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Native Intelligence
How to spend the mayor’s million
(Published May 6, 2002)


An ebullient Mayor Anthony Williams is preparing for his formal re-election announcement at the end of May. The timing, according to some key supporters, is conveniently centered on the release of a high-powered, Hollywood-produced public service advertising campaign similar to the "I Love New York" ads. The campaign, designed to tug at people’s post 9/11 patriotic fervor, reminds Americans that D.C.’s a great place to visit and shows the enemy that "we will not be defeated." The mayor’s announcement, the ad campaign and Memorial Day – all wrapped up in red, white and blue.

It has elements of the "Morning in America" campaign created for President Reagan on the eve of his re-election announcement in 1984. A movie producer couldn’t wish for a better script.

The past week was a classic example of why Mayor Williams is a successful survivor – maybe not as mayor, but as a candidate. Williams, like many successful elected officials, has timing and incredible luck on his side. I have known many successful politicians who continually win re-election not because they deserve another term, but because no one is available to challenge their performance.

Another factor is the voter’s perception of how satisfied they are with the status of their own lives. People who have moved back into the city or are new residents are not disenchanted with the mayor. People who are native Washingtonians and those middle-income residents squeezed by the pressure of a hot real estate market are not as happy with the mayor. But no one is unhappy enough to have him leave.

The mayor knows this and, like one of the luckiest politicians out there, he will claim victory this election season. Williams just finished a remarkable week, successfully weathering more storms than LaPlata, Md. – and he came out intact.

He schmoozed and sidestepped and out-maneuvered an ill-prepared council, whose moral compass – or lack of one – made it impossible for them to tarnish the mayor for his dreadful financial scandal. He crushed a censure motion by the local Democratic Party, whose members made more than one attempt to punish him for raising money for Republicans. And his fire chief, Ronnie Few, imploded without it coming back to hurt him.

Williams, like the Phoenix, has risen from the ashes to bask in his successes.

But now that we really know the mayor won’t have a seriously mounted challenge, please tell us what he is going to do with all of the money? (I know the Statehood Green Party is fielding a candidate and the under-funded Johnnie Barnes is expected to announce, but there is no one on the horizon with real money capable of mounting a real challenge.) He already has the power of incumbency and his neighborhood outreach program is practically a legally institutionalized campaign operation.

He has all the free television and radio he wants – yet his campaign is still raising money.

A few Saturday’s ago, there was another fund-raiser at the home of his handpicked Democratic Party chairman, Norm Neverson. Neverson, who insists he wasn’t the host but lent his home for the event, says Frank Wildes, the Ward 5 Democratic boss, sponsored the event for the "little people." This event noticeably lacked the usual high-rolling business representatives present at the mayor’s typical fund-raising events.

Some 300 people packed Neverson’s home. Gwendolyn Hemphill, one of the co-chairs of the mayor’s re-election campaign, says the average donation was $250, though no one was turned away. It was, she said, an event to let the "average citizen who supports the mayor feel like they have made a contribution."

District III Board of Education member Tommy Wells, who attended, said he was told to put his checkbook away, even though the campaign was taking checks at the door. Sources say many of the people who attended the event work for the city in some capacity. Hemphill says the final figure for that fund-raiser is not known yet.

Sorry, people, but $50 is what I consider average for contributions from "little people." I guess more than a million dollars isn’t enough for a re-election campaign these days. To be fair, a million-dollar campaign in a city the size of the District isn’t out of line if there is a real race. But there isn’t one. So what is he going to do with the million dollars?

If the mayor asked me (which he hasn’t), I have a ton of ideas. Some might even fall under the heading of "reconciliation" and "healing of wounds."

Williams could return the money that was donated for children’s projects and was used improperly. He might even donate the money toward the construction of McKinley Tech, his new state-of-the-art technology school that is a year behind schedule (and by the way, Mr. Mayor, where is the $45 million you promised to raise for the project?). Since the mayor claims that education is his number one priority, he could help finance the summer school enrichment program that Councilman Jim Graham is looking to help. Actually, he could even go a long way toward healing wounds in the local Democratic Party. They could use some money.

You see, Mr. Mayor, I can find lots of legal and proper uses for the money that would enrich the lives of our citizens. Just give me a call.


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 with your news tips.

Copyright 2001, The Common Denominator