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Ministers: Mayor showed disrespect

(Published October 21, 2002)

By KATHRYN SINZINGER

Staff Writer

Mayor Anthony A. Williams’ last-minute cancellation of an appearance this month before a group representing 250 local Baptist ministers has been labeled "disrespectful" by the organization’s president, who expressed disappointment that the mayor placed a higher priority that day on speaking to a local government group in Kansas.

The mayor’s trip to Wichita on Oct. 14 to deliver a luncheon speech at the annual convention of the League of Kansas Municipalities cost D.C. taxpayers at least $3,000 and was classified as "official business," according to the mayor’s press office.

The Rev. A. Michael Black, pastor of the 900-member Bethesda Baptist Church in Ivy City and president of the ministers’ group, said the mayor’s office called him to cancel 90 minutes before Williams was scheduled to speak at a 1 p.m. meeting of the Missionary Baptist Ministers Conference that day.

"We understand that [the mayor] was on travel, but I felt that we were disrespected – that we could not be told in advance that the mayor could not attend," Black said. "It was easy to get in touch with us. I think it was disrespectful. …We’re disappointed that the mayor did not come for something that was very important."

He said the ministers’ group had been "assured" two weeks earlier by the mayor’s adviser for religious affairs, the Rev. Carleton Pressley, that the mayor would attend the meeting. Black said At-Large Councilwoman Carol Schwartz, the mayor’s Republican challenger, also was invited to the meeting and did attend.

The Rev. Maxwell Washington, pastor of St. Matthew’s Baptist Church in Southeast Washington and former president of the ministers’ group, was one of two ministers who confronted the mayor during a candidates forum on Oct. 15 at Chevy Chase Community Center about his absence from the ministers’ meeting.

Washington asked the mayor, during the forum’s question-and-answer period, where he was the day before instead of attending the ministers’ meeting. The mayor did not answer the question, responding that he has "met with hundreds of ministers" since he became mayor in 1999.

The mayor originally was scheduled to be the keynote speaker for the Wichita group’s convention on Oct. 13, according to a schedule posted on the League of Kansas Municipalities’ Web site. The mayor rescheduled his Kansas speech to the following day so that he could attend the Taste of DC festival and appear with the governors of Maryland and Virginia to discuss the metropolitan area’s sniper case on ABC’s"This Week with George Stephanopoulos" on Oct. 13. The mayor’s press office said he also held a "private meeting" with the National Capital Revitalization Corp. later in the day. The topic of that meeting was not disclosed.

"The Kansas folks were upset that he might cancel, so he rearranged his schedule," mayoral spokesman Tony Bullock said. "The mayor’s doing dozens of candidates forums – I think he felt this event had higher priority. When you have that kind of conflict, you can’t be in two places at once."

Bullock said the mayor was "honoring his commitment" to Wichita Mayor Bob Knight by flying to Kansas to give his speech, which he said focused on "advancing the voting rights issue and urging people to visit D.C." Mayor Williams previously served on the National League of Cities Board of Directors with Knight, who was president of the league last year.

Bullock estimated the cost of roundtrip airfare for the mayor and a two-person security detail at "about $3,000" for the daylong trip to Kansas. Bullock said penalty charges for the mayor’s last-minute flight change increased the cost of a ticket from about $260 to nearly $1,000.

Copyright 2002, The Common Denominator