While Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) was in Utah on Monday, chatting about global warming with Al Gore and Robert Redford, he decided to speak out against a senator's proposal to change the D.C. school voucher program.
When he was in Beijing a few weeks ago, he found time to be upset with the D.C. Council for advocating tax breaks that he said would mostly benefit the city's richest neighborhoods.
And during a visit to Los Angeles last month, Williams blasted members of Congress for trying to repeal the District's gun laws.
To his critics, the mayor is a laconic figure who sometimes appears to be bored by the routine machinations of city government. But judging from the recent statements he has issued during his travels, Williams is able to tap a heretofore unknown reservoir of energy, passion and outspokenness when he leaves District airspace.
Could it be that his aides are orchestrating these pronouncements from the road to deflect criticism of his traveling and to craft the appearance of an engaged executive?
"It's a cute premise, but it has nothing to do with the reality of the mayor and his schedule," said Vince Morris, Williams's press secretary.
"The mayor on any given day does a ton of things," Morris said. "It doesn't matter if he's in China or upstairs."
Williams hasn't been "upstairs" at the John A. Wilson Building very often this year. He has spent the equivalent of more than two full months out of the city, visiting Beijing, London and Puerto Rico, among other places. Next on the itinerary: Hawaii, Europe and perhaps another brief jaunt to Beijing. Some of the travel is connected to Williams's service as president of the National League of Cities.
The mayor, who has not said whether he'll seek a third term, has been filling his days at home with more public events in recent weeks. Today, for example, Williams -- fresh from attending Major League Baseball's All-Star Game in Detroit -- is scheduled to appear for a photo opportunity aboard a new D.C. Circulator bus.
But the written statements issued from distant locales suggest that Williams also wants to be seen as someone who is focused on D.C. matters even while he's away.
In addition to his declarations from China, Salt Lake City and Los Angeles, Williams in the past month has appointed a school board member during his trip to London and commented from Puerto Rico on a Supreme Court ruling about eminent domain.
Williams was in Salt Lake City on Monday to attend the Sundance Summit on climate change, where he informed the participants that "global warming is perhaps the most urgent environmental threat that we now face."
But the statement his press office issued on D.C. school vouchers that day was datelined "Washington, D.C." Like several of his other recent out-of-town announcements, his comments opposing a Republican senator's move to expand the voucher program were not especially timely. The senator had revealed his plans nearly two weeks earlier.
Morris said the mayor's increased communication from the road is simply part of a new emphasis on public outreach. Morris said he is trying to let people know as much as possible what the mayor is doing and thinking.
"I know there's a preoccupation with [his travel] among some reporters, but I don't think it registers with people on the street," Morris added.
He said the mayor "has an international vision of the city and is not satisfied with being defined by the four walls of his office and a few miles of street."