Former D.C. mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) listens to Mayor Vincent C. Gray's inaugural address in 2011. (Michael S. Williamson/THE WASHINGTON POST)

Former D.C. mayor Anthony A. Williams will be the new chief executive of the Federal City Council — a move that raises the profile of an influential group better known as a behind-the-scenes player in local government policy.

The appointment also returns Williams (D), who served two terms as mayor, to a prominent role in District government as he runs the 170-member organization of executives, university presidents, philanthropists and others.

He will take the post July 1, according to a news release the Federal City Council issued Thursday after The Washington Post broke the story.

Williams paid visits Thursday afternoon to Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) and Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown (D) at the John A. Wilson Building.

“I think my experience in public service and experience as mayor can apply to solutions right here at home,” said Williams, 60, who often travels because he is a lecturer in public management at Harvard University and serves as an executive director of government practice at Corporate Executive Board, a firm that consults public-sector professionals.

The appointment is a major coup for the organization, which has been searching for a replacement for John W. Hill Jr., who has headed the council since 2004 but said in October that he would step down in August to return to the private sector.

Williams will be the first former mayor to head the group. (Donald E. Graham, chairman of the board of The Washington Post Co., is a trustee.)

PNC Bank regional President Michael N. Harreld, a trustee and chairman of the search, called Williams’s decision to take the job “almost too good to be true.”

“Not only is he uniquely qualified, but his long track record of accomplishments in the District of Columbia makes him the perfect candidate for the job,” Harreld said in a statement. “We deeply appreciate the contributions that John has made over the past eight years, and wish him the very best in the next phase of his career.”

Williams is credited with guiding the District in its transformation from a city on the brink of financial collapse to one now booming in population and popularity. Before he was recruited to run for mayor in 1998 in a “Draft Anthony Williams” movement, he was chief financial officer under the financial control board, a congressionally appointed group that oversaw the city’s finances.

As mayor, Williams pushed the city fiscally but also sought to improve basic services. The control board — Hill was its first executive director — was dissolved in 2001 after Williams’s tenure had produced balanced city budgets.

But Williams also fought the perception that his policies catered to the city’s more affluent residents, particularly with the city-financed construction of Nationals Park. Williams has said that creating a bustling downtown and backing other big projects strengthened the city’s tax base, which could then be used to fund programs such as affordable housing. Some of the projects initiated during his administration are coming to fruition, including the development on H Street and Georgia Avenue.

In a brief interview Thursday, Williams outlined his agenda for the Federal City Council. “The focus of the council is looking at government effectiveness and efficiency, creating jobs for District residents and moving forward some of these big transportation infrastructure projects — particularly east-west transportation,” Williams said. “All of those things are projects we want to put the laboring oar on.”

The agenda appears to line up with Gray’s priorities, which include job creation and fiscal responsibility.

In the past, the Federal City Council has quietly worked with District government on major issues and development projects, from education reform to the construction of the Verizon Center and the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

Williams declined to disclose his salary. According to the most recent public tax records available, Hill was paid $396,000 in 2010.

Gray applauded the appointment.

“Tony Williams took a city in dire straits and turned it around with a focus on adhering to fiscal discipline, growing our economy and improving the workings of our government,” Gray said in a statement. “There is nobody more qualified to lead an organization dedicated to partnering with public officials to create the best District of Columbia possible. This is wonderful news for our city.”