A mayor, not a ma­gi­cian

The DA’s Her­man Mashaba and Solly Msi­manga are cur­rently try­ing to re­vi­talise Jo­han­nes­burg and Tsh­wane re­spec­tively. Tony Wil­liams had a sim­i­lar task at hand when he was ap­pointed as mayor of Wash­ing­ton DC in 1999. Dur­ing a re­cent visit to South Africa, h

Finweek English Edition - - ON THE MONEY -

tony Wil­liams re­calls a sign that hung in his mother’s beauty sa­lon in Los Angeles when he was a boy. It read: “Re­mem­ber ladies, you must have enough hair for the style you want. We are beau­ti­cians, not ma­gi­cians.” His mother’s down-home phi­los­o­phy guided Wil­liams when he be­came mayor of Wash­ing­ton DC, Amer­ica’s cap­i­tal city, in 1999. He was crit­i­cised for spend­ing too much money on the wealthy rather than di­rectly on ser­vices for the poor, for in­stance by up­grad­ing parks and giv­ing in­cen­tives to com­pa­nies to move to Wash­ing­ton.

He re­sponded by say­ing he had to spend money on such things to at­tract in­vest­ment, which would grow the econ­omy, which in turn brought in the taxes, which fi­nanced in­vest­ment in ser­vices for the poor.

“You must have enough econ­omy for the things you want to do. Ev­ery­one can talk about re­dis­tri­bu­tion, but if you’re just re­dis­tribut­ing a de­clin­ing pie, what good does that do any­body?”

Not­with­stand­ing the naysay­ers, the proof of his mother’s phi­los­o­phy was in the re­sults. Wil­liams in­her­ited a city on the brink of fi­nan­cial col­lapse from his pre­de­ces­sor, Mar­ion Barry, who was a civil rights hero but a very poor ad­min­is­tra­tor.

By the time he left of­fice in 2007, Wil­liams had turned the city around, at­tract­ing large in­vest­ments and leav­ing it with size­able cash re­serves, a good bond rat­ing, a more ac­ces­si­ble health­care sys­tem, a new ma­jor-league base­ball sta­dium, de­creased crime rates and a grow­ing pop­u­la­tion.

Wil­liams con­veyed his phi­los­o­phy to Jo­han­nes­burg mayor Her­man Mashaba and Tsh­wane mayor Solly Msi­manga when he vis­ited Gaut­eng re­cently to en­hance di­a­logue be­tween the US and South Africa on best prac­tices in city man­age­ment and ur­ban re­vi­tal­i­sa­tion. Wash­ing­ton DC and Pre­to­ria are sis­ter cities.

As it hap­pened, Msi­manga and Mashaba are run­ning cities which the DA re­cently took over from the ANC. So, as he did, they are in a sense re­build­ing their cities. Mayor of Wash­ing­ton DC from 1999 to 2007 Mayor of Tsh­wane Though re­luc­tant to “preach”, Wil­liams did say the most im­por­tant les­son of his ex­pe­ri­ence for any mayor was that re­build­ing a city is about re­build­ing a sense of com­mu­nity in all its dif­fer­ent as­pects. And the key to that, in turn, is re­build­ing public trust. “Public trust is public ac­count­abil­ity, it’s ste­ward­ship; it’s fidu­ciary re­spon­si­bil­ity for the as­sets of the city. Cer­tainly the bud­get is a part of that. Ac­count­abil­ity is about trans­parency. You should be able to know what public of­fi­cials are do­ing with your money. It’s not their money. They’re not sup­posed to ag­gran­dise them­selves with your money.” Fond of metaphors, Wil­liams says be­ing a mayor is like be­ing a gar­dener, cre­at­ing the right con­di­tions for the econ­omy to grow. A key part of that is public trust. Which in­cludes be­ing able to re­as­sure in­vestors that things at least won’t get worse. Public trust was the foun­da­tion on which he started to im­prove public safety and ba­sic public ser­vices like keep­ing the streets clean. Even re­mov­ing graf­fiti and fix­ing bro­ken win­dows were im­por­tant, he said.

Mak­ing tough choices

This public trust, faith and re­spect were vi­tal to en­able his gov­ern­ment to take the next big step, which was mak­ing hard choices, “with­out be­ing run out of town”.

“Be­cause if you prom­ise ev­ery­thing to every­body you end up not be­ing able to do any­thing for any­body [ . . .] If you de­liver on those ba­sic things, then they’ll stay with you even with re­ally hard de­ci­sions.”

One of Wil­liams’s tough­est de­ci­sions was to close the city’s ma­jor gen­eral public hos­pi­tal in 2001. Some lo­cals be­lieve he did so sim­ply to cut costs to save the city from bank­ruptcy.

He de­scribes it dif­fer­ently, say­ing the District of Columbia Gen­eral Hos­pi­tal wasn’t re­ally serv­ing the best in­ter­ests of the poor. Poor res­i­dents had no health­care un­til they re­ally got sick and then they had to go to the sub­sidised public hos­pi­tal – “the poor per­sons’ hos­pi­tal” – for emer­gency treat­ment.

“That was your health­care. I was say­ing, ‘Why is it that when you’re poor, you can only get care when

Tony Wil­liams

Solly Msi­manga

Her­man Mashaba Mayor of Jo­han­nes­burg

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