Williams era could benefit University

With hope for the future, the nation’s capital inaugurated a new mayor this month and welcomed back powers previously granted to the federal government.

Even before Anthony Williams (D) became the District’s fourth mayor Jan. 2, city residents were optimistic the end of former Mayor Marion Barry’s era would bring a new professionalism to city management. And University officials said they share the hope that improved management will lead to improved relations between the District and GW, and more communication and partnerships.

“He comes in with the wind to his back and he will not have an uphill fight, unlike previous administrations,” said Bernard Demczuk, assistant vice president for governmental relations, who previously worked for mayors Sharon Pratt Kelly and Barry as director of intergovernmental relations.

Demczuk said Williams is in the perfect position to move the city in the right direction, with positive results for GW.

“The better the city is seen, the better the University is seen around the country,” he said.

During the Barry era, GW had a reputation for being out of place within the city, said Jeffrey Henig, a political science professor and director of the Center for Washington Area Studies.

“There is still a sense in much of D.C. that GW is not of the city, but in the city,” Henig said.

He said much of this is because GW is a predominantly white institution in a predominantly black city. But in recent years, Barry has appeared on campus more often and been involved in some minor partnerships with GW.

“Barry was a pragmatist and knew how to work with the University,” Henig said. “But he didn’t see the need to stick his neck out for the University.”

The lack of major collaboration hurt the University, Henig said.

“GW still never was able to contribute (to the city) as much as it probably could have or should have,” he said.

With a new mayor, Demczuk said he believes a stronger dialogue may lead to new educational partnerships and a collaboration of resources.

“The new mayor has already signaled he wants a working partnership with universities,” he said.

Many D.C. residents expect major changes in city management in the first few months of the Williams administration. While Barry’s flamboyant personality and budgetary problems hurt the city’s reputation, Williams’ mild-mannered approach and business experience are expected to be welcomed changes.

“I think it’s clear that there is a very positive reaction to Williams both in the city and in Congress and beyond the borders,” said GW President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg.

Henig said he sees students benefiting from an improved District government because it provides another government outlet from which students can learn.

“I can easily envision the District government being a lot more open to student internships,” he said.

Henig said many District agencies were in chaos in previous years, and officials were embarrassed to invite interns.

Trachtenberg said a cleaner city also helps attract students, faculty and staff. He wants GW employees to live in the city, and a better public school system is necessary to attract them.

Trachtenberg said it is too soon to tell whether Williams will effect change in the city’s bureaucratic structure. But he said he expects a good relationship with the new mayor.

“Our relationship with Williams is very congenial and very positive,” Trachtenberg said. “I’d like to feel the mayor would feel free to call me.”

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