Just over 20 years ago, Anthony Williams ’79 was a political science student at Yale who was proud of his election to the New Haven Board of Aldermen.
But today Williams is in his third year as the mayor of Washington, D.C., facing the daunting task of running a city that has a governing structure unlike any other.
Returning to Yale yesterday for a Pierson College master’s Tea, along with a speech in Battell Chapel and a dinner gala, Williams spoke about his unique role as mayor of Washington and his vision of urban society in the 21st century.
David Gest ’03 said he enjoyed hearing Williams speak.
“The articles I read complained about how he wasn’t charismatic, but he was a very eloquent speaker,” Gest said. “He’s a very intelligent man.”
Williams said that being mayor of Washington, D.C. is uniquely challenging in that Congress has a say in virtually every decision he must make.
“The relationship with the federal government just permeates everything that you do,” Williams said. “The budget has to be approved — The legislation has to be approved.”
An audience member asked about the possibility of statehood to relieve the District of Columbia of what she called “taxation without representation” and the oversight of the federal government. Williams said statehood is not the most likely scenario.
“I don’t spend so much time thinking about statehood, but we should have representation,” Williams said of Washington D.C., which does not have voting members in Congress.
Williams said he believes that the city of Washington is faring much better recently. A long exodus from the city is now ending, with more and more people settling in D.C. and the city posting its first gain in population in 30 years.
“We’re leaving the century of suburbs,” Williams said. “We’re entering the century of cities.”
As Washington’s population begins to rebound, Williams said it is important to bring investment into the city, as well as to create a strong system of education with equal opportunities for all children.
“In my mind, we have a tremendous opportunity right now in Washington, D.C.,” Williams said. “We’d like to leave a city in 20 and 30 years that is not just a living, breathing example of democracy, but also one where [our] children are well-educated.”
Williams said the economies of American cities will have an increasingly greater demand for labor, and that it is important to prepare for this early.
“Meeting labor needs through immigration [is] only a recipe for combustion,” Williams said.
Williams said he favors a plan for gentrification, which calls for rebuilding deteriorating neighborhoods by providing an influx of middle-income and affluent people.
“You want people with money in your city,” he said. “But we have to distinguish gentrification from displacement.”
Williams also said he would like to have a $1 billion “maglev” — or magnetic levitation — train run through Washington, D.C. He said New Haven could also benefit from such a train.
Williams said he has benefited from being a newcomer to the D.C. area, giving him a different perspective on many issues than local citizens.
“I don’t have this past history,” he said. “So you can look at everything fresh.”
Williams graduated magna cum laude from Yale, and then earned a J.D. and a master’s degree in public policy from Harvard before going to Washington, D.C. He also served in the Air Force.