Yesterday, Washington, D.C. mayor Anthony Williams announced that he will not run for a third consecutive term next year. Even though I am a Republican and Williams is a Democrat in this one-party government system, my hat's off to him for the tangible good that he has done for the city over the last 7 years. He has been a great mayor and a proper steward of his office. He has brought function and growth, where before him there was dysfunction and poverty. Under Williams' tenure:
(1) Roads began to be maintained properly;
(2) Neighborhoods were refurbished and property values soared;
(3) Business began to feel welcomed in the city by the government;
(4) Crime, especially violent crime, plummeted;
(5) Corruption was punished and the culture of corruption receded;
(6) Development was encouraged and a very productive developer-government partnership formed;
(7) The city budget was balanced and tough spending decisions were made with dispatch in the face of entrenched, voracious special interests;
(8) Professional city management became the norm rather than the exception;
(9) City services became reliable and the government responsive; and
(10) The city ceased to be a laughingstock across the country.
As The Washington Post editorial board says,
When Mr. Williams took the oath of office, the District was being run by a congressionally created, presidentially appointed financial control board. The city was in financial ruin. Wall Street had withdrawn its welcome mat, and the local government was discredited both in the eyes of its residents and on Capitol Hill. Several city agencies were being operated by court-appointed receivers, and middle-class residents, fed up with crime and inferior basic municipal services, were abandoning the District in droves.
During Mr. Williams's tenure, the control board departed two years before deadline, court receiverships were lifted, the city's budgets were annually balanced, Wall Street upgraded D.C. bonds from junk status to an A rating, violent crime declined, homeownership rates rose and the D.C. treasury was filled with a healthy surplus, including a $300 million rainy-day fund. Doors are open to the mayor at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue NW. A city once shunned is now the place to be, during evening hours as well as during the day.
Some say [WaPo] that the city has become a very expensive place to live, and I would agree that this is evident. Indeed, there is even a racial element to this, as some rich white people are supplanting some middle class and poor black people (to the tune of a couple percent of the population). However, for me that is a measure of how much progress the city has made. People with money and other options want to live here rather than elsewhere. It's also true that the services to the poor haven't seen much increased funding, even if they now may be managed better. For me, this indicates that the government understands that the city needs a better mix of rich to poor in order to be able to provide better for both.
There are a few criticisms that I have of the Tony Williams administration. However, these few criticisms are the kind that you like to have when all else is good. During the last year, the government has moved its spending focus away from infrastructure (roads, etc.). I think this is unfortunate, as I think we have an opportunity now to cement the city as the center of the metropolitan area. We need to build it our way before the suburbs build it their way. This is a very long-term and expensive project. Also, I would like to see lower tax rates. Right now, our taxes are comparatively very high -- city residents are the most taxed in the entire country. I would like to have seen a reduction in the income tax as the real estate assessments surged.
On the whole, I think it will be tough to fill the shoes of Mayor Williams. But I hope that Mayor Williams' stamp on the city will last a long time after he leaves.