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Is the mayor missing?
(Published May 21, 2001)

Mayor Anthony A. Williams is in deep political trouble with his constituency. While the mayor often cites the thousands of community meetings he has attended – sometimes even including a precise number – as evidence of his involvement with the community, the reality is a different story.

The mayor’s attendance at most of those events is more akin to a campaign stump speech – with the accompanying glad-handing and photo op – than actual engagement in discussion and resolution of the community’s concerns.

While the mayor’s opponents have criticized him from the start for the emphasis on ceremony over substance that appears to dominate the way he conducts himself in office, even the mayor’s supporters are increasingly expressing similar concerns.

Contrary to the popular racially tinged myth that the mayor has maintained or strengthened his political support in the primarily white neighborhoods that heavily voted for him, The Common Denominator recently has heard many complaints about the mayor’s job performance coming from those very places.

Residents have to live with the results of government action or inaction. They remember things like the Tenleytown tower fiasco, the "special signs" billboards, traffic congestion on Foxhall Road, abandoned cars clogging the streets and the mayor’s refusal to publicly state his opinion on such hotly contested issues as the Boys Town development on Capitol Hill.

One Capitol Hill resident, who has strongly supported the mayor, recently launched into a tirade about how poorly the mayor’s staff is serving him – especially in their role as neighborhood liaisons. "They don’t understand the depth of concern that D.C. residents all over this city feel toward their neighborhoods," she said. She described them as having an "arrogant attitude about knowing what the community needs."

"Condescending" is the term frequently heard among city residents to describe the Williams administration’s attitude toward community concerns over its decision to shutter D.C. General Hospital and relegate health care services for the city’s poor to private, profit-making companies.

That term has also been used to describe the mayor himself, especially since he flippantly told a crowd packed into Union Temple Baptist Church earlier this year that people who disagree with him can do something about it when they go to the polls in 2002.

"The mayor is missing," Ward 8 Councilwoman Sandra Allen facetiously asserted on April 27 as she convened the council’s public hearing on the mayor’s privatization plan for the public health care system.

The mayor certainly appears to be disengaged from the leadership role this city demands of its mayor.

"Washington is a city in desperate need of a leader," we said in an editorial published on Aug. 24, 1998, the eve of the Democratic mayoral primary. (The Common Denominator did not endorse a candidate for mayor.)

Washington still seems to be in desperate need of a leader who speaks with the public, not just to them. Rather than working with the public to improve D.C. neighborhoods, Mayor Williams and his staff – more than midway through his term – appear more focused on changing the demographics of neighborhoods to reflect their own vision for the nation’s capital.

If Mayor Williams believes this is what D.C. voters wanted when they elected him, the mayor is being misled.

 

Copyright © 2001 The Common Denominator