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D.C. mayor says election won’t cripple agenda

September 30, 2005

By David Lawder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Washington Mayor Anthony Williams
has bowed out of the race for re-election, but insists he has
not crippled an ambitious agenda for his final 15 months in
office.

Williams said his plans for a new $300 million-plus
regional medical center, new library system, $500 million
convention hotel and new Department of Environment for the U.S.
capital will not be held hostage by election-year politics
among the three city council members vying to succeed him.

“It’s going to be a challenge, but I think we’ll be able to
get them through,” he told Reuters in an interview late on
Thursday after announcing he would not seek a third term next
year.

“A lot of the things we’re trying to do are supported by a
number of the candidates. A new hospital and a new library
system — how can you be against that?”

Williams, who presided over Washington’s journey from urban
blight to fiscal prosperity during two terms as mayor, said he
would have a harder time dealing with the city council if he
were proposing more controversial actions “where I’m cutting
something or gutting something.”

District of Columbia Council Chairman Linda Cropp, who
sparred with Williams last year over a deal to build a new
baseball stadium for the Washington Nationals, has declared her
candidacy for mayor, as have council members Adrian Fenty and
Vincent Orange.

Fenty, who opposed the $534 million stadium deal, has been
particularly critical of Williams’ pursuit of big-ticket
development projects, saying the city’s poor and middle-class
blacks have been left behind.

“I think you’re going to see a more active council because
of the election, and if the projects are worthwhile, they’ll
get passed,” Fenty said. “I just wish he had put affordable
housing and schools at the top of his list. It’s at the top of
mine.”

Williams, freed from the burden of campaigning, has said he
will spend more time in city neighborhoods to drum up support
for his plans. Among his other priorities:

— Tougher penalties for gun-related crimes, prostitution,
domestic violence and gang activity.

— Approving a stadium construction contract, bond
financing for $60 million in neighborhood development projects
and financing for $200 million in mental health facilities.

— Sale of five surplus schools and a jobs bill that
establishes a “living wage” for city residents.

‘FRYING PAN’

Riding in his black, chauffeured sport utility vehicle near
the White House, Williams, 54, said running and rebuilding the
city required his full concentration every waking hour. He was
not prepared for “another four years in the frying pan.”

With Washington on solid fiscal ground and construction
cranes crowding its skyline, he said the city’s biggest
challenge now was to improve the school system.

The city’s public school system has consistently performed
below those in similarly sized U.S. cities in recent years
despite a relatively high per-pupil spending level. Critics
have cited excess school buildings, organizational failures and
poor leadership.

About 20 percent Washington’s 554,000 residents live below
the federal poverty line, of $17,000 per year in income for a
family of four.

“I’ve got the number of jobs increasing, but the next mayor
has got to get people ready for those jobs,” Williams said.

He said the new school superintendent, Clifford Janey, was
moving in the right direction, but acknowledged that the gulf
between rich and poor was still too great in Washington.

“All of the racial and class divides that were uncovered in
glaring detail by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, we have the
same kinds of divisions here in this city. We’ve increased the
number of jobs in the city but unemployment has increased in
the city at the same time.”




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