After one year as the District's mayor, Anthony A. Williams has reached a conclusion: If it weren't for the politics, this job would be perfect.
In his second year in office, Williams (D) says, he will tackle the legendary waste in city government, trimming a bloated payroll in the process. He will begin rebuilding downtrodden neighborhoods, push for an appointed school board and start relocating agency workers so they are closer to residents who need government help the most.
But to do all that, he will need the D.C. Council to endorse many of the details. That probably means lobbying. Stroking. Cajoling. Playing politics. In short, just what Williams dislikes about being mayor.
Mention the council, and he pauses.
"The inside baseball [of politics] has been a year of on-the-job training," said Williams, who today marks his first anniversary as mayor. "I love the nuts and bolts and getting out talking with people. What I have not liked as much is . . . the posturing, the politicking, the one-upmanship."
Williams can look back with satisfaction on a year in which his administration improved many of the most visible aspects of D.C. government, from filling potholes more quickly to offering residents friendlier service at various agencies. The District, hapless and nearly bankrupt not so long ago, now is viewed by officials across the nation as a city on the move.
But for Williams, it also has been a year of occasional political stumbles, born partly of his distaste for the type of hobnobbing that can soothe relations with other city officials and community leaders.
Look behind every significant setback in Williams's first year--his short-lived plan to relocate the University of the District of Columbia; the bickering over the big tax cut that council members forced upon him; the council's rejection of a Williams plan to use tobacco settlement money to fund union workers' bonuses--and you see a mayor with communication problems.
If Williams's first year in office was like a course in Politics 101, some council members and community activists say, the mayor at times seemed like a freshman who kept making the same mistakes.
During an interview in his spacious 11th-floor suite at One Judiciary Square, Williams acknowledged that he must pay more attention to improving his political game or risk seeing his ambitious agenda undermined.
"The practical aspects of running the government I think I have down pretty well," Williams said. "And getting out [and] connecting with the community, I think I've got down pretty well. . . . People say I'm not a good politician, but part of this is not me being a novice. I was taking the time to build a government."
That done, Williams said, he hopes to pay more attention to the political aspects of his job, and avoid episodes such as the recent dispute with the council over the union bonuses. Williams agreed to give union workers nearly $10 million in bonuses without first talking with the council about finding a way to pay for them, then saw angry council members reject his initial plan to use tobacco money.
"Taking for granted the bonuses and allowing that to become the mess it became" was a mistake he aims not to repeat, Williams said.
It's contrite talk for a mayor whose administration hasn't always been known as humble.
Williams, the city's chief financial officer before he ran for mayor, rolled into office last year with a mandate to revamp the troubled D.C. government. Several community activists soon began to complain that some Williams aides were talking down to them--a problem made worse because most of the aides were white and most of those complaining were black.
Meanwhile, the administration's attitude toward the council sometimes has seemed to be: Who needs them? Haven't they been part of the problem?
Actually, six of the council's 13 members joined the panel within the past three years, and the feistiness they have shown toward Williams has reflected not only their heightened activism, but their annoyance with what they have occasionally seen as a disrespectful and arrogant administration.
Williams, with a bit of resignation, now says he probably will have to spend more time courting individual council members to push his proposals. It's more of a necessity, he says, than a pleasure.
Whatever the motivation, council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) said, it's something the mayor needs to do.
"The mayor himself, when he is supporting important legislative initiatives, should personally talk to individual council members," Evans said. "Up to now, using surrogates and having breakfast [with the full council] is not the way to influence the legislative process. . . . I think [Williams and his staff] learned that.
"Things are not always going to go smoothly," Evans added. "But a more personal touch will produce better results."
Politicking is "not easy for him," Alice M. Rivlin, chairman of the federally appointed D.C. financial control board, said of Williams. Rivlin, who often has advised the new mayor on political matters, said that if he does not do more to reach out to the council, he could jeopardize his chances for success.
"He's good at public outreach and he's getting more comfortable with it," Rivlin said. "The part he is still trying to figure out is building coalitions and working with other politicians in the city, and particularly the council. I believe for him to be a successful mayor in the long run, he has to work with the council. . . . That means spending a lot of time talking and listening to council members."
Bernard Demczuk, an assistant vice president at George Washington University and an observer of D.C. politics, said "the nature of the job forces [Williams] to become a politician. This job is about balancing competing political interests. It demands that he do politics and do it very well."
Williams appears to be trying to do just that. On several issues--and particularly after his UDC proposal--he was criticized by council members and community leaders for making decisions without consulting anyone beyond a small circle of advisers.
Over the weekend, however, he was personally calling D.C. Council members, letting them know of his plans to introduce legislation to restructure the city's elected school board into a five-member panel that he would appoint.
In recent weeks, the mayor has made a show of involving residents--if not always the council--in his decisions. He held a summit at the Washington Convention Center where about 3,000 residents used computer keypads to express their spending priorities for the upcoming D.C. budget. It was the first of several forums planned in Williams's Neighborhood Action program, in which the mayor has said he will incorporate residents' suggestions into policy.
During the last few months, Williams, who often has seemed to prefer working in the office to meeting and greeting, also has increased his appearances at community gatherings. He has emphasized his commitment to creating economic opportunities in the city's poorest neighborhoods, particularly those east of the Anacostia River.
In part it's an effort to refute some critics who, citing among other things Williams's plans to trim the D.C. government's work force, have cast the mayor as an elitist bureaucrat with little feel for the concerns of working-class and low-income blacks.
"I think people's perceptions of me have changed," Williams said. "There was a perception that all I cared about was finances. I'm a good public speaker . . . just not in the Baptist preacher tradition. But I'm more comfortable with myself, and people are more comfortable with me."
The Rev. Lionel Edmonds, a member of the Washington Interfaith Network, agreed. He said Williams kept promises to the group that he would work to provide more affordable housing units and increase youth programs.
"Overall, he is going in the right direction," said Edmonds, whose group represents 45 D.C. churches with more than 20,000 members. "He seems more at ease communicating with the community."
And yet Williams remains something of an enigma to many black community leaders east of the Anacostia River who are increasingly worried that their part of town might be left behind as Williams's vision of an economic rebirth in the District continues to unfold, drawing whites back into the city.
Many of them do credit Williams for establishing several economic development goals for their part of town, lobbying against a proposed prison there and implementing an anti-crime plan. They even liked Williams's idea to relocate UDC, because Anacostia is where the mayor wanted to move the Northwest Washington school.
But community leaders look around their neighborhoods and don't see much change. And although race is a hot topic in their community, they don't hear much about it from One Judiciary Square.
"I hope the mayor does not lose sight of racial polarization," said JePhunneh Lawrence, a lawyer and activist in Ward 8. "Race is . . . simmering just beneath the surface. You can't just turn the administration of this city over to young white boys and expect people to say all is fine and dandy. There is a distance between the administrators and people they are supposed to be serving. And after a year, what has the mayor delivered for the people east of the river? It's show-me time."
Howard Croft, an official with the D.C. Center for Community Change, said Williams should be praised for restoring the integrity and image of D.C. government but must do more to convince people in underdeveloped neighborhoods that he cares about them.
"It's been a mixed first year" for Williams, Croft said. "He has to move beyond the talk and come up with programs that will benefit all people. He has to find ways to assure people east of the river that he is committed to building a city where working people have the same kind of opportunities."
Croft said the recent dispute over the redevelopment of Columbia Heights--in which residents clashed over whether certain proposals would benefit minorities enough--was an example of "new flash points for social conflict in this city."
"It's about who is going to live there, and in that sense the mayor has to come up with programs to stabilize neighborhoods," he said.
Williams said he is sensitive to racial tension, adding that that was one reason he recently stepped in to help broker an agreement on the Columbia Heights plan that could lead to the eventual preservation of the historic Tivoli Theatre. The best way to promote racial understanding, Williams said, is to "bring everyone to the table, like the citizens' summit."
The mayor recently scored points with some black activists by nominating the Rev. Willie Wilson, the outspoken leader of Southeast Washington's Union Temple Baptist Church, to the UDC board.
After some council members raised questions about what they called race-baiting rhetoric by Wilson in the past, Williams reiterated his support for the minister--thereby aligning himself with Southeast Washington activists who see the council's questioning of the Wilson nomination as a slap at the black community.
Williams said this year probably will be a combination of outreach efforts and nuts-and-bolts reorganizing of agencies--the type of problem-solving he enjoys most.
"I think the mayor has made enormous progress," Rivlin said. He "has energized the city in quite a remarkable way. . . . But we still have a long way to go."
Williams agreed and indicated that although he will listen to others' opinions, he'll continue running D.C. government his way.
"When you're a politician, you're tempted to think you can please everybody," he said. "But Machiavelli was right: It's better to be respected than to be liked. . . . You want to be respected, but if you start trying to please everybody all the time, that's a problem."
NEXT: How the mayor has done on his 28 promises to improve basic city services, and his biggest challenge--fundamentally changing the city's government.
CAPTION: Mayor Anthony A. Williams tries cymbals during millennial festivities.
CAPTION: Mayor Anthony A. Williams answers questions about his proposed budget from D.C. Council members. The mayor locked horns with council members several times during his first year in office. With him is aide Abdusalam Omer.