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Teflon Tony

(Published May 20, 2002)

Mayor Anthony Williams and his well-oiled - and well-heeled - publicity machine have done a politically adept job of portraying the mayor as a benevolent leader whose hands are tied and who can only apologize when residents often complain that they are being ignored or harmed by their local government.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Mayor Williams' political appointees - who serve at the pleasure of the mayor - are the people running the D.C. government offices that are failing to properly serve D.C. residents.

If the mayor wanted to do something about recurring problems, such as the nightmare residents continue to face when dealing with the Department of Motor Vehicles, he could.

The competence at the top of most city agencies has not markedly improved to a level that justifies the $100,000-plus salaries now being paid, and which did not exist under previous mayors.

Perhaps the mayor's penchant for blaming his underlings - rather than accepting responsibility himself, as the top dog, and then following through to see that his public pronouncements are carried out - is the reason that D.C. government salaries have skyrocketed under the mayor's watch. Maybe it's their price to cover for the boss.

Got a problem with a D.C. government agency? Residents are frequently told it's a "computer problem" that can't be helped. Never mind that a well-managed agency should have a back-up plan in place - especially when the computers are seemingly so unreliable.

Rather than taking their lumps, D.C. residents should start asking why the mayor doesn't take definitive actions to replace ineffective or incompetent managers. When problems are not resolved or repeatedly occur, residents shouldn't be screaming only at the likes of Police Chief Charles Ramsey. Ramsey, like other department heads, works for the mayor. The buck stops with the mayor.

If residents are unhappy with the way that any executive agency of the D.C. government delivers services, the mayor is the man in the position to fix the problem.

Mayor Williams should be held accountable.

How many times have we heard Mayor Williams dismiss residents' complaints by saying he can't "second guess" government agency decisions? The mayor most recently used this excuse last week to dismiss the pollution and noise complaints of Kingman Park residents - reported by The Common Denominator last November - about this summer's planned Grand Prix sports car race at RFK Stadium.

How many times have we heard the mayor demur when asked his personal opinion on a community issue, citing the need for a legal opinion? Does anyone know where the mayor stands on any controversial community issue? His lack of leadership is appalling - especially in a city that cries out for a leader who can help balance the concerns of diverse communities, rather than continually selling out one in favor of another.

In the case of Kingman Park, the mayor said that economic development trumps residents' health and safety concerns. "That is why I will push to put this event on, despite the heat, because it is vitally, critically imperative to show that we can put an event on like this," the mayor was quoted as saying by the Washington Post on May 19.

Promoting economic development was also the mayor's reason for helping to grease the skids for creation of the nightclub Dream, which has been disrupting neighborhood life - and thousands of residents' sleep - since it opened last fall in Ivy City.

Residents throughout the city share anecdotes, at community meetings and online, that illustrate what appears to be a selective system - or a dysfunctional one - that the mayor has set up to respond to service requests. Complaints to the mayor's Citywide Call Center at 727-1000 and e-mails to the mayor often appear to get no response, or a shamefully delayed one. It's the same lack of attention that residents, including many elected advisory neighborhood commissioners, say they receive when they write letters to the mayor. The mayor simply fails to respond.

This all raises the question of what constituency the mayor has been serving since he took office. It's a particularly troubling question since the mayor so far faces no major challenger to his re-election this fall.

Clearly, there's trouble in River City, and that's spelled with a capital "T." The mayor has earned his nickname in many parts of the city. Just call him "Teflon Tony."

Copyright 2002, The Common Denominator