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Native Intelligence
Mayor never really 'connected'
(Published October 3, 2005)

By DIANA WINTHROP

This is the way the world ends: not with a bang, but a whimper.

With big apologies to T.S. Eliot, that was the mayor's announcement that he would not be a candidate for a third term. Tony Williams's surprise has been out of the bag for most of the summer. The announcement wasn't a surprise and didn't warrant breaking into local television programming and, for the most part, was barely news.

The announcement brought out his wife, Diane, who few have barely seen since he became mayor in 1999, along with his mother. Diane Williams's lack of involvement with the Executive Office of the Mayor, as the city's First Lady, gave many residents the sense that the mayor wasn't a member of the community and that she didn't care. The view was compounded by their refusal to purchase a home in the District -- especially after the mayor had made a pledge to do so during his first campaign. It was that kind of disconnect which made many Washingtonians see the mayor as a "transitional" elected official who was personally distant, rather than a neighbor who loved the city.

A recent event, related to my new obsession, reaffirmed my belief in one of Mayor Williams's major failures (next to educating the District's children) -- that of connecting with citizens as a real person who cares.

Watching as much of the Food Network cable channel as any human can personally do in any given day has become my new obsession. It is one of those obsessions which has one glued for hours to various chiefs teaching the wonders of cooking and how easy cooking can be for the novice. I am addicted to watching "Emeril Live."

While watching, suddenly I noticed a familiar bald head and then realized that the mayor and his wife were honored guests on the show. They were the "stars" who get to eat what the chief has prepared. It was no big deal, but it was fun and it was clearly something unusual to see the mayor of the nation's capital eating Emeril's wares. This was the kind of event the mayor always missed in the community. Attending neighborhood festivals, with the mayor and his wife sampling food vendors' fare, would have made him appear far more human.

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Some of you political watchers must remember James Abely, who worked for Harold Brazil the at-large council member who crashed and burned in 2004. Abely eventually became a committee clerk for the councilman and will fondly be remembered as the unofficial Harold Brazil surrogate. He would show up for Brazil's court appearances for clients, which didn't exactly make them happy. About a week ago, Abely had a "meet and greet" for D.C. City Council Chairman Linda Cropp on the roof of the Boston House, a condominium in Northwest Washington. Rumors were circulating that the mayor was attending the event to show his support for Cropp, even though he indicated in his "I won't be a candidate" speech that he would wait before endorsing anyone. Most voters, along with the big business community, just assume that Williams's stamp of approval will go to Cropp. (Abely's hopes for a mayoral sighting were dashed -- Williams took in a National's game at RFK Stadium and was seen sitting next to Catholic Archbishop Theodore McCarrick.)

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Cropp will kick off her first official fund-raising effort, as almost all D.C. candidates do, by milking her birthday on Oct. 5 for money. The official event is at Georgia Brown's, the downtown restaurant where Williams and Cropp hosted a controversial fund-raiser for Connie Morella, the former Republican congresswoman from Montgomery County. The fund-raiser angered many local Democrats, although the mayor took the brunt of the criticism for raising roughly $40,000 for Morella. The usual suspects are listed as part of Cropp's birthday event -- including Jack Evans's money- raising guru, Kerry Pearson.

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One of the worst-kept secrets in Washington is the departure of Phyllis Jones as secretary to the city council. Jones, who has been council secretary for many years, will become Cropp's official campaign manager this week. The announcement will come as good news for some of Cropp's supporters, who privately complain that her campaign is littered with too many septuagenarians.

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Diana Winthrop is a native Washingtonian. Contact her at diana@thecommondenominator.com.

Copyright 2005 The Common Denominator