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Native Intelligence
ĎComforterí role eludes the mayor
(Published November 5, 2001)

By DIANA WINTHROP

Mayor Anthony Williams never had it, and it appears he never will.

President George Bush definitely didnít have it, but at least he is making a stab at it.

"It" is the skill to perform the often-difficult job of being "chief comforter," something that former president Bill Clinton perfected as a high art.

In the continuing saga of Mayor Williamsí inability to perform the "non-process" parts of his job, the mayor apparently was incapable of verbally expressing condolences to the widows of the D.C. postal workers who recently died after inhaling anthrax.

In the past few weeks, Williams has performed his "official function" by attending the funerals of postal workers Thomas Morris and Joseph Curseen. The Washington Post quoted the mayor as saying he felt compelled to attend the funerals because both of his parents were postal workers. The mayor attended not only for himself but represented the larger community through his presence.

It sounds caring on paper, but in one of the worst cases of bad funeral decorum, Williams did not even go up to the widows and express condolences. As this newspaper went to press, he had never called either family.

A few days after both men were buried, President and Mrs. Bush invited both widows to the White House. The meeting was not on the Presidentís schedule. There was no photo op. There was no press present nor was there any publicity by the White House Press Office.

The President and First Lady met with Mrs. Morris and her three children and Mrs. Curseen and, reportedly, the Bushes expressed condolences not only for themselves but for the country. The Bushes were described as "gracious and kind" during the meeting. While it does not bring their husbands back, it was the right thing to do.

Meeting with people who have lost family members in a national tragedy is probably one of the hardest things an elected official has to do. Bush rose to the occasion. He gets and "A." Williams gets an "F."

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The anthrax scare has now infiltrated more of our daily lives than originally imagined. If you donít pay your bills through the Internet or run around in person to your creditors, the economic impact could be enormous. Since the cityís main postal facility was closed Oct. 21, some people have begun to discover that they are more affected than others in the city.

Riggs Bank, one of the few banks in the city that has its corporate headquarters here, has its mail processed at the Brentwood mail facility. As soon as the facility was quarantined, people who bank with Riggs had their mail deposits and other mail quarantined as well. Itís the mailed deposits that made me take notice. If Riggs was affected, so were Chevy Chase Bank, Bank of America, SunTrust and all of the other huge out-of-state financial institutions that have gobbled up banks in the District.

Mark Hendrix, executive vice president for marketing at Riggs, confirmed their mail has been quarantined. Hendrix said that Riggs hired a private environmental contractor to test its facilities and its mail. The bank also has a facility in College Park, Md., for processing checks, which was tested and declared clean of anthrax by the Maryland Department of Public Health. Riggs plans to work the next few weekends to catch up on all of the backlogged mail, Hendrix said.

But what about small "mom and pop" or home-based operations that often depend upon the mail to deposit checks? Any word from government officials regarding what citizens should do?

Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge has been lobbing kudos at Mayor Williams and city agencies for their reported cooperation with the federal government regarding this anthrax mess. Ridge may be thrilled, but as citizens we have no idea what the Williams administration is doing.

Where is the coordinated effort Williams keeps mentioning? It seems as if Mayor Williams and his administration are imploding. Does anyone know what to do or where to go if there is a terrorist attack on D.C.? What about evacuation procedures for the Districtís public schools? I suspect Mayor Williams soon will announce that students must "duck and cover," since there is no publicized plan for evacuating students.

.

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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