Hill to Miss Anthony Williams
Not long after joining Washington, D.C., Mayor Anthony Williams (D) as director of communications in 2001, Tony Bullock was asked to accompany his new boss on a visit to Capitol Hill.
As they made their way from meeting to meeting, Bullock, himself a former Congressional staffer, recalled being struck by the celebrity-like reception his boss received amid the halls of Congress.
“We couldn’t barely get down the hallway without all the Members coming up to him to say what a great job he was doing,” said Bullock, who is now executive vice president of public affairs for Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide. “You see, Tony Williams not only transformed the District in a profound and dramatic fashion, he turned around the image that the District had on the Hill from one of complete disdain to one of admiration.”
On Capitol Hill late last week, that admiration could still be felt as Members on both sides of the aisle reacted to Williams’ Thursday announcement that he would not seek a third term in 2006.
“Great man and a great mayor,” said Republican Sen. Sam Brownback (Kan.), chairman of the Senate’s Appropriations subcommittee on the District of Columbia. “He has really helped D.C. shine. He will be missed.”
In a statement released after his announcement, Williams’ District ally on the Hill, D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), said the mayor’s “admirable record of tangible accomplishments … speak best for him as he leaves office. His work over two terms shows what one man can do to lead a city shaken by economic crisis to stability and confidence in its future.”
Coming into office after serving as the city’s chief financial officer at a time when Congress had appointed a financial control board to help manage the city’s more than $500 million deficit, Williams has since led D.C. to record financial years. And with the return of Major League Baseball to Washington, D.C., combined with major building projects downtown and others just beginning along the Anacostia River, most observers credit Williams with guiding Washington, D.C, through a time of unprecedented redevelopment.
But a more intangible legacy than these bricks-and-mortar projects is a strong working relationship with Congress, even as he pushed a largely reluctant Congress to establish equal voting representation and less-intrusive Congressional oversight of America’s “federal city.”
“You can see it in the tone of Congressional oversight,” said Bullock, who served as chief of staff for the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) before joining Williams’ administration. “When District government officials come before them now, there is camaraderie and professionalism. It used to be that when government officials came before Members of Congress, it was like they were being sent to the principal’s office.”
D.C. Shadow Rep. Ray Brown (D) said that during Williams’ two terms, he’s seen a “meaningful shift in mindset in terms of Congress being involved in the District’s day-to-day affairs,” even in 2004, when Williams used his new position as president of the National League of Cities to aggressively push for District voting rights on a national level.
“The citizens of Washington, D.C., the region and indeed the nation have benefited from his leadership,” said Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), ranking member of the District of Columbia Appropriations subcommittee. “He has earned the respect and confidence of Congressional leadership because of his no-nonsense style and dedication to the people of this city and he will be missed.”
“Tony and I had a good relationship from the very beginning, from when I was first appointed to the D.C. Appropriations subcommittee,” recalled Rep. Joe Knollenberg (R-Mich.), who currently serves as chairman of the recently reorganized Appropriations subcommittee on Transportation, Treasury, Housing and Urban Development, the Judiciary and the District of Columbia.
“I felt from the beginning that we shouldn’t use D.C. as a laboratory for the rest of the country, and he felt the same way,” Knollenberg said. “He leaves a pattern that should be picked up by whoever the new mayor is going to be.”
Indeed, the relationship has been so strong that Williams’ departure may be causing some worry among Members of the committees that deal with District issues, Bullock said.
“I think they would privately admit some degree of concern about whether the city will continue to show improvement, and not just in its finances,” Bullock said.
“I think it’s important for the new mayor to have an open and honest relationship with Congress,” added D.C. shadow Sen. Paul Strauss (D). “It’s an unfortunate fact of life for D.C. officials but you need to respect the authority that the constitutional system has over D.C.’s finances.”
“The next mayor will have to keep all the plates spinning on top of the sticks,” Bullock said.
And as for Williams’ next career step, Bullock said he doesn’t think another political office is in the cards.
“There’s really only one job anybody wants in Washington, and it’s called mayor. You can’t run for Senate. There’s no state Legislature to run for. There’s not a lot of options for a political figure in this locality. … His next step is something people are very excited about. He has such potential. He’s a brilliant manager. He’s a good speaker. I think he’ll give a fair amount of thought to what he’s going to do in January 2007. I think its going to be something in D.C. and I think it will be something with a management component.”