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Like him or not, Armstrong Williams speaks from the heart. The veteran political commentator, entrepreneur, syndicated television and radio host—a confidant of presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson—is a conservative. But moral striving, he says, compels him to rise above partisan politics that have cleaved the nation.
So he has launched The Armstrong Williams Show, a one-hour primetime show on Saturday mornings at 10:30 on News Channel 8. The goal, says Williams, is to leaven public discourse and transcend the volatility that has the public’s faith in media at an all-time low, according to Gallup. “What we want to do is get people away from stories that weigh them down, and talk about things that bring them together,” he says.
At age 55, Williams has more than 20 years in TV and radio programming. He owns a host of television stations and his guest credits include The Today Show, Good Morning America, Charlie Rose, and CNN. He has produced prime-time specials with Maya Angelou, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, former Vice President Dick Cheney, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
His portfolio of local talk shows is equally expansive.
Loose Lips spoke with Williams last Thursday about issues common to national and local politics. Rocking a royal blue windowpane suit, glen plaid shirt, zigzag patterned tie, striped socks, and Hermes “Player” sneakers, he held forth on the media, gentrification, race, President Donald Trump, Mayor Muriel Bowser, and whether Ward 7 Councilmember Vince Gray should run for mayor.
(This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.)
Jeffrey Anderson: What’s the state of leadership in the country?
Armstrong Williams: Of course I respect the president. But when you don’t have a strong moral compass and you don’t feel as if there’s any authority above you, you can begin to believe that all things begin and end with you. And his ascendency has ushered in something in people that has been lurking.
JA: Do our city leaders connect at the national level?
AW: Last winter, D.C. was about to face a snowstorm. The president reached out to the mayor, and a lot of people considered it outrageous that she would accept that offer. She said, “Are you kidding, that’s the president, of course I’m gonna go sit with the president.” I think that’s a good sign that Mayor Bowser was willing to go meet with him and they were able to develop a relationship.
JA: How does gentrification affect the public’s view of local leadership?
AW: I’ve lived in Washington, D.C. since 1981. I think what people wanted then was self determination. I think they wanted to see people who look like them. But now I think the city is less concerned about the color of their leaders’ skin and they care more about who delivers for them in their communities.
JA: Is the mayor delivering for the people?
AW: You want the trains to run on time, a Metro system that works, low crime, lower taxes, leaders that won’t embarrass you. With Muriel Bowser we can see our future, and we can see places like Barry Farm become a model community like we’ve done before in this city.
JA: How is the city reviving its communities?
AW: They’re not doing it through social programs, they’re doing it through [business] growth. The mayor understands that business creates jobs. She is a businesswoman. Very corporate. That’s where she’s putting her resources.
JA: Should Vince Gray challenge her?
AW: I think Vincent Gray should run because of redemption, and I think he will. He should let the people decide, because they bring about different aspects of leadership, both of which are necessary.
JA: Hate is on the rise in America. Why?
AW: What is on the rise is the role that media plays. The media decides what’s important. It builds up [stories] with a few characters. To me, there is no difference between white nationalists and black nationalists. They both basically believe in the purity of their race; they have the same foundation.
JA: Is D.C. susceptible to the racial hatred and violence we have seen elsewhere?
AW: I think it would be rare to see the kind of hatefulness you see elsewhere. D.C. had it’s moment with the riots, but it does a good job of policing and not overreacting. It’s such a multicultural place, so tolerant. You don’t have people running around beating people up because of their race or their lifestyles choices.
JA: We also don’t see as much civil unrest with the police.
AW: D.C. has the federal government here, and Congress. It is unique. When you have the president and Congress and the Judicial Branch, those issues will not arise.
JA: What is holding youth back in D.C.?
AW: I don’t think we understand how many of these kids are on opiates and heroin. They really don’t have any direction. Many don’t want to work and make sacrifices. Young people also have not embraced the [black struggle] because they aren’t connected to the civil rights era that their parents and grandparents came from. It’s evaporated.
JA: The social divide, is it based on race or class?
AW: It’s class. Everybody knows that D.C. is losing that Chocolate City [identity]. Those that can afford to live here will live here and those who can’t are pushed out to the suburbs. I do think there’s a sense of pride that is lost and it will never come back.
JA: You’re a registered gun owner with a concealed carry license. Are you strapped?
AW: Not today. [Laughs] I’m usually strapped. You can mention it.
JA: Is government doing enough to keep illegal guns off the street?
AW: Most people agree on a background check system to make sure guns are not purchased by people who are legally prohibited from owning one. But government has been stretched thin on its efforts to track guns and keep them out of the hands of would-be criminals, people with criminal backgrounds, people with mental disabilities, and those seeking to do harm. There’s only so much they can do. One thing they should consider is to increase funding for public schools to have at least one staff member trained in how to handle a gun and deal with someone who is carrying a gun.
JA: Should MPD or the feds be responsible for keeping illegal guns out of the District?
AW: At the federal level, they give a lot of legroom to the local jurisdictions, because no one understands their communities more than the people who live there. We have to solve those problems ourselves. Because we have more to lose than they do.
JA: Last question: What is Fake News?
AW: It’s when you don’t agree with the reporting, especially when it’s about you. Listen, most journalists work long and hard checking out sources to get the story right. I think most journalists have integrity. You can always have situations like with CNN. But I think for the most part, 80 percent of what’s printed is accurate.