Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

BOND: Mr. Mayor, welcome to Explorations in Black Leadership. I want to begin with some questions about the Brown decision in 1954, and I know you were only three years old when it happened, so —

WILLIAMS: I wasn't following it that close.

BOND: — you may not be able to answer the first question we've asked everybody. What did it mean to you at the time of the decision? I imagine it meant nothing.

WILLIAMS: Absolutely nothing.

BOND: What has it turned out to mean for you as you became older? You're attending integrated Catholic schools in Los Angeles. What impact, if any, did it have on you as a young man, a high school kid?

WILLIAMS: As a high schooler, I went to a Jesuit school, a very, very good Jesuit school in L.A. called Loyola High School. And my brother and I and our friends from our local parish were probably the only African Americans in the school at the time. There were probably only about ten or twelve of us. And so certainly as time went on, it had an impact on day-to-day life for us in Los Angeles. I mean, I look at Brown v. Board of Education as a statement of the American vision of equality, you know. So there was a first statement of equality that we really didn't do anything about or even talk about for about seventy years in the Declaration of Independence and then Abraham Lincoln came along with the Emancipation Proclamation and the Gettysburg Address. There was a re-statement of the vision of equality and then we came along. The Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court restated the vision, so it was a statement of a vision and we as a society have struggled to try to achieve it.

BOND: Looking back on it from your perspective today as the mayor of the nation's capital, what has it turned out to mean? What has Brown meant in public education, looking at the District schools, at schools around the country? You talk about this statement of equality. Have we lived up to that?

WILLIAMS: Well, it was a statement of a vision, but you know, it was very fascinating reading some of the — at the anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, I read some of my — he was my law professor — Charles Ogletree's book and Derrick Bell has written about it and I wouldn't go so far as, for example, as Professor Bell and say that there was a conscious decision of Brown v. Board to actually subvert integration by the decision itself. I'm one of these believers that if there's a kind of innocent explanation and a conspiracy explanation, it's probably more innocence and a mission in negligence if anything than actual conspiracy, but I do believe —

I do agree with them and I think most observers would have to agree that if you actually look at the impact on our schools today, in many instances, it's had a limited impact, especially when you differentiate by class. So the higher your class, the more impact it's had, in that it actually has resulted in integration. The lower you go down on the economic scale, the more segregated you remain after all these years, so the District schools right now —

You know, I've talked to you about this: we have the most educated population in the country — 37 percent struggling with third grade literacy. The richest population in the country, highest concentration or it used to be — I don't know, it may still be, the highest concentration of poverty. And a startling statistic — the white kids in the District of Columbia are some of the best scoring kids in the United States. African American kids, some of the worst performers in the United States. So, limited impact of Brown v. Board of Education right here on a day-to-day basis, certainly. That's why I call it a statement of a vision but in terms of practical reality and impact, [we] haven't seen it.

BOND: What about that statement of a vision, its effect on you personally? How has it affected you personally, this grand statement in '54 that schools would be open and integrated?

WILLIAMS: I think that it's had an effect on me certainly, personally, in terms of the integration of schools and the ability to go to a school like — I had opportunities when I was the military that I probably wouldn't have had if there hadn't been this statement and this announced, pronounced strategy of integration. I assuredly wouldn't have been at Harvard and Yale as a baby of affirmative action. There is no question about it. I mean, I got good grades but I got there on the basis of affirmative action, I'm sure, and I'm proud of it, so it certainly had an impact there. It's had an impact on the broader integration of the marketplace and public accommodation in the places that I can go but, again, I think there's a big difference in terms of your acceptance of integration based on your class. I think there — like where I grew up in L.A., there're many neighborhoods now where nobody thinks anything about a wealthy African American moving into a neighborhood, but you know, God forbid somebody from South Central moved in as a low income household in that same neighborhood. So —

BOND: So it's sort of a half full/half empty picture?


BOND: Let me move on to some personal things. Who are the people most significant in helping you develop your talents and your skills? How would you list the people who had the biggest influence on you?

WILLIAMS: Well, I always say I am where I am because of progressive government that opened doors for me, like, for example, when I got out of the military, there was a G.I. Bill. That's a great example, you know. Scholarships from the government is a great example. The civil rights movement and loving parents. And if I had to list the people who had an influence on me, first and foremost, it would have to be my mother who really took a leadership role to adopt me when I was four or five years old, so she would have to be the most important, you know, influences of all influences.

And then there was my eighth grade teacher when I was in school who — she was, you know, a white Catholic nun. She was probably very conservative but it was the first statement I heard from any — up until eighth grade — the first statement I heard from any white person that there were these issues that were boiling out there and that they were important issues and one of the things she made us do was read all of Martin Luther King — not all, I'm sure not all — but Dr. King's major speeches, read about the leadership conference, read about the Coordinating Committee. This is a nun in a Catholic grade school and made me actually stand up in front of the class and read — some of the speeches I had to read, Lyndon Johnson's speech in 1965 after the beatings in Selma for the Voting Rights Act.

BOND: The great speech he ends with "We shall overcome."

WILLIAMS: Absolutely. She was a big, big influence on my kind of sense of myself and my own potential in what I could do.

BOND: What did religion have to do with your early upbringing? You mentioned attending a Catholic school. How did that impact you?

WILLIAMS: Oh, Lord. Well, you know the struggles I've had as an African American leader and questions of my identity as an African American. Thoughtfully, and as a friend, and I'll be forever grateful to you, [because you] wrote an article in the Washington Post, a column, when I was running for re-election. I appreciate that, because I've had this issue with identity. I look back at my Catholic upbringing in these schools that were overwhelmingly white — and they were also exclusively male. In some ways, it was a great academic and intellectual upbringing, and so in terms of intellectual curiosity and intellectual competence and all that, I've got a lot to show for it because of that background. But in terms of identity issues, it was kind of a mess. It really was, and I — that's all, I mean, one day I'll deal — try to think back and deal with it. It's not the best situation that way.

BOND: The fact that it was a Catholic upbringing — how did that impact, if at all? Could this school have been Episcopalian, Baptist, Methodist?

WILLIAMS: That's a great question. I think the Catholic church has got a very problematic history when it comes to human relations in general. Witness the Pope coming out years late apologizing for Pope Pius [XII] and the accommodation of the Nazis, basically. He really didn't say anything, and really equating the treatment of Catholics who were dissidents with the treatment of anybody who wasn't white and Aryan — I mean, to make that kind of equation is pretty bad to me, so there's a problem there.

Where I grew up in Los Angeles, the head of the Archdiocese in Los Angeles was very, very hostile — indifferent, if not openly hostile to the aspirations of African Americans. [He'd] come from the traditional leadership of the Catholic church, was Irish American, bedrock conservative, you know, I mean, very very distant, at least, from the concerns being voiced by African Americans at the time. Thought that they were — you know, I'm sure they thought they were communists, part of some left-wing conspiracy, this and that, so. But that really didn't help.

BOND: But at the same time [they] had this education system which had to be at least on a par with or superior to the public schools in Los Angeles and in most cities, so the church — ?

WILLIAMS: The good part of it is that in a lot of these churches — like the Cardinal here, I've worked with him. I got into trouble supporting vouchers, but the reason why I supported vouchers is because of personal history because I think that for us, the best education choice was going to the school we went to. I can't speak for everybody, but for us, it was important for my mother to have that choice. And I think it's important for parents to have that choice in other cities and so even though there is this troubled, kind of checkered history, nowadays a lot of the church leaders have gone overboard to keep the schools — the Catholic schools — open in the inner city knowing that it's a great avenue of upward mobility for kids, so the old — the Cardinal who died became a good friend of mine. You know, even though they were losing money left and right, kept the schools open because of what they were doing.

BOND: Back to influences, in what way is Steve Wareck your political father? You called him that in an interview or something you'd said once. Who is he?

WILLIAMS: Yeah, you've done a lot of good research. Steve Wareck was a very — I would put [him] right up there in the top three or four influences on my life. When I was a student at Yale, I got involved in the student government and I basically got bored in the student government. I got bored in the fraternity situation, and so I ended up getting involved in local government and ended up representing a constituency in New Haven, Connecticut, as a member of the local city council. They're called the Board of Aldermen, and when I came onto the Board of Aldermen, Steve Wareck was the chair of the board of aldermen and I got to know him through that. I worked on his campaign when he ran for Congress in 1982. It didn't really go anywhere, but I worked for him and got to know him even better and stayed in touch with him after I graduated and he was a close friend, [a] supporter in every possible way. And what I got —

What did I get from Steve? Steve is — Steve was like me in lot of ways. He wasn't the most charismatic person. You wouldn't have people lined up to hear a Steve Wareck speech, okay? But in terms of his financial acumen, in terms of his understanding of management, organization — and actually Steve was a big believer in proverb I always say. "To plan is human, to implement is divine." Anybody can plan something, okay, but it takes a real leader to actually implement.

You know, I mean, if I'm sitting up here in a hospital bed you can come to me and say, "Tony, you have a malignant tumor," and you know, talk sweet words to me and I may feel better while I'm talking to you, but if you don't have anything in your medicine bag or anything that you can do for my tumor, what good is that? Another guy or lady may come in. She may say, "You know what, you've got a tumor," and I may feel bad and not like you, but then she actually does something about it — who am I better off with, you know?

BOND: And so Steve Wareck was the implementer guy, the guy who said — ?

WILLIAMS: "You've got a malignant tumor, you know." Well, that wasn't very nice. Yeah. "But here's how I'm going to fix it," and he fixed it.

BOND: You mentioned a moment ago these criticisms for not being black enough.


BOND: What does that say about your overall leadership style? Has it affected your leadership style, these comments?

WILLIAMS: It doesn't say a lot about the state of our community I've come to believe after all these years. That's what I actually believe now. Why should I apologize for how I speak? Why should I apologize for where I went to school? That's ridiculous. When are we going to fight for everybody to be able to go to these schools, and if somebody's goes to this school, gets good grades, speaks well — and I know "well" is culturally biased and loaded and duh — I mean, I understand all that, but I shouldn't have to apologize for it. What I would hope is that parents are saying to their children, "You know what?" I'm saying to my daughter, "You know, he was adopted. Look where he is. You can do the same thing," instead of saying to my child, "You don't like him because he doesn't represent us," or you know — it's crazy.

BOND: In 1988, you said that the D.C. was moving from an old generation of black leadership to a new style. What did you mean by that? Does that have to do in part with these depictions of who's black and who isn't?

WILLIAMS: It's related to that, yes, because I think part of — I think we have to — I used to believe that the new generation was replacing the old generation, but life is always more complicated than, you know, your kind of abstract typologies. Okay, so maybe there's a lot of overlap, but the old generation served a hugely, critically valuable purpose. I've never said they didn't. Because of their advocacy, I'm where I am. I readily — I always say that. But, at a certain point, advocacy will only get you so far. You've got to be able to couple that advocacy, or succeed that advocacy with real implementation and I would say that a leader like yours truly compared to my predecessor, Marion Barry, Dennis Archer compared to Coleman Young. But then it gets complicated because I would say like when I got to know him, I really have tremendous respect for him. You know, I think that Maynard Jackson was a great implementer, but he was also a great leader so it's not — you know.

BOND: It's not black and white.

WILLIAMS: Exactly.

BOND: Now, some biographical literature about you suggests that you enjoy making waves. Is that true?

WILLIAMS: I do. One of the things that I hope to do after my time as mayor is to run another troubled business or organization or something and get it back on its feet. I really find that thrilling. The sense of urgency is really energizing. One of the problems I have now is things are kind of running, and you've created a staff that does things and you wonder like, "What am I supposed to do?" Well, you're supposed to run it. Well, what does run mean?

You know, I kind of like actually being there when the plane's headed toward the ground upside down with all the engines off and trying to get it rolling again. That to me is exciting.

BOND: You enjoy the challenge?

WILLIAMS: I enjoy the challenge, yeah.

BOND: What made you choose your career? In high school you wanted to be a priest. I understand your father talked you out of that.

WILLIAMS: That was earlier I wanted to be — in grade school, I wanted to be a priest.

BOND: Oh, okay.

WILLIAMS: But I really idolized my father and so I've always — I really always admired — I'm not saying I'm some [marionette] or something, but I've always admired people in uniform and what they stand for, so I joined the military and I think a lot of that's because my dad had been in the military. And to me, what I always wanted to do was, in a subconscious way, is I wanted to redeem his sacrifice because he was in this generation where, you know, they gave everything they had for their children. They faced brutal discrimination.

You know, my dad always told people this story — okay, here was a man. He got two Bronze Stars in World War II. He was a captain in World War II. He actually was in some combat situations in World War II. That was very, very unusual to be a captain, an African American, in World War II was a really big deal. Now, when he got out, what could he do? Well, when he got out, when he was leaving, the German prisoners of war were treated better than his men, he and his men. The only job he could get was, what, he worked in the post office. What did he do? He worked thirty-eight years in the post office. He took like one or two days off sick leave. Imagine that. All of his children went to college so I said, "You know what, I'm going to do what he couldn't do," and I always tell people this story.

When we were growing up he always took us out on these cheap excursions because we didn't have a lot of money, right? So, one of the things he did was he would take us out to the airport and we would watch the stars. We'd get on the old propeller planes and we'd watch. And we watched as the propeller planes turned into jets and they had all the smoke and then, you know, we watched this whole kind of scene unfolding. Kind of every other week or so we would go out there and watch the planes and I always wondered — I kind of liked it, because I like — out of that, I really came to like airplanes. You couldn't help if you're spending like four hours a night watching all these airplanes. I felt like an air traffic controller, we were out there so much. But anyway, I always wondered, though, why did he take us out there?

And lo and behold, about — I was telling some people this story about a year or year and a half ago, my wife and I were flying back here from visiting my family, you know, and when the plane was turning around to take off, I almost — I didn't almost, I started crying because I realized what he [my dad] was saying was, "You know, kids, I'm never going to be able to get on this plane because I can't afford it." Right? "I'm never going to be able to fly on this plane, but I'm showing you life in the promised land." You know what I mean? "This is life across the river. I can't cross the river but you're going to be able to cross the river. You do all the things that your mother and I tell you to do, you're going to be on the plane one day," and here we were on this plane eating peanuts.

BOND: Yeah. Does this fascination with planes account — it's got to account for your having gone into the Air Force? And thinking that you would actually fly these planes?

WILLIAMS: Yes, but you know, it was during the Vietnam War. It was a bad time to be in the military.

BOND: How'd you go from counseling draft resisters to going into the Air Force?

WILLIAMS: Well, it was kind of in an anti-war — I don't know what. I wouldn't try to now organize my thinking in any serious way because I don't think it was serious, but I was kind of basically anti-Vietnam War but not really anti-military, and I was in the military and then I said, "Well, I really don't want to make this a career, and as a matter of fact, I really don't believe in violence, period." But then I felt, well, you know, the year that I could've been in but I wasn't in because I got out early, well, I should do some kind of community service to kind of finish out that kind of commitment, you know? It was kind of a mess. I don't know. I wouldn't call myself doctrinaire, categorical conscientious objector now, but I think the basic approach and philosophy has a lot to be said for it.

BOND: Now, going back to leadership and your education, in high school people think of you as a class leader, a smart kid with good grades who sometimes could drift away into his own thoughts. Outside high school, you have various jobs and then at Santa Clara, you're a leader in the anti-Vietnam protests. Is that a moment or close to a moment when you say, "I am a leader. I'm doing things and people are following me. I'm setting the pace for others"? When do you begin to think of yourself as a leadership figure?

WILLIAMS: Ever since I was in grade school I was always elected to class something or another, grade school through — when I was in the military, I was a flight leader and the squadron commander and the student council leader at the academy prep school, and then at Santa Clara, and I went — but I think the difference is someone can be elected leader because you like them and you like — my big thing was a sense of humor. That's what me carried through was I always had a joke for every occasion and you know, imitations of teachers and things, so I always had a group that would hang out with me at lunch and I would do imitations of whatever, you know, and so that was my big calling card and to me, that's leading but it's not really leading. I don't feel I was really leading in a sense of actually doing something until I was on the city council, the local Board of Aldermen in New Haven. I actually felt I was accomplishing something there and not just being impresario host with the most, you know.

BOND: I understand. That strikes me as the one of the most unusual parts of your resume, that after a short time in New Haven, that you offer for the Board of Aldermen and you get elected. So surely you must've thought to yourself "I can do this job better than these other people who are doing it, or the other people who are running for the job," so you begin to think of yourself as a leadership figure, at least by then.

WILLIAMS: Yeah, I did by then. Yeah, I did. And I felt that I could make an impact notwithstanding the fact that — where have I heard this before? I didn't own a house in New Haven, and I hadn't been there a long time.

BOND: Yes, too new in town. You're a carpetbagger. But having had that experience, it must've made the Washington experience at least more understandable.

WILLIAMS: Well, that's why I never in my wildest — people don't believe this. If you ask Kevin Chavous, he will to this day I'm sure not believe me, God bless his heart, but I did not — in my wildest dreams, I had no, never had any expectation or even conception that I would be [mayor]. When I came here, I came here to work in President Clinton's subcabinet. I had no expectation that I would be mayor of the city. I mean, good Lord. The only reason I got into the city was because I was over at the Department of Agriculture, this massive organization at the time. We had a cash flow of around $80 billion dollars — that's the kind of budget you managed there as a CFO. And meanwhile, the city was tottering and Michael Rogers, who was the city administrator, and Jeff [Jeffrey] Thompson, who had become a friend through his work with Johnnie Booker, a lady. I don't know if you've met her, she did a lot of minority business development —

BOND: Yes, I think so.

WILLIAMS: — over with the savings and loan when they all failed and he did a lot of work with them — and so I got to know him.

He said, "You know, well, you really ought to come and work for the District as a CFO of the District. The Control Board is looking for a CFO and you ought to go over and talk to Marion Berry, Mayor Berry. And I said, "Are you crazy? Why would I want to go and work for the District? The place is like cratering." And then I said to myself, "You know what, maybe you ought to go over because it would be exciting. There's a sense of urgency. [It's] definitely broke, and if I go over there and I don't succeed, everybody will say, 'Well, nobody could've succeeded,' but if I go over there and if by small chance I actually make it, who knows what'll happen?" So I went over and it was a good decision.

BOND: Yes, and it turned out to be a great decision, a great decision and from that to mayor. How did that come about?

WILLIAMS: Well, again, nobody will believe this — that Jack Evans or Kevin Chavous or Harold Brazil, the guys I was running against — but I actually was drafted. I'm the only elected official right now, major elected official in the United States, who was drafted and then also won re-election as a write-in, so I definitely have pushed the envelope in terms of electoral politics. But there was a group out in Ward 7— and for viewers, they would know Washington, D.C. is organized north/south, this would be in the southeastern to far northeast part of the city. Some voters who were looking for something new, and one of the things I did when I was CFO and I think this was what — and I didn't do it — again, and I'm being very apologetic and defensive about this — but I did not do this because I was trying to run for mayor. I did this because I thought it was good business.

When I was CFO, one of the things I did religiously, assiduously, is I went all over the city to every group of over ten people and I gave my lecture. Oh, I said the same thing over and over. It was this lecture about how the District got into this predicament and what we needed to do to get out of this predicament, and what we needed to do from an overall broader kind of strategy to rebuild the revenue base of the city. Because right, you can't just fix the budget if you don't have any revenue, you know. So what did we actually do to rebuild the revenue base of the city? And I went all around and around the city, and I guess people liked what they were hearing.

BOND: And responded to you when you ran for the office itself.

WILLIAMS: Oh, yes, I had a huge head of steam and momentum.

BOND: Yeah.

WILLIAMS: I'll give you a statistic. We took off poll-wise. The polls never really closed. They just widened and then another — but another interesting, more interesting thing was that the — well, actually the poll, there was a big gap in the polls, but even then there was a big gap in the African American community. Men as opposed to women, upper income as opposed to lower income, so if you were male upper income, you were more likely to support Tony Williams. If you were female lower income, less likely to support Tony Williams. Because I had built this image of being cruel and indifferent, because one of the things I did when I was CFO is I — and I believe it was justified. I would've done it in a different way and probably the language and the rhetoric I used certainly could've been more sensitive of a very difficult situation for the people involved — but you know, but anyway, I'm trying to butter it up. I fired a lot of people. And —

BOND: I mean, everyone knows that the District's payroll was just over-stuffed with all kinds of people. I think at one time, every seven families in the District, one out of every seven families had an employee.

WILLIAMS: Yeah, or another way of looking at it is if there was one employee for every ten people. It's like, you know, when I worked at the Department of Agriculture, we had a big problem with the size of the Department of Agriculture, and there was a story in the Department of Agriculture where a farm agent out in Nebraska was crying and they said, "Well, why are you crying?" He says, "Because my farmer died." You know?

It was like one employee for every farmer in the country, so we kind of had one employee for every ten people. But, anyway, that built up a lot of animosity, but I was going to say that the interesting thing was up until September, we had raised almost a million dollars in small contributions. Can you imagine that? Of contributions of $500 or less.

BOND: Yeah. It was amazing. I was here. I lived through that. I was glad you did it and happy to see you. Sorry to see you go.

BOND: But at any rate — talk about civic leadership. What is civic leadership? Civic leadership has got to be different. Take your predecessor, Marion Barry. He's one thing in this period before he becomes a public official, he's another thing when he becomes the mayor. He's a civic leader. What are the differences between these different kinds of leadership, not tied to personalities, but are there differences?

WILLIAMS: Well, you know, I've studied a lot about cities now, even before I became mayor, but certainly after I'd become mayor. And since ancient times, cities are very, very important. If you think about it, government and cities — even democracy and cities — have gone hand-in-hand. You can go to ancient cities on any continent and they've had some kind of city government roughly of the same kind forever because it hasn't really changed. The provincial government may have changed, state governments may have changed, national governments may have changed, parties and ideology, but the old city, just chugging along. Think of that, you know what I mean?

Accra [Ghana], you know, ancient Andean cities in South America, ancient cities in South? You can go all over the country, you know, Athens, Alexandria and it was always somebody running the city and this person who ran the city — you know, we all learn in civics that there's an executive function and a state function. So your executive function — you know, you're meeting with the public works team and you're talking about picking up the trash, and the state function, "I'm going over to visit with Prince Charles and Camilla because they're visiting a school, because I represent the city." But I think that that is too easy a separation.

Actually, I believe, if you talk about civic leadership, the roles are actually fused, because you actually realize your executive potential by acting in a kind of a like greater — and this kind of like greater role. This kind of urbo-role, you know what I mean? In other words, you're the facilitator and the coordinator of the city. As a leader of the city, because you have this state function, you actually have this indirect supervisory power which is not really explicit. It's kind of latent and implicit over the non-profits in the city and the business people in the city.

You know, if you look at government and you look at — for example, you take the level we commonly analyze at the president: Is the president leading or are his constituency backers leading? Well, who's really leading? Well, you don't really know because there's always this tension. So, same thing with the mayor. Am I leading, or am I just following the business people, or are the business people following me, or who's following whom? Because there's this tension. But your job as the mayor is to coalesce all these different groups around a common goal. That's what I try to do, for example, with the Anacostia River, working with Eleanor [Holmes Norton], is to get all these groups together and between the two of us, using our kind of — this kind of super-leadership role, convene all these people together even though we had no direct managerial authority over them.

BOND: But as a civic leader, in this instance, of the nation's capital city, how do you get the citizenry, both in these organized groups, the business community, the clerical community, whatever — how do you get them to buy in to what your vision is of where the city ought to be, what it ought to do?

WILLIAMS: I think what you try — I always call it super common denominator. The easy thing would be to just figure out everybody, figure out what they all want, figure out the lowest common denominator, and do that. What I always say is try to the super common denominator. The super common denominator is you want to go here, you want to go here, you want to go here, you want to go here, and figure out what's common to all of them, but at the highest level of attainment and realization, and try to get all of you moving in that agenda.

Now, the good thing is because it has enough of what each and everyone of you want jointly and severally, you're more like to get it, but the difficulty of it is it's kind of like in science. You know, there's a stable equilibrium and an unstable equilibrium. The lowest common denominator is a stable equilibrium. It takes a massive, almost nuclear jolt to knock something out of a stable equilibrium, right, because it's stable. You can have an unstable equilibrium, right? But a slight little jolt can knock it off, so, for example, if you look at — if you analyze species and biology, right, a species population level can hit a stable equilibrium. It takes an enormous ecological shock to knock it off that or it can be in an unstable equilibrium where the slightest change can knock that species and send it downward or upward. You know, for fishing populations and stocks are an example of looking at equilibrium or you want to ban whale hunting is an example of that.

BOND: So when baseball wants to come to?

WILLIAMS: "What is he talking about anyway?"

BOND: I got it. I understand it.

WILLIAMS: You know the analogy I'm making?

BOND: Yes, I do, but I want to put in the specific. Baseball wants to come to the city and that requires the city to make some accommodations. How do you find that super level for all the different people — the fans, the businesses? How do you find that? That super level.


BOND: On baseball or anything?

WILLIAMS: The lowest common denominator to me is bring baseball, add some jobs, add some entertainment value, add some luster to the city because baseball's there, even though it's arguable as to whether it's bringing economic benefit. To me, the super common denominator is to say, "Yes, we want to bring baseball. We're even willing to invest in baseball if we know — " Again, hard to achieve. You can knock it off balance.

If we know it's going to actually bring a huge number of jobs to people who live in the city, business opportunities for people who live in the city, expanded tax base for people in the city, multiplier effect. And this is being — this has been proven true, so far so good, with the investment we've made. It's going to have a huge economic effect on the city because we're not like every other city. All these economists who opine on baseball in other cities, I can't speak to that. I'm not running Seattle or, you know, Pittsburgh. I'm running Washington, D.C. and I know in Washington, D.C., because we have such a limited tax jurisdiction, what does that mean? That means anything you bring in here is going to what? Take that spending power not from your jurisdiction most likely just because of its very nature, but from the surrounding area. Now, I don't know whether baseball here has taken money from pursuits people would've realized somewhere else in the region. I actually think it's additional spending money. I don't think it is zero sum, but in any event, even if it is zero sum, it's zero sum on a regional basis, not a District basis.

BOND: Let me move on to leadership. What do you see as the difference between vision, philosophy, and style? How do these, if they do, interact for you? Vision, philosophy, style.

WILLIAMS: Well, you've got to be — I think that a great example of style — I don't begrudge style. I don't denigrate as a political asset. I may not have a lot of it. I'll put it this way. It's not a question of volume. It's a question of kind. I mean, I think I am where I am because somehow or another I have a style that somebody beyond, you know, my mother and me and my wife likes, right, so whatever it is, it's a unique, weird style, but people like it, right, or I wouldn't be where I am, right? So the style comes in different kinds and I've never criticized it. For example, people say—well, there's a guy running for office here, Adrian Fenty. Good looking guy, beautiful family, has a wonderful political style. Said, "Well, you're just criticizing Adrian because of his political style." No. I think political style is great. That's part of your arsenal. A great example of political style where somebody had a wonderfully defined political style, but I also think did a good job as mayor and wasn't given enough credit was Willie Brown in San Francisco. Willie, incredible political strategist, probably the best political strategist in California, definitely has a unique political style all of his own, and is proud of it and did a great job running the city. He told me this great story.

Have you interviewed him in your series?


WILLIAMS: Oh, are you going to interview him?

BOND: I don't know if we can get him to come this way.

WILLIAMS: Oh, you've got to talk to Willie, yeah, because, right, he has this great story where this lady called him up at three in the morning. She says, "I need a new trash can. He goes, "It's three o'clock in the morning. What are you doing calling me at three o'clock — ?" She says, "Because it's my house, my can, I need a new one." He says, "Okay, yes, ma'am." He took her number and all this. Lo and behold, two weeks later — only Willie would do this — two weeks later, three o'clock in the morning, he calls her and he goes, "I got you a new trash can." She says, "what're you calling me at three o'clock in the morning for?" He says, "Because it's my government, it's now your can, and I want you to know it, so."

BOND: Take style and what about philosophy and vision? How do these things balance with you?

WILLIAMS: To me, the philosophy and the vision come together in the following way. You know, you — I've given you all these platitudes, I know, but another thing is, I was at a conference and a mayor at the conference was saying, "All — " you know, he was referring to people like me, he says, "All they talk about is management, management, management. Management shmanagement. We need a vision. We need real leadership." And I'm saying — and I came back on my turn, "It's not an either/or thing." You know what I mean? The old Japanese proverb, vision without action is what? Is a daydream. Action without a vision is a nightmare. It's not an either/or thing. It's not like, "Oh, we're going to have vision, but who cares about action?" or he doesn't run around doing things without any real strategy. You need both, and the vision and the philosophy come together in this way. Your philosophy informs your vision. Your philosophy as a leader informs your vision, but it also has to be informed by your constituents. I would say if your vision for the city probably, about 50, 60 percent of it's going to be you and 40 percent of it's going to be your kind of philosophy balanced by, tempered by, interacting with all the input you get from your constituents, all these stakeholder groups, blah, blah, blah. And that's informing your vision.

The same way it informs what you do. What you do as a leader? I always use a 60/40 or 70/30 rule and you know what I mean by that? 60, 70 percent of the time you're basically taking dinner orders. You are a public servant. And you know how people when they get some money, they have to be sometimes told how to treat their help in a sensitive, mature way? The public sometimes gets spoiled and they are brutal to their public servants. They treat their public servants in the way they never would treat someone working in their home or mowing their lawn or something. They treat us like dirt. They just treat us — we're presumed guilty, we're idiots, we're thieves, blah, blah, blah. And this is fed by the media which creates this vicious cycle, you know. So 30 percent of the time you're basically taking dinner orders to your public and you've got to throw red meat out to the public, it's like your shareholders, to keep them happy on a short-term basis, but if you're a good leader and whatever else you say about him, I would put, for example, Abraham Lincoln in this.

A lot of the public did not want to be in the Civil War. They were rioting to get out of the Civil War. Whatever motivation you give him, he said, you know, "We've got to stay in this thing and realize it to the end," and he pulled his electorate along. I would like to think that in some ways I've pulled my electorate along. And a good leader is always going to keep that 30 percent or 40 percent that he or she is doing, there're two or three things that are important to them. Maybe the public doesn't quite get it. Maybe there's tension with the public, but that tension with your public is part of good government, and I like to think that over your time in office, if you start at 80 percent and you leave office at 80 percent, you ought to look in the mirror and ask why. Because if you came into office at 80 percent and you left at 80 percent, did you really invest your political capital? Better that you came in at 80 percent. Maybe you went down to 50. Maybe you went down to 45, but then after you left, people say, "Oh, damn, the person did a lot," or "I really appreciate what they did." I really believe that.

BOND: Now, does your vision change or do visions change over time?

WILLIAMS: Yeah, they do. It's your experience. It's your reading. It's, you know, your interaction with everybody from your family and everybody else. I mean, a great example of somebody who — I mean, I think if you read the biographies of Dr. King, he certainly went from the chosen prince, was going to run a great church. He didn't really think about all this political stuff. He grew. Bobby Kennedy clearly is a great example of somebody who grew through their experience from being kind of a just a little right-wing hack, committee guy to really being a real leader. Wouldn't you agree?

BOND: I agree. I agree. I was thinking about King. I just got the last volume of the trilogy.

WILLIAMS: Oh, yeah. I remember that —

BOND: By Taylor Branch.

BOND: Let me ask you — some people categorize the making of leaders in three ways. Number one, great people cause great events. Number two, movements make leaders. And number three, the confluence of unpredictable events creates leaders appropriate for the time. Which of these, if any, fits you? Great people cause great events. Movements make leaders. The confluence of unpredictable events creates leaders appropriate for the time.

WILLIAMS: Yeah — and I like that and I've heard that classification. I like it more than the simple "Is it society or the great person?" theory. And if, you know, I were to say — and with me, it isn't really a combination. It's clearly not one dominant person coming in influencing events. That's not true and it's not a movement. A little bit of it is the movement offering up someone. There is a movement in the city for truth in lending, fiscal soundness, faith and credit, all these kind of terms of art that I came to represent, so a little bit of it was that, but a lot of it was — hopefully, I wasn't drunk like General [Ulysses S.] Grant but I was out in the right time and confluence of events, I was there at the moment.

BOND: The government was broken, you demonstrated you could fix it, and — so this is — in some ways, we couldn't have predicted the government would go broke. Maybe if we'd paid more attention. And we couldn't predict that the Control Board would be set up and you would become its head and we couldn't predict that you'd be the success that you were, so this is a confluence of unpredictable events, creates a leadership figure appropriate for the times. So — now, is your legitimacy as a leader tied to your ability to persuade people to follow your vision or your ability to articulate a vision, an agenda? These are sort of the same thing, but what makes you legitimate as a leader? You become the mayor. Here you are. How do you maintain legitimacy? It's not a matter, I don't think, of style because you brought this style with you. How do you maintain legitimacy?

WILLIAMS: Well, your leadership will take on the form and function and characteristics of your circumstances, so if you're in business, it'd be one thing. In a faith situation, it'd be another. And a mayor, you're the leader because you're demonstrating results in your different roles. And if you're not demonstrating results, ultimately in your different roles you represent, then you're not going to be successful.

So for me, one role is as the mayor, you're the steward of the city. So how are the resources of the city doing? Oh, they're doing good. You're the chief constable of the city. How's public safety doing? Generally doing pretty good. It's going in the right direction. Crime's going down. You're the chief cheerleader for the city. How's investment going? Oh, $35 billion dollars in new investment. Oh, definitely doing good there. You're the leader of getting the city rallied around big things, make the city feel better for itself, you know. I mean, there're a lot of things that have happened in that capacity and then, ultimately, it's, can you get the city focused on some things they didn't even think of before but comes to agree are good things. I would say, for example, the Anacostia Waterfront is an example of that.

BOND: You said to someone in answer to a question how you'd like to be remembered, and you mentioned the Anacostia project. Why is that so important?

WILLIAMS: Because I think that if you — I think a part of your job as mayor is you're the chief art director of your city. You're in all these different roles. You're also the art director. You have to envision what is the signature of your city so, for example, an example of a signature of the city is, I look at the city, what am I looking at, and how do I look at it? Okay. How do I appreciate the city? I appreciate the city in the neighborhoods. You know, I appreciate the city as, for example, in the downtown, and the sense of how I feel in the downtown.

I realize the city — an example would be if I drive down Market Street or Michigan Avenue and Chicago, that's an example of a great street epitomizing the city. The waterfront is an example of something that epitomizes the city. In Washington, D.C., Pennsylvania Avenue is an example of a street that epitomizes Washington, D.C. The waterfront, though, not so much, you know what I mean? Because it's not the kind of dynamic active waterfront that you think of in a great city. You think of the Thames River. You think of when you come in on a plane to New York — and they have discontinued it — but remember you used to fly into LaGuardia, you would fly down the Hudson River and make that turn and then come back into LaGuardia? That was an incomparable signature view of a city and the waterfront of the city.

So I'm saying to myself, how do we create the same excitement and dynamic expression of a waterfront for Washington, D.C? That's number. And number two, how can we do this in a way that creates an economic engine that number three, spills over with benefit for what is actually some of the poorest parts of the city, that so that number — I don't know where I am now, four or five — we're actually using this initiative to unite the city. I actually think that this is a much better way over time to powerfully unite the city than having a big conference and everybody talking about how we're divided, and we're going to have a taskforce, and then what're we going to do? We're going to have a task force that's going to actually do something, so why don't we just start doing it? That's my attitude.

BOND: Do you have a general philosophy that guides your life, a general set of beliefs that guide you? And if you do, and I'm guessing you do, how has this sustained you at moments of crisis and challenge?

WILLIAMS: I think that life is a judgment, you know what I mean? If life were just a lot of bright lines, life would be easy. You know, I think that there's a — there're judgments all the time in life. You know, fish or cut bait, I mean — you do any fishing? I mean, it's a cliche, because it is actually a big issue if you're out there fishing. Do you want to hang in here? Do I want to cut and go somewhere else, because if you're managing a situation, how much are you spending time on your long game as opposed to your short game is a big, big issue in this business, I think in life in general. Always keep your — but that 30, 40 percent on your long-term goal. Make sure it's one or two or three things, and then do all your dinner orders and that's how you're going to stay in business. That's a big, big philosophy for me and then the number two big thing for me is if you're in a bind, right, or you're know you're going to get into a bind — it's like if you're riding a horse and you're coming to a jump, what you've got to do is communicate to that horse, "I believe in you, we're a team, you're going to make it over this jump." If you communicate to the horse, "Oh, I'm scared I'm not going to make it," you're going to crash. Or when you're taking off, right, you pedal to the metal all the way to the end. You don't see the end of the runway coming up and then say, "Oh, my God, we're going to crash!" then pull the power. Yeah, you are going to crash.

And I see people time and time again in this business where they've got to make a critical decision, right? They know there's going to be some opposition to the decision so the analogy would be you're sailing along. All of a sudden you see this storm come up in front of you. Now, what's the best thing to do if you want to get to your destination? Turn and go the other way? Well, that's clearly not going to get you to your best destination. Kind of cut your power and slow down? Why would you want to do that? That's just going to extend the time that you're in the storm. The best thing to do is pedal to the metal, get through the storm as quickly as possible, and I'll give an example with this baseball decision, concrete manifestation of this.

So, here we know — we all know we're going to make this baseball decision. The public at best is 50/50 divided. There's going to be a lot of opposition. I say, "Let's just make the decision, get it through, get it over with, get the storm behind us." All of a sudden we make the decision. The public animosity brews up like a storm. All of a sudden, it's starting to rain. All of a sudden, there's some lightning. All of a sudden some of the people on the ship, on the decision-making ship, go, "Oh, my God, we're all going to die! Let's cut the power." No, why would we want to do that? We cut the power, then we sit here in the storm for three or four weeks. The storm gets worse, the ship almost sinks. And the moral of the story for me is when you make a decision, it may turn out to be the wrong decision. It may turn out to be the right decision. Make your decision. Get through it and then suffer the consequences pro or con.

BOND: Let me shift gears here.

WILLIAMS: What's the difference between that and — the difference between what I take through life, and I'm always sensitive, is there is a fine, fine, razor-thin line between dedication and perseverance and intransigence and stupidity and stubbornness. And a lot of times, it's a consequences of how it turned out. If it turned out well, "Oh, that was fearless leader, great perseverance," but if it turned out bad, "Idiot, stubborn idiot."

BOND: Let me ask you about race consciousness. Does race consciousness affect the work you do? Do you see yourself as a leader advancing issues of race or issues of the larger society or both? Is there a difference between these things and is there such a thing as a race transcending leader, someone who transcends race?

WILLIAMS: Yeah, I think that there is such a thing as a race transcending leader. I think in a lot of ways, you know, I am a race transcending leader. I think that there're other leaders that would come to mind who are race-transcending leaders. A great example in the media would be Oprah. I mean, she's a super leader of the world, empress of the world. She's beyond race, but at the same time is conscious of her identity. One of the reasons why I feel — I take such strong exception to it and it bothers me so much is because I do feel that I do have a role as an African American leader.

BOND: Now, when you're dealing with groups that are all black, that are mixed-race, or all white, do you have a different style for each of these?

WILLIAMS: No. I don't know if that's good or bad, but I don't. No. I really don't. I mean, I —

BOND: Some of our research says that when you're speaking to black groups or mixed groups, that you use more self-deprecating jokes.

WILLIAMS: I wouldn't say that. I think people who know me — I make jokes all the time. I would say I make the same kind of self-deprecating jokes wherever I go. Maybe I make more self-deprecating jokes. I wouldn't —

BOND: We haven't charted them.

WILLIAMS: Yeah, I might make more because I am more self-conscious of my reception, you know?

BOND: Now, if we focus on the idea of black leadership, is this inherently divisive?

WILLIAMS: What do you mean?

BOND: Well, if you focus on just the idea of black leadership, there's a category of people called black leaders. Does this focus create divisiveness? Is it inherently divisive? Are we saying that we're accepting sort of permanent divisions among us, or at least divisions right now that "Here're the black people, here're the white people. This person is the leader of these people but can't be the leader of those," or these people can't be led by the same person?

WILLIAMS: Well, you know, just in my job here, I think you're always going to have black leaders so, for example, I go to the Greek Festival and they've got the Greek leaders. We go to Italian events, they've got Italian leaders. So you're always going to have cultural leaders regardless of how things turn out politically or economically. But right now I think there is a need for political economic leadership because of the situation we're in.

BOND: But you know, I think in society today we tend to think about racial issues in a very different way than these cultural issues. For example, you think about people criticizing Kwanzaa, the celebration. Kwanzaa as the black celebration as opposed to, say, Christmas, but I never hear these same kind of criticisms about St. Patrick Day as being exclusively Irish. Of course, it's not. You know, you see people wearing buttons say "Kiss Me, I'm Irish," and you know they're not, but I think we tend to believe that when race is mentioned, it is inherently divisive, that even to mention it is a divisive thing.

WILLIAMS: Well, it depends on how — I mean, it depends on how race is mentioned. See, if race is mentioned just in the lexicon of music, let's say, or art, it's hugely pervasive throughout the world in real time, so like if you talk to those kids — I was watching this show with these kids in France, who were rioting — they were all totally versed, even though they're speaking French, they're totally versed in gangsta rap and hip hop and all this — which I hate — but they're totally into all that because it's all being communicated. It's not being communicated officially as black culture. It's just communicated and it's adopted and accommodated and everything else. Whereas if you say Kwanza, part of the reason why it takes on this special meaning or there're these special issues, it's because it's not — it doesn't — it isn't seen as coming out of the culture in a kind of organic, I don't know, way. It's kind of seen as coming up in a more arbitrary way. I'm not saying that's neither here nor there, but it's just how I would read that, you know what I'm saying?

BOND: It does seem to be a bit more artificial or made up.


BOND: But nonetheless, many, many people —

BOND: Do you see a crisis in black leadership in communities today?


BOND: What is the crisis?

WILLIAMS: Well, I mean, as you deal with my whole issues here, you know, I mean, I think that we need to — our leadership has to be more inwardly directly as opposed to just outwardly directed. And I think that — my own view, I think that — he hasn't really expounded on this or elaborated on this, but I think a lot of what — I think you could take exception to individual things that Bill Cosby said and how he said it, but the general drift of how we need to take more responsibility in our own families and communities, I think is sound. That's my own view.

BOND: Why do you think it raised such a furor, became such a matter of controversy and debate? Was it solely the way in which he said it? Or was it that people reacted as if he were talking about family secrets?

WILLIAMS: Because I think that, you know, in our history and tradition you've had some advocates who have said, "We need more personal responsibility, we don't need all these government programs, we don't need any government intervention, we don't need any social net, we don't need any remedial or affirmative action of any sort. All we need is self-responsibility." And you've got people on the other end. Maybe it should be over here. You've got people on the other hand saying, you know, "Everything that's a problem is a problem because of white America and the history of oppression and — " you've heard all these things " — and the government." I'm one of these people who's kind of in the middle. The government clearly has a role and the government clearly has — still has a need, dire need to intervene. Hello, look at Hurricane Katrina, you know.

I mean, but at the same time, we need to talk to our own people. In my city and the incidence of AIDS, HIV/AIDS — and part of this is me because I've really not — and I'm saying this, easy for me to say talking to you — I've not really engaged them directly, but the faith leadership — we have to be much more open and expressive about the whole incidence of HIV/AIDS in our community and what it means and why it's here and it's not just — first of all, it's not just sweeping gay sex under the carpet, although there's a big, big part of that. It's also just ignoring the issues of heterosexual sexual activity. That's an example in my mind, you know.

BOND: Look into the future a bit. What kind of leaders are we going to have to have tomorrow, the day after, next year, five years from now? Are we going to have to have a different kind of leadership personality?

WILLIAMS: Yeah, I think so, because I think that just the whatever generation we're in — we're beyond X now, right? Whatever generation we're in, I mean, the way they get — how they do things, how they think of things, where they get their information, is really dramatically different from how we get it. So I think the things you've been talking about in terms of style and substance are changing so much, you're going to get a different leader, whether it's a leader who, out of their own character development comes upon the scene and molds it, or a movement that creates it, or some confluence. But there's going to be a different type of leader. I do believe that, yeah.

BOND: Now —

WILLIAMS: More able and more facile and more adept than the leaders you're seeing today, including yours truly.

BOND: Now, as a society, how can we foster more effective leaders in the future? How can we make it possible for there to be the kinds of leaders you're talking about?

WILLIAMS: Well, I think from a community's point of view, I think that modern technology has gotten to the point where we have to start — I talk about the kind of greater — this kind of greater role of the civic leader to organize all the people in your community wherever you are in the country, who are the thousand, two thousand, three thousand, however many cases there are of children in your community, and really start focusing your government on managing these cases as real life individuals, seeing that they're successful in their voyage through life toward adulthood. Unless my agency does this, and my agency does this and I do that, nobody cares about that. It's what is actually happening with the results of these kids. And I would readily say in my situation here, we've just started scratching the surface of it. I mean, there's a huge amount to do. The next leader's going to be able to combine good management ability with the ability to talk to people as individuals about individuals about real human problems.

BOND: Mayor Williams, thank you for being with us.

WILLIAMS: Thank you. It's a pleasure.