Techno-Crat

D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams now meets constituents in cyberspace with his online blog

September 14, 2005|By Joe Burris | Joe Burris,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - In the 1980s, New York City Mayor Ed Koch canvassed the five boroughs of America's attitude capital with the audacity to ask of its citizenry, "How'm I doin'?"

Now Washington's Democratic Mayor Anthony Williams is posing the same question in his town - America's unsolicited-opinion capital. But unlike Koch, Williams isn't going street to street. He's launched an online Web log, known as a blog, where he conveys his vision for the district while entertaining comments in a virtually unfiltered, go-ahead-and-say-what's-on-your-mind fashion.

The bookish, no-frills leader known in some circles here as "the bow tie mayor" views it as a chance to interact with the public in ways he can't through conventional media. Appears he was right: The site - blog.mayor.dc.gov - launched Aug. 16, and within 48 hours it received 1,112 hits.

Then comments poured in, many of which could have been prefaced with words Koch, also a Democrat, undoubtedly heard when he broached New Yorkers for their opinions 20 years ago:

"Remember that you asked, fella."

Here's one to Williams from Steve1950: "Please try to do something about the illegal rush-hour parking by DC Gov't and police vehicles on 3rd St., NW between D and E Streets. ... I've called both the Chief of Police's office and the District police division responsible and they don't seem to care."

Sjsstevens wrote: "Can you please do something to help the Congress Heights Section of S.E.? We do not have anything there worth spitting at, no sit down restaurants, no viable businesses. I have to drive to S.W. just to feel like I'm part of the city."

This came courtesy of Deej20032: "Yesterday I got in my car to go to work and noticed [an expired inspection] ticket on my windshield. ... Why is it that the DC police are rarely seen in my neighborhood during daylight hours, but they can creep around at 11:30 at night recording expiration dates on cars?"

Williams knows he brought this upon himself. And he welcomes it all, from kudos to criticisms to the query as to why Geena Davis, for her new TV series about being the first female president, filmed a baseball scene at an Orioles game instead of a Nationals game.

"It's really for interaction for broad, and at times, in-depth commentary and interaction with citizens," said Williams, who said he intends to read every comment and will respond to a select few.

Beyond the Beltway

Most any topic is fair game, and you don't have to be a D.C.-area resident to comment. Among the topics Williams has tackled: education, economic development and making government work.

Williams' prose is direct, to the point and at times seems like a bare-knuckles attempt to reach out to the everyday citizen.

"The blog is not a service request line," he writes. "Then again, I'm a public servant and you're the boss and you can use the blog for whatever damn thing you like."

At other times, his scholarly background comes through, in obscure terminology like "quasi prime directive." Occasionally he'll try his hand at wit. In apologizing for his one-week tardiness in submitting entries, he wrote: "As Yoda would say, `a weekly paragraph will not an exciting blog make.'"

Many who respond to the blog appear more than willing to take him up on using it for their own purposes, scarcely commenting on his entry and instead getting right to what they believe ails the district.

Others use it to conjure up hot topics, such as gentrification. In one entry, Williams addressed complaints that he hasn't taken the lead in improving D.C. public schools, saying that often his hands are tied: "The citizens, through the council, have made the considered judgment that they don't want ultimate authority for the schools to lie with the mayor," he said. "Logically, and consequently, they therefore don't want responsibility to lie there as well."

To that, Willy_question fired back: "Oh boo hoo! The status of the school system in D.C. has been deteriorating since your first term as mayor, and you haven't done anything but manage your wealthy white real estate ventures."

But mostly, respondents have treated the blog as an extension of the district's customer service office, prompting Williams to request that any specific service issues be directed to the proper government agency first.

Many service requests

"There are a lot of inputs for service requests," he said. "Even though you can't keep people from asking about their trash being picked up, that's really not the purpose of it.

"It's really to talk about, if they think the trash isn't being picked up in their neighborhood, why? If they feel the police presence isn't in their neighborhood, why? As opposed to just interacting on a request, although I'm certainly happy to do that."

Williams is among few mayors who have launched blogs; others include St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, who contributes entries daily.

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