City Paper Widget

Friday, November 7, 2014

Cheater's Guide to Dream City -- Part 24 (Afterword)

This is the twenty-fourth installment of a series (see the first installment here) summarizing the 1994 book Dream City: Race, Power, and the Decline of Washington, Harry Jaffe and Tom Sherwood. This book has recently been republished as an ebook and a paper book. HBO has plans to use material from the book to make a movie about the life of Marion Barry.

Afterword (two of four)

Anthony Williams served two terms as mayor, from 1999 to 2007.

"Mayor Tony Williams governed quietly and without fanfare. He was the anti-Barry, boring but competent” (Kindle location 6031).

“[H]e made the District balance its book. He lured competent bureaucrats to run city agencies” (l. 6036)

“When Williams became mayor, five of the city's social-services agencies were in receivership or under court ordered management. One by one, he gradually brought them back under District control” (l. 6040).

“If Williams had a weakness, it was his disdain for the rituals of politics. Where Barry had nurtured his network in the neighborhoods and sensed every shift in sentiment, Williams was removed and remained tone deaf” (l. 6059).

“... Williams proposed cutting the city work force and farming out government functions to private companies. City Union leaders howled. Williams seemed surprised” (l. 6069).

“I didn't get elected to adjust the air-conditioning,” Williams said.

“Williams and his top assistants assembled lower-level line employees in the convention center. They held seminars to teach them how to answer phones and perform routine public-service tasks. Williams did what Marion Barrt had failed to do: he trained the work force. For city government, it was nothing less than revolutionary” (l. 6078).

“... After four consecutive balanced budgets, in September 2001, the federal financial control board suspended its activities and put the city's government and budget back in the hands of the mayor and the council” (l. 6092).

“... [W]hen [Williams] ran for reelection in 2002, his campaign failed to collect the required number of valid signatures to place him in the ballot. He needed only 2,000. TV reporters with NBC4 found that half of the signatures the Williams campaign turned in were fake. The Board of Elections ruled Williams ineligible for the ballot and fined his campaign $250,000” (l. 6093).

“Williams had to run as a write in candidate. Still, he won. His success at reforming the government overcame his political ineptitude” (l. 6096).

Williams success at improving city finances drew the approval and attention of investors in many fields, including Major League Baseball.

“Williams wanted a team, but Jack Evans craved one. The Ward Two council member had been coveting a franchise since 1996... As chair of the [DC City-]
council finance and revenue committee, Evans played a crucial role in lobbying MLB owners and persuading the council to pay for a new stadium with public funds" (l. 6139).

"It took three more contentious months to convince the DC council to agree to finance the new stadium.... Critics argued that the estimated $500-million in bonds would be better devoted to more pressing needs" (l. 6140).

" 'Why can't the team owners pay their fair share?' asked Adrian Fenty, the upstart young Ward Four council member. "No, voting against the stadium doesn't mean money will automatically go to schools and other needs. But it does mean that a government that does not get those things right should not be exploring putting hundreds of millions of dollars into the pockets of multi-millionaires" (l. 6141).

"Politically, landing the team was a win for Williams and Evans. But Adrian Fenty, the lawmaker who said 'no' to public financing, got his first dose of notoriety. It would not be his last" (l. 6143).

"[A]fter eight years with Williams at the helm, the city was better off in measurable ways. He valued competence in the bureaucracies, trained workers, and expected accountability. Trash got picked up. The motor-vehicle department actually issued licenses without making residents reserve a day to wait in line. City workers were less surly and more willing to serve the public. In short, Williams reformed the city government. He organized its finances. And he balanced the budget every year" (l. 6199).

"By 2006, local Washington had the feel of a metropolitan center poised to hit is stride as an international capital" (l. 6200).

Cheater's Guide to Dream City continues

Further installments will appear on successive Fridays. All posts are cross-posted on the ad-hoc "Cheater's Guide to Dream City" blog.

Full disclosure: I have a commercial relationship with Amazon. I will receive a very small portion of the money people spend after clicking on an Amazon link on this site.

This is a great book and well worth reading in its entirety.

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