As Loose Lips roamed the stone platform that is Freedom Plaza, he spied various D.C. politics stars of yesteryear. There was Kevin Chavous, the dashing former Ward 7 councilmember. And over there was Sandy Allen, the folksy former rep from Ward 8. And unmistakable in his Nats cap and bow tie was Anthony A. Williams. It was all enough to make this columnist expect a showing by John Walker Lindh and a debate on the use of force in Iraq—-all so 2002!
The blast from seven years ago congregated at Freedom Plaza to boost a rally in favor of renewing the endangered D.C. school voucher program. Williams, who served as mayor of the District from 1999 to 2007, threw the whole weight of his formermayordom behind the voucher cause: “Really, the long-term prospects of our city are a solid education for our kids,” said Williams. “We can’t fix our schools overnight and I think parents ought to have an option.”
As things currently stand, federal funding for the D.C. voucher program, which helps fund private educational options for about 1,700 D.C. kids, appears ready to expire in 2010, unless the feds change course. That’s what Williams and Chavous and Allen were pushing for. When asked if he thought local funding should replace the federal commitment—-as has been persuasively suggested by Washington Post columnist Colbert I. King—-Williams said this: “I would personally think so, but we ought to get to that road when we get to it. Right now we don’t have that choice because the federal government is deciding [whether] to fund the program.”
Since leaving office nearly two-and-a-half years ago, Williams has maintained the lowest of profiles, agreeing to be interviewed about his first home purchase in the District, and about his job as something of an investment banker, but otherwise steering clear of the municipal issues that wore him down over eight years. A post-rally scrum with reporters was the first time that Williams had stood before reporters and addressed those issues.
When asked about his successor, Adrian M. Fenty, Williams responded, “I’ve made a religious effort to stay out of his way. It’s easy because 99.66 of what he’s doing, I agree with.” That remaining .33 appears to cover vouchers, a topic on which the current mayor has been almost officially lukewarm.
From there, Williams repeated the sort of claptrap that came to define his weekly Wednesday press conferences. On his ability to work the levers of government, Williams waxed nostalgic about his relationship with former D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp. “I felt like I got into a roll with the council, actually. When I went to things with them, there was a lot of friction but a lot got done,” said the former mayor. “Linda and I worked at our relationship. Obviously there was a lot of commotion and animostiy at times. When you’re mayor of the city…you’re the crab on top of the bucket and everyone wants to pull you down. So i understand the friction, the competition. But, you know, you can make it work.”
The ever-cautious Williams, however, did stray from the script once, when asked directly about mayoral-council tensions. He went off on a tangent and answered one of the central criticisms of his mayoralty: “If I had to do it all over again, I would have taken less trips. I would have trimmed back a lot of stuff,” he said.
On a more contemporary note, Williams said that his work as an investment banker for cities with Primum Public Realty Trust is in “transition” thanks to the economic crisis. “My little pizza stand got hit by the hurricane,” he said.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery