Sherwood’s Notebook: Tony Williams on Snow, Taxes, Et Cetera

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When the snowstorm was threatening us last Friday, former Mayor Tony Williams seemed relieved that he wasn’t the mayor, out in the city in boots directing the Transportation and Public Works departments.

Being out with the troops “was emotional support,” Williams said on WAMU 88.5 FM. “People want to see you, to know that you’re there on top [of things].”

But he said snow preparations are done in advance and no amount of grandstanding will make it better. He said he thought the city has been doing a good job with snow removal, but he modestly didn’t say that it started with him. It did.

Williams was a guest on the station’s “Politics Hour,” one of the few times that he has sat for an extended interview.

The first caller had the question a lot of people ask these days — would he run for mayor again? “Please,” the caller said, promising to work for Williams.

“No sir,” Williams quickly responded. “No plans, categorical, Sherman-esque. No. No. I’m not running.” He said he was honored to have served and felt he had done a good job, but it was time for new people.

More important than elective politics, Williams has a lot of major issues on his plate.

He is heading the D.C. Tax Revision Commission. It will report later this year on how the city tax system can be more efficient, capture revenues that are out there and be more fair to all taxpayers.

Williams, who also is head of the business-oriented Federal City Council, says the city and the region must focus on critical infrastructure improvements in roadways, Metro, water and sewer, and other crucial building blocks of any community.

But there isn’t a lot of money just sitting around. “So we’ve got to look for some innovative ways to do it,” he said. “It’s first and foremost one of the most important things we can do.”

Williams also cautioned that the federal government is not likely to grow very much, curbing both federal spending and the private businesses that feed off of it. He said the District, like New York City, needs to do more to promote tourism, a natural base for the region.

When he was mayor, Williams famously said the city needed to be better run and needed to attract 100,000 new citizens to help its vibrancy and to provide revenue for human services, education and public safety.

The city population is improving, but some are complaining that gentrification is pushing out too many less-affluent, middle-class citizens. Williams acknowledged that is a downside. He said the city must protect lower-income citizens. But he said the stronger economic base is important.

“Yeah, I love what’s happening,” he said, praising both former Mayor Adrian Fenty and now Mayor Vincent Gray for pursuing new investment and new citizens. “People criticize gentrification, new people coming to the city … [but] you’re adding new investment to the city.”

He said gentrification provides needed revenue. “The kind of programs we need in early childhood, in recreation, in education — the money has to come from somewhere. It has to come from investment.”

Williams noted the city has to be for everyone. He recounted how he regularly rides the bus to work. Some people recognize him. “But then I heard one lady on the bus say, ‘Well, he wouldn’t be on the bus with us poor people.’ It made me feel great, that I am on the bus. We’re all in this city together.”

■ State of comatose. Mayor Vincent Gray likes to give speeches and talks, to hold cabinet meetings and to discuss most anything anywhere. In short, the mayor knows a lot and rarely is stumped. And we mean this in a favorable way. He is interesting to talk with on all types of subjects.

But the mayor, according to many officials and community leaders, does seem to go on too long in his presentations.

The annual State of the District address — originally dreamed up by then-Mayor Marion Barry because he was jealous of the President’s State of the Union — is this week.

We want to remind the mayor that President Obama spoke only 19 minutes at his recent inaugural. That’s a good target time.

We also know that Fidel Castro once spoke for 4.5 hours before the United Nations in 1960. Bill Clinton spoke for 70 minutes at the 1996 Democratic Convention.

We hope the mayor spurns those examples and follows the example of the late actress Greer Garson. She still holds the record for the longest Oscar acceptance speech — five and a half minutes in 1943.

Hint, hint, Mr. Mayor.

■ Every email counts. The D.C. Open Government Coalition has forced the D.C. Council to recognize that city business done with private emails is still city business and subject to Freedom of Information Act requests. Mayor Gray has directed his administration to avoid using personal email accounts. The council has been less willing to make that a rule. But the coalition sued, and the suit has been settled. Emails are emails when it comes to government business, not a way to hide.

■ Merry Valentine’s Day. It’s our annual rant. For goodness sakes people, it’s almost Valentine’s Day. Please remove your exterior Christmas decorations — the glittering wreaths on the doors and windows, the inflatable Santa in the front yard, the big red ribbon adorning your car’s front grill.

You know who you are.

Tom Sherwood, a Southwest resident, is a political reporter for News 4.

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