We don’t need promises…” Mayor Anthony A. Williams declared in January 1999, in his first inaugural address. What the District needed, he added, were results.

Even so, the new mayor needed to say what those results were going to be. Hence, moments later, Williams was pledging to “develop clear performance measures for all who work in government” and to “test ourselves with customer-satisfaction surveys.”

“And, my friends, let me tell you something,” he added. “One way or another those phones will be answered promptly and professionally.”

Fourteen months later, in his first official State of the District address, the mayor had dropped any pretense of reluctance. Starting with a pledge of an $80 million increase to the schools, he launched into a list of more than three dozen promises, from the minor to the all-encompassing.

Counting the mayor’s promises requires some interpretation. Does saying “We can make a commitment” count as making a commitment? Does a three-point plan to create a new system for the developmentally disabled count as one promise, or three? Is each new increment of the Anacostia River cleanup plan a fraction of a promise?

Still, it appears that as the mayor has learned what it takes to make promises come true in the District, he has backed off on the promise-making. His 2001 address included barely half as many pledges as the 2000 version. This year, in the wake of the fatal shooting at Ballou Senior High School, a list of proposed school reforms bumped the total number of promises up to 26.

His four State of the District speeches (in 2003, he gave a shorter inaugural address instead) capture Williams as all the different kinds of leaders he hopes he can be. A summary:


“We’re not going to rest until we’ve shut down those drug markets for good.” (2000)

“Get rid of all blight” (2002)

“Make the District a national leader in home ownership” (2002)


“Two additional supermarkets east of the River” (2000)

“Upgrade Benning Road Bridge” (2002)

“Attract a sit-down restaurant on Georgia Avenue” (2002)

“Bring five new charter schools to five emerging neighborhoods” (2004)


“Another thousand [treatment] slots specifically for drug offenders” (2000)

“We should provide new or improved comprehensive care for 18,000 uninsured residents.” (2000)

“Residents without insurance—you will get the prescription drugs you need.” (2001)

“Lower the rates of AIDS, diabetes, heart disease, and other deadly diseases that disproportionately affect our poorest citizens” (2002)

“Expand the quantity and the quality of community health centers” (2004)


“Cut the staff-to-client ratio [for developmentally disabled people] in half” (2000)

“It’s time to fix our broken school purchasing system.” (2000)

“Modernize eight schools a year for the next 10 years” (2000)

“Keep our promise to the children of the 80 schools we said we’d fix in the next nine years” (2001)

“Appoint a director of Medicaid reform” (2002)

“Transform the State Education Office” (2004)


“Get every teacher a phone and a voice mail” (2000)

“18 new pumper trucks, six new ladder trucks, three heavy rescue trucks, and 25 new ambulances” (2000)

“24 new housing inspectors” (2000)


“Temporary satellite DMV locations” (2000)

“Increase teacher salaries by up to 20 percent” (2002)

“Tripling local funding for college financial aid” (2002)

“Repair potholes on time” (2001)

“Sweep the streets regularly” (2001)

“More beat cops along MLK Avenue” (2002)

“Slow down traffic in Friendship Heights” (2002)


“We’ll keep working to improve 911.” (2000)

“Let’s make quick responses to 911 calls just the way things are.” (2001)

“I’m not going to talk to you tonight about our response to 911 calls.” (2004)

—Tom Scocca