They telephone each other once a month, and to say they share a common bond is an understatement.
Both are part of a new generation of black urban mayors who took over majority-black cities from former civil rights leaders. Both inherited city governments long on incompetence and cronyism. And both see technology and economic development as the great equalizer and providers of opportunity for low-income residents.
The mentor is Dennis Archer, the 57-year-old Detroit mayor who is five years into a plan to revitalize that city of 1.2 million. The protege is the District's Anthony A. Williams (D), 48, who frequently has turned to Archer for guidance in devising his blueprint for improving city services, reducing crime, improving education and improving the economy in this city of 523,000.
In the chaotic opening months of Williams's administration, the range of immediate challenges the mayor has faced--from reducing long lines at the Department of Motor Vehicles to repairing potholes and negotiating a budget pact with the D.C. Council--often has turned the focus away from Williams's long-term goals.
But anyone who wonders about Williams's vision for the future need only look about 600 miles to the west, where Archer is directing what urban analysts say is a dramatic turnaround.
The Detroit Democrat is doing it with a formula not unlike that used by Republican New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and a few others: Crack down on street crime--particularly drugs, burglaries, carjackings and prostitution--to make the city more welcoming. Tear down abandoned buildings, and speed up the approval process for developers interested in the city.
Then, aggressively lobby businesses to come to the city, taking advantage of the current economic boom and a rising desire among some business leaders to return to the cities. Finally, keep in touch with residents by holding frequent town hall meetings and other gatherings that Archer calls "Mayor's Night In."
Williams has watched, learned and copied.
"I like what Mayor Archer is doing in Detroit," Williams said. "We're both trying to do the same things: make government work better, manage growth, create a better climate for businesses and strengthen communities."
Williams visited Detroit last year after the September primary as part of a five-city tour to learn more about how big-city mayors govern their cities, manage their employees and deliver city services. His meeting with Archer led to a series of candid conversations that have helped shape Williams's long-range plans.
The D.C. mayor already has streamlined several city agencies and is trying to make D.C. government more customer-friendly to residents. Like Archer, Williams has implemented a plan to help developers get building permits more easily.
Williams also has placed a new emphasis on technology education, particularly as a way to provide job opportunities to low-income residents. And recently, Williams launched a crackdown on open-air drug markets that have long plagued neighborhoods and scared away potential investors in the city.
Bernard Demczuk, an assistant vice president at George Washington University and former aide to Marion Barry, said Archer and Williams are part of a new generation of African American leaders whose priorities are different from those of their more flamboyant and controversial predecessors--the late Coleman Young and Barry--whose roots were in the civil rights movement.
Instead of race and social justice, Archer and Williams talk more about technology, economic development and city services.
"We are in the post-civil rights era," said Demczuk, an adviser to civil rights leader Jesse L. Jackson over the years. "Race certainly matters, but in today's political climate, performance matters more. . . . Mayor Williams and Mayor Archer represent both race and performance. It's a one-two punch that works well in politics."
The new-era approach hasn't always worked well in the community, however. Some black residents continue to view the new mayor with suspicion and want a leader who is more vocal on civil rights issues. Archer has been criticized by black residents for not being sensitive to some of their concerns.
"Both Mayor Archer and Mayor Williams had to replace legends, and that is a difficult situation for them," said Earl C. Cabbell, who is executive vice president of the District's Public Benefit Corporation and has worked for both Archer and Williams. Detroit's Young and Washington's Barry "were giants in politics and the civil rights movement and had a strong political base.
"But Archer and Williams have established their own identities, both are visionaries and extremely intelligent," said Cabbell, who served as Archer's chief accounting officer from 1994 to 1996 before moving to Washington, where he served as deputy to Williams, then the city's chief financial officer. "They are both detail-oriented. They both set the bar very high, and they don't accept anything less from the people who work for them."
Archer knows the difficulties of Williams's historical position.
"It's hard enough to come behind living legends . . . and in Marion Barry's case, a person who people still love," Archer said. "But people have to also give Mayor Williams a chance . . . to demonstrate his leadership abilities."
Learning from Detroit
Williams's ambitious plan to attract investors to the District--and particularly to long-neglected areas east of the Anacostia River--are based partly on ideas from Archer.
It was Archer who encouraged Williams to attend a national convention of retail executives in Las Vegas earlier this summer. As a result of that convention, Williams said, several potential investors have visited the District and others have expressed interest in opening retail shops in a redevelopment project his administration is pushing for east of the Anacostia.
In Detroit, Archer has been credited with persuading several large retailers to move back into the city from the suburbs, and with developing a plan to help small businesses prosper at a time when companies are looking to shorten commuter times for workers by returning to the city.
In downtown Detroit, General Motors is moving to an existing landmark, and Compuware Corp. is building a headquarters; CVS Corp. has opened 20 new Arbor Drug stores in Detroit over the past three years and intends to open 13 more stores next year. Archer says the development will bring a total of 37,000 new workers to the inner city in the next five years.
It's something Williams wants to emulate, but there is an economic development strategy of Archer's that the D.C. mayor isn't so keen about: casino gambling.
Archer is counting on gambling tax revenue to contribute $50 million to Detroit's $2.9 billion budget this year and $250 million over the next four years. Detroit, the largest U.S. city with legalized gambling, soon will be home to a cluster of three land-based casinos along the Detroit River.
Unlike Archer, Williams is not a fan of casino gambling and says it will not be part of his economic development plan for the District.
Otherwise, Williams says he is impressed with Archer's efforts.
"We want to make the District attractive to investors," Williams said. "We all have efforts to support small businesses because they are a major part of the economy. Mayor Archer has done a good job with small businesses and big businesses in Detroit, and we want to do the same here."
In Detroit, Archer has assisted black-owned business by ordering that many city contracts go to firms in the city, which are overwhelmingly African American. Because the District's black business community is not as strong, Williams is focusing more on developing and nurturing small black-owned businesses,
Three weeks ago, Williams participated in a meeting at a black-owned Northeast Washington mop manufacturer with President Clinton and Vice President Gore to announce a national mentoring program between small businesses and major corporations. And last week, Williams shared the stage with Aida Alvarez, who heads the Small Business Administration, to announce a national program to stimulate economic growth in distressed communities. The District's Ward 8, which is east of the Anacostia, will become a focal point of the program Alvarez said.
Williams said that since he was sworn into office in January, his administration's efforts to develop businesses have led to an 86 percent increase in companies that have become certified for a D.C. program that provides loans and other assistance to small, minority-owned businesses.
Williams said he has learned from Archer's experiences and will continue to keep in touch with Archer by telephone. Archer said he's glad to help.
"I am impressed with Mayor Williams's vision for Washington, D.C., his passion for the city," Archer said, adding that Williams "didn't have all the answers, but felt he could make a difference. . . . He has fire in his belly."
CAPTION: Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer rolls a pair of oversize dice at the opening of a casino in July. D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams says casino gambling is one renewal plan he won't copy.
CAPTION: D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams, left, is following the lead of Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer in efforts to improve the city.