Our Exuberant Mayor, Tony the Blogger
He doesn't post often, and his blog is far more diary than true blog, but D.C. Mayor Tony Williams, always something of a political mystery, is turning into an unusually open and fascinating dabbler in the art of the cyberconfessional.
The mayor, flush with the confidence of a lame duck, has even opened his comment boards, which is unusually gutsy for a sitting, high-level official. Williams posts citizen emails, complaints and kudos alike. And most surprisingly and most satisfyingly, he's using the blog to vent.
At the peak of the latest chapter in the baseball stadium soap opera, the mayor wrote:
How do I bear the relentless, incessant criticism? How do I function in a low - make that zero gratification - environment? How do I keep, or do I keep my wits in the midst of the cacophony we call local democracy?....
II know, one can savor the criticisms for lessons learned or sift the sands of experience for deeper meaning, and this sounds good. The problem comes when you realize a lot of the criticism is, while well-intentioned, uninformed, self-interested, and or inconsistent.
Not to spoil it for you, but eventually the mayor reveals that in such trying times, he turns to scripture for solace and motivation. That's of course a time-tested source of strength, but what's most remarkable here is that Williams, unlike almost any other major figure in American politics, is admitting to the difficulty of coping with the pressure and the criticism that are such an elemental part of the job.
You didn't hear Andy Card or the president acknowledging any such thing in their resignation performance this week.
And Williams' blog is hardly all complaint and confessional. At times, he is downright exuberant, not exactly a characteristic he manages to convey in public appearances. In fact, what's always frustrated me about this mayor is the disconnect between the personality he shows in small groups--witty, even laugh out loud funny, self-deprecating, even arch about the foolishness and staginess of politics--and the dour, uncomfortable, unemotional persona he too often displays in the public rituals of office.
I've just read Candice Millard's riveting new book on Theodore Roosevelt's post-presidency exploration of the unmapped and wild "River of Doubt" in Brazil, and the portrait of TR there is of a man who simply cannot contain his love of life and his hunger for contact with people and the world around him. There are moments in Tony Williams' blog when you can sense some of this exuberance, this joy in life and work .
But there are also dispiriting moments in which the mayor writes things that are oh so political and oh so obviously not true, such as his comical claim that, in the current debate over whether to build a new hospital on the site of the old D.C. General Hospital,
I think we would all agree that Howard University makes an ideal partner with the city in a premier health initiative, given the city and Howard's unique individual experiences and shared history.
Ok, so he is an elected official and he does have voting blocs to whom he is expected to cater. But the cool and fascinating question for the next generation of politiicans will be to what extent they will be held responsible for all the honest and open things they have said in blogs and Facebook and a million other corners of the web, and to what extent we will still expect them to tighten up their thinking and don the verbal shrinkwrap of American electoral politics.
Williams was elected because he was no politician. In his blog, he reminds us why he was such an attractive candidate that first time around and why he remains one of the most interesting, if flawed, mayors in the land. If he were 25, would he be cutting even looser online, and would that boost his political career or blow it out of the water?
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