D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams said yesterday that even though D.C. Council members "haven't done a damn thing for me," he would try to work more closely with them after their rejection of his plan to use tobacco settlement money to pay for union workers' bonuses.
Williams (D), still steaming over council members' sharp criticism of him during their Tuesday session, vehemently disagreed with their complaints that he has not tried to develop much of a relationship with the council since taking office in January.
"I strenuously object to any notion that I don't reach out to the council," the mayor said. "I go to enormous lengths to reach out to them, consult with them, make sure they're on board. I've made announcements with them and supported them . . . even when they haven't done a damn thing for me."
Council members waved off Williams's criticism yesterday and insisted that their dispute with the mayor isn't personal. Instead, they said, they are frustrated that after nearly a year as mayor, Williams is still short enough on political savvy that he would send them a controversial bill with little warning and expect them to approve it immediately.
"A private discussion on his part could have avoided a public rejection, which he seems so disturbed about," said council member Carol Schwartz (R-At Large). "He cannot just go out and do his own thing, then hand us a fiscally irresponsible funding source and expect us to rubber-stamp it. And he should not take these things personally."
The episode has left Williams scrambling once again to come up with the $8.7 million needed to pay for the union bonuses, which he has promised labor leaders he will deliver by Wednesday.
It also revealed the simmering tension between a mayor who thinks former political rivals on the council are trying to undermine his efforts to change D.C. government, and council members who see a disorganized administration that does not show them much respect.
After a meeting of the presidentially appointed D.C. financial control board late yesterday, Williams and board Chairman Alice M. Rivlin said city officials will try to find a source for the bonus money by Friday so an estimated 5,100 union employees could receive checks by the end of next week.
"We're going to work very hard over the next 48 hours to make this happen," Williams said.
"This money will be paid," said Rivlin, whose panel has oversight of all D.C. government decisions. "The bonuses are not in question. The source of the funds is being worked out."
Rivlin, Williams and Chief Financial Officer Valerie Holt declined to discuss other funding options. The District has a $150 million budget surplus, but that money won't be available until next year.
Williams initially planned to tap a severance fund to pay for the bonuses, but congressional leaders objected. He then turned to a plan to borrow the money from the first installment of the District's estimated $1.2 billion share of the tobacco settlement, which is to be paid over 25 years.
That drew fire from several D.C. Council members. Besides being surprised by the plan, they cast it as the type of undisciplined spending that plunged the city into near-bankruptcy--and prompted Congress to virtually suspend home rule and appoint the control board.
One council member, Sharon Ambrose (D-Ward 6), called the mayor's plan "despicable."
Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) said he thinks Williams could have made a case to use the tobacco dollars, even though his colleagues argued that officials had agreed to use the money only for health and children's programs.
"I think the council discussion did get too personal, but I think the mayor set himself up for trouble by sending this bill Monday night, particularly when his proposal was known to be controversial," Mendelson said. "If we had had time, we could have worked something out that would not have involved the angst and the bashing."
A source close to Williams said yesterday that the mayor acknowledges making a political miscalculation, but that he believed he had a deal with the council on the bonus funding and was "shocked" his plan was rejected. Williams, the source said, relied too heavily on council Chairman Linda W. Cropp and council member Kathy Patterson (D-Ward 3) to assess the full council's position on the matter.
Cropp could not be reached for comment yesterday; Patterson said she and Williams had no such understanding on the issue.
"I was aware that [using tobacco money] was an option," Patterson said. "I can't say the mayor and I discussed it. We didn't have that kind of conversation."
The source close to Williams said that from now on, the mayor plans to survey every council member before pushing key legislation, to make sure the support is there.
The bonus battle was the second major blow-up between Williams and council members during the past year. They clashed last spring over the council's plan for the largest tax cut in the city's history. Williams did not want the cut, fearing it would jeopardize the city's financial recovery. But with support for the tax cut from Congress, the council outmaneuvered the mayor and adopted most of what it proposed.
Although Williams has had periodic meetings with the council as a group--including a recent breakfast session--members say they do not have regular or reliable contact with his office. Last summer, Williams hired Darlene Taylor as his liaison to the council, but members say she has had little presence in their offices or meetings.
As the city's chief financial officer from 1995 until last year, Williams had good relations with some council members but was viewed suspiciously by others because of his conservative fiscal policies.
In the 1998 mayoral race, he defeated four current council members--Schwartz, Harold Brazil (D-At Large), Kevin P. Chavous (D-Ward 7) and Jack Evans (D-Ward 2). During the campaign, Williams portrayed his opponents as having been on the D.C. political scene for years and having done little as the city's financial and managerial structures collapsed.
Some members of Williams's administration have indicated that some of the council's objections to the mayor stem from lingering bitterness among Schwartz, Chavous and Evans. But Williams's former political foes say that the election is over and that they want to see Williams succeed for the good of the city.
Joslyn N. Williams, president of the Metropolitan Washington AFL-CIO, said union members are frustrated that the mayor and the council did not compromise before erupting into conflict.
"We don't want to get caught in a war between the city council and the executive on this particular issue," he said. "We think there is enough blame to go around."
Staff writer Stephen C. Fehr contributed to this report.
CAPTION: MAYOR ANTHONY WILLIAMS
CAPTION: Council member Carol Schwartz said the mayor shouldn't take his dispute with the council personally.