Dear Mr. Mayor:
I see that once again you've become bent out of shape because the D.C. Council stuck it to one of your legislative priorities, and then publicly dumped on you to boot. Well, I can understand how you feel, what with one member likening your plan -- to borrow from the tobacco settlement money to pay for union workers' bonuses -- to something out of Marion Barry's playbook. And it probably didn't make you feel good about yourself to hear another lawmaker call your spending plan "despicable." But, sir, I beg of you, get a grip.
Council members are only doing what comes naturally, which is to make themselves look good at someone else's expense. In this case, it's yours.
And truth be told, Mr. Mayor, and with all due respect, you make it easy for them.
Don't you know that, given half the chance, D.C. Council members will always grab what's politically best for themselves and leave you holding the bag? They can't help it. As the saying goes, they have no permanent friends or permanent enemies; only permanent interests. Their overriding concern is to be seen simultaneously as dispensers of goodies and protectors of the public purse. That should come as no surprise. Trying to have it both ways is what they do best.
Their second-most time-consuming pursuit is trying to outsmart you.
They're making headway. To put it bluntly, you are not doing what should come naturally to a political leader. Instead of taking command and pulling the strings in your government -- and building a political organization to keep yourself in business -- you've been maneuvered into the role of acting as the city's official butler: You're inside the big house but not in charge.
That's a pity.
Council members who used to cringe at the mere mention of Marion Barry's name don't think twice about fiddling around with you and then publicly gloating about it.
But don't take your wrath out on them. Be upset with yourself and those around you.
It was your administration, for instance, that landed you smack in the middle of the union workers' bonus flap. Had I not known better, I would have assumed that the idea of paying out bonuses to workers started with you. In fact, the bonus payments are based on a 1997 contract between the city and unions that obligated the District to share some of the surplus generated by the city's fiscal recovery with union workers who were furloughed or lost money during the financial crisis.
As I understand it, you were trying to make good on a contract negotiated before you became mayor. However, by failing to convey clearly to the public exactly what you were trying to do and why, and by not touching enough bases on the council, you ended up with the worst of both worlds: portrayed as having failed to deliver on one of your promises, and branded as irresponsible for having decided to give out bonuses without knowing how to pay for them.
How do you keep getting into these binds?
One account said you thought you had a deal with the council on bonus funding based on consultations with council Chairman Linda Cropp and council member Kathy Patterson (D-Ward 3). Say it isn't so!
Another source close to you huffily promised that from now on you're going to check with every council member to make sure support is there before you jump out front with key legislation. Incredible!
It's taken a year to learn that elementary lesson?
Launching a significant legislative initiative based on a chat with one or two council members is suicidal -- even if you have their personal assurances of support. Council members aren't known for hanging in there when the going gets tough.
Well, let me stop kicking that point to death. With three years to go, we must live in hope.
The more pressing question is where does Mayor Tony Williams go from here?
For what it's worth, here are a few tips:
Stop the whining.
When you complain about council members' not having "done a damn thing for me" and you accuse them of allowing their personal feelings about you to get in the way of governing the city, you come across as weak and naive. Give it a rest.
Of course it's personal. Face it. You are where most of them want to be. You have the visibility and credibility that come with being mayor. Every time you and wife Diane get a big feature in, say, The Post's Style section, turn up on the A List or are led to the place of honor at the head table, jaws get tight down in the council.
They live to take you down a peg. Get used to it. You have a job of some consequence. Act like it. Don't complain. Instead, hold your temper, keep score and learn how to use your powers to get results.
Don't waste precious political capital.
As mayor, your most valuable commodity is time. Use it to further your administration's objectives, not someone else's agenda. You have less than four years in which to get your job done. Don't let people jerk you around, sending you running off to events that build the clout of others. That's not your task. Spend your energy, talents and influence working on problems you were elected to solve. And for goodness sake, take your case to the public, constantly.
It will be the voters, not reporters or those seeking to benefit from your presence, who will decide whether or not you delivered on your promises.
Provide leadership on critical issues.
The council would have you get out in front on the Columbia Heights development fiasco. That, sir, is a mess of the council's own making.
There is, however, a situation brewing in the Columbia Heights community, and in Shaw -- and one that's coming soon to neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River and elsewhere -- that will require the best leadership that this city can muster.
The issue involves the potent mixture of race, class, culture and rapid demographic change. Unfortunately, the grass-roots leadership to guide communities through this difficult transition has not emerged. The climate is ripe for conflict, demagoguery and exploitation. This smoldering problem has the potential of becoming the next decade's big D.C. crisis. It also presents you with an opportunity to show your mayoral qualities. Unless the city is steered in the right direction, class and racial chaos could undo much of the good that has been achieved.
Here's another. The school superintendent needs help. No right-minded school chief executive would work under the conditions we have imposed on Arlene Ackerman. Any superintendent who would agree to work with this elected board and our current crazy-quilt governance structure is the kind of superintendent not worth having.
You and the council must summon the courage to remove politics from public education.
Finally, as The Post's recent story about uninvestigated deaths of mentally retarded wards of the city shows, the city still has too many third-rate professionals with high salaries and low ethics embedded in the public payroll. The Department of Human Services isn't alone. Check out the police department and other agencies. Your administration hasn't even scratched the surface.
Well, that's it for now.
Now strap on your helmet, hitch up your jock strap and get back out there, Mr. Mayor. You've got work to do.