[from September 2002 issue]


No matter how the laborious hand-counting of the 91 percent of the ballots cast with write-ins for mayor finally shakes out, the incumbent undoubtedly will win--assuming the exit polls represented an accurate reflection of the will of the Democratic Party primary voters.

Our much admired commentators on city politics and its attendant bureaucracy, activist Dorothy Brizill and her always perceptive partner and husband Gary Imhoff, in their twice-weekly electronic forum, known as “themail,” frequently seem to be reading our thoughts. It’s as if they have the same access into our mind as they have into the dusty and obscure corners of city government. In both instances, they are always on target. So it is, that we frequently read commentary by them that we exclaim could have been written by us!

So it was that shortly before the primary election Gary Imhoff opined on some of Mayor Williams traits that seem also to us to have contributed to his problems with so many voters. So, with the indulgence of our readers, we share some of his thinking, in his own words (but they could be ours, too):

“The Washington Post is finally catching up with writers to themail, and giving Tony Williams a daily beating for his distant and unfriendly personality. Personality is important--a leader won't know what people want or think if he shrinks from listening to them--but in concentrating on personality the Post implies that the only grounds for dissatisfaction is personal, and that Williams's policies and management are above complaint. Against all evidence, the Post still pretends that District agencies and service delivery have been greatly improved, that the public schools are on an upswing, that public health care was increased and its cost decreased by closing DC General Hospital, and that the generally good economy that DC enjoyed for the past several years resulted from city government policies.

“We often vote based on nothing but superstition. We usually believe that an officeholder lucky enough to serve during a good economy must be a good politician deserving of reelection, and a politician unlucky enough to be in office during a recession must deserve replacement. Tony Williams has been lucky enough to have been CFO and Mayor during good times, and to have put off the news of returning budget deficits and the prospects of even further service cuts until they are too late to hurt him at the polls. He will benefit from that timing and from our search for a Mayor who is a good-luck talisman, but he will most likely find that the next four years will be a tough slog through rocky terrain.

[Editor’s Note: Already our city council’s finance and revenue chairman, and Ward 2 council member, Jack Evans is looking at the city going into its new fiscal year in a few weeks with an accumulated deficit in excess of $325,000. It wasn’t but six months ago that we noted the mayor having said that the then projected $100 million gap between this fiscal year’s income and expenses wasn’t anything we should be too worried about because, after all, we still had about $90 million or so in the accumulated surplus. (See, “Is All Really Well With DC Finances? Not By a Long Shot!,” InTowner, March 2002, page 2.) Well, that $90 million is long gone, yet even up to the day before the primary election the mayor’s campaign was touting his fiscal savvy and that, thanks to him, all is well on the money front. His most recent glossy mailing includes the following assertion: “Williams turned a $600 million deficit into a $400 million accumulated surplus. . . .” How could he have permitted that misleading statement to be included in a mass mailing to voters just a week before they went to the polls? We won’t say he’s a liar, but he is being disingenuous at best; he had to know that what was stated was a gross misrepresentation of the facts--or was he as disengaged from the campaign literature decisions as he was from the petitioning process?]

“Will Williams have learned anything from this election? Will he have learned to listen to voters? Is he really likely to attend any further community meetings or block parties the week after the primary is over? Will he be accessible to and listen to citizens and residents, or will he instruct his police guards to return to keeping the peons at a respectful distance? Will his manner of governing or any of his policies really change? Or, if he wins the primary with a huge majority, will he learn only that he is invincible, unaccountable, unharmable by any misdeeds, crimes, or scandals; that he is indeed, as Washington Times columnist Adrienne Washington calls him, "Teflon Tony?"

There’s lots more perceptive stuff to be found in “themail,” including knowledgeable contributions from intelligent and involved citizens who actively participate in contributing to one of the city’s most useful electronic idea exchanges. Check it out by dropping an email to [email protected]

One of those typically perceptive contributions appeared the day after the primary in which the writer noted that Republicans mounted a last-minute campaign to convince their fellow voters to write-in the name of at-large Councilmember Carol Schwartz, with the goal of convincing her to agree to run against Mayor Williams in the general election. On short notice, a large number of Republican voters gave her a vote of confidence. With so much underlying antipathy toward the mayor and the reality that a large percentage of the votes he will get were only because the alternative was so unthinkable, is it too over-the-top to suggest that Mrs. Schwartz could give Williams a real fight in the November election? We think not, and we would urge massive crossing of party lines if she chooses to grab at the challenge, which we hope she will do.