Management Agency -- "jacket for him to wear. It was cold outside."
As the snow blanketed the passing countryside, our witness asked the mayor if the streets of Washington were being plowed. "I assume the plows are out," Hizzoner replied. But what did a "state of emergency mean" to the people trying to get home? Was the Metro running? "Er, ah, I don't know, but you'll be fine," our spy quoted the mayor as answering. "These were pretty serious questions, given that we were all headed into quite a mess," our informant said.
The mayor's spokesman had his own complaint: "It's incredibly bad form, especially for a lawyer, to be eavesdropping on somebody's private conversations and then calling the newspaper."
On arriving at Union Station, the mayor was greeted by top staffers and EMA officials, who briefed him on the situation as they led him to his two-vehicle motorcade and spirited him away to the city's blizzard command center. Our informant and his wife, meanwhile, stood on a taxi line with hundreds of stranded passengers; after rejecting several offers of $100 cab rides to their home in Northwest D.C., they waited for the Metro and eventually reached their front door around 2 a.m.
"I'm sure they had a perfectly awful day, like thousands of other travelers," Bullock said. "It wasn't the day to be traveling. But that's not the mayor's fault."
THIS JUST IN...
* Yesterday's mention of Donald Trump taking off in his private jet from Reagan National Airport -- based on Trump's assertion that he used National Saturday night after Michael Jordan's birthday bash -- has thrown the civil aviation community into an uproar. "National airport has been closed since 9-11 to all but airlines and a select few government planes," a charter service supervisor scolded us. "It is impossible for Donald Trump to fly in or out of National in his private jet." Sam Donaldson speculated on his syndicated radio show that maybe Trump obtained a special government exception unavailable to mere mortals, and one of Donaldson's producers theorized that the thatch-roofed billionaire is still flying under the flag of his long-defunct Trump Shuttle. But Trump's assistant told us that her boss was simply disoriented. "He took off from Dulles, not Reagan," she said after consulting the pilot. "He was in the car on the way to the plane, and he wasn't focused on the airport." Leading us to imagine that squeeze-model Melania Knauss must have been mussing his hair.
* U.S. News & World Report Executive Editor Brian Kelly and Washington lawyer Mark London have just signed a six-figure deal with Random House to update their 1983 book "Amazon" -- which means they'll revisit the jungles of Brazil this summer. The idea -- other than to avoid catching tropical diseases -- is to explore little-known sections of the river and discover what has happened there since the duo first chronicled the destruction of the rainforest. "Mid-life crisis summoned me," Kelly explained. London told us: "The question is not 'Why you would want to do this?' but 'Why wouldn't you?'"