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Native Intelligence
Where are the District’s leaders?
(Published September 24, 2001)

By DIANA WINTHROP

Forget Carmen Sandiago. Where in the world is Mayor Williams?

The Washington area likely lost more people in the Sept. 11 terrorist attack at the Pentagon than Oklahoma City lost when the Alfred P. Murrah Building was bombed in the spring of 1995.

Unlike a state, there is no governor here to help the city heal. Mayor Anthony Williams is all we’ve got.

Robin Ijames, who chairs Advisory Neighborhood Commission 8D, is among D.C. residents who say they are furious at the mayor for not being more visible since a hijacked jetliner was crashed into the Pentagon on Sept. 11. Many D.C. residents were among the victims of that terrorist act, including three D.C. public school teachers and the three students they were accompanying on an academic trip to California.

Since that attack Ijames has been out at "Ground Zero" at the Pentagon along with other residents, volunteering because "too many people from the area are dead or know people who have died."

Ijames says she has seen only City Councilman David Catania show his face among the Pentagon aid workers and she wants to know: "Where are the other council members?"

Are the city’s leaders giving blood? Are they rolling up their sleeves?

Why hasn’t the mayor visited the firemen and D.C. police officers who risked their lives at the Pentagon? Why isn't the mayor publicly thanking them and behaving like a real mayor by helping this emotionally devastated city? Ijames bitterly complains that the mayor is "clueless" and he "doesn't care." She shouts: "He has no heart!"

Supporters of the mayor concede that he is more of a "process" person – but even President Bush, who before the terrorist attacks was not known as a "touchy feely" kind of guy, has been seen with tears in his eyes.

And while Bush may never have the personal touch of former president Bill Clinton, he at least appears to be trying. Critics of the mayor say Williams operates more like a federal appointee than a cheerleader for the city. Even some of his supporters say he appears to be uncomfortable connecting with people he doesn’t know, and while he has had some successes in making this city work, when he leaves they predict his lack of "heart" will not help his legacy. A big part of the criticism is directed at the mayor’s appearance of being emotionally detached from the people.

Councilman Kevin P. Chavous, who was defeated by Williams in the 1998 Democratic primary and is exploring whether to challenge the mayor in next year’s Democratic primary, says the mayor "does the best he can with what he has." But a not-surprisingly-critical Chavous also says: "Frankly over the past few years, the mayor has been on a learning curve, knowing and understanding real Washingtonians."

Get with it, Mr. Mayor. This city needs someone who will "lift us all up." And while we don’t expect you to be "another Bill Clinton," can't you try just a little?

***

HEARD ANYTHING LATELY about the re-opening of Pennsylvania Avenue NW in front of the White House to vehicular traffic?

Last spring the D.C. subcommittee chaired by Congresswomen Connie Morella held a hearing on a plan to reopen the strip of Pennsylvania Avenue between 15th and 17th Streets, which was closed after the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 for, according to the Secret Service, security reasons. There was heavy lobbying on Capitol Hill for the re-opening. The District's business community, Mayor Williams and the city council presented a unified voice on the Hill for the financial need to reopen the road.

Supporters claimed the closure was lousy for business. The Riggs Bank, owned by the Albritton family, bitterly complained that the road closing hurt their bank business at 15th Street NW. Riggs wasn’t the only business that complained. The D.C. business community lobbied the mayor and the council, arguing that the street closing was an overreaction.

The voices that supported closure were muted by businesses that claimed their bottom line was more important than a possible threat to the president. Rob White, a spokesman for the D.C. subcommittee, confirmed that "the committee wasn't pushing the legislation" to reopen the avenue and, in fact, concedes it is "virtually dead." White says the committee is now more concerned with finding a way to reopen National Airport and would only consider reopening Pennsylvania Avenue if the plan offered sufficient "safety and security" for the White House. Forgetaboutit!

***

STATEHOOD ADVOCATES can kiss their dreams of making Washington, D.C., a state goodbye forever – or at least in our lifetime. Since the terrorist attack at the Pentagon, Washington has become even more of a federalized city and is viewed even more, if that is possible, as "the nation's capital," says Jaime Raskin, a professor of law at American University.

Some statehood advocates spent the summer at the National Mall educating visitors about the plight of D.C. residents, who have no voting representation in Congress. Statehood advocates felt buoyed by the responses they received and were somewhat optimistic. It appears that the most statehood advocates can hope for now is that Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton may regain her committee vote in the House. But anything else? Forgetaboutit!

***

The writer, a native Washingtonian with more than 25 years in the news business, spends her nights toiling as an editorial producer for a network morning news show. Contact her at diana@thecommondenominator.com with your news tips.

 

Copyright 2001, The Common Denominator