Mayor Anthony Williams of Washington, D.C.
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MARGARET WARNER: Ever since a hijacked plane slammed into the Pentagon on September 11, Washington has been on the frontlines of the new terrorist threat. For insight into how the city is coping we’re joined by its mayor, Anthony Williams.
Welcome, Mayor Williams.
ANTHONY WILLIAMS: Thank you, Margaret.
MARGARET WARNER: First of all, would you agree with kind of the thrust of that report, that the public health system let down those two postal workers?
ANTHONY WILLIAMS: When you talk about the public health system, the federal level, the CDC initially with the decision not to go into Brentwood aggressively based on what they knew at the time and the science at the time, if you talk about, Dr. Wachs, my health director, said that that perimeter of symptom notification should have been wider, yes, those were failures, but I think it’s important to note that people are working with the best intentions, people are working very, very hard, people are working on their best experience, the science as they know it, and really one of the things we’re learning from September 11 is that this is an evolving crisis or situation, and that we have to be ready as public officials to go out there and make decisions, go out there and take risks, go out there and share information with the public knowing that in a week or two weeks we may be second guessed, but I think that’s – that cost is worth it.
And that problem is worth it – to get out there with people with early information. The most important thing I’ve learned since September 11 is that you can’t provide too much information to people.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, two days ago — you have the daily briefings and we showed a clip of that — two days ago at the briefing you said at least vis-à-vis anthrax you thought the worst of this is over. Do you still feel that way?
ANTHONY WILLIAMS: What I’ve tried to do and I use a forest fire analogy is try to set up a fire break around this — to try to spread the perimeter for treatment of employees as wide as we can to get out there with what the doctors are calling prophylaxis – in other words prospective treatment as wide as we can and nip this thing in the bud — try to get control of it to move to other larger agenda, which is what do we expect our businesses to do?
What do we expect our people to do? What do we expect different parts of our community to do in a way that we can assume these new risks that we have to do?
And Washington, D.C., like New York City or any big city in America but I would say especially Washington, D.C., because we’re a target rich environment — how do we balance the need for public safety with the need for being a living breathing city that still works and is open? And it’s a very, very difficult choice, a very difficult balance to strike.
MARGARET WARNER: Give us a little greater sense about the impact, September 11 and this anthrax outbreak has had on this city.
ANTHONY WILLIAMS: Well, the impact I mean you had the initial strike on the Pentagon and the shock that that presented to the city. I’ve said to people you are mayor, you are the chief constable of the city, you’re the chief planner of the city.
One of the most difficult jobs for being a mayor is to be the chief counselor – to go in and to talk to the schoolchildren who are lost on Flight 77 — to go and talk to loved ones of Pentagon personnel who were lost — to talk to the copilot of the plane — to talk to his family that is, this is very, very difficult to do. And so that emotional trauma if you will in the city hurt — because when something happens in our city, immediately it hurts.
And then you added to that what happens to our nation here in the nation’s Capitol, that hurts even more. Then you have the closure of Reagan National Airport and the big message there was we have to be an open city. We have to resist these terrorists. We have to go on about our daily lives.
We were just getting into that when all of a sudden we have this anthrax situation. And so it has been very, very difficult to try to create that long-term sustained message we are an open living, breathing city, while at the same time meeting the critical challenges day to day, week to week.
MARGARET WARNER: You also have a lot of extra responsibilities here because there are all these federal facilities to protect which your police are doing. What gets lost there? First of all, how much of a drain is it on the city and then what has to give?
ANTHONY WILLIAMS: Well, what people, I mean your viewers can appreciate is when it comes to overlapping governmental responsibilities, I mean we have been there done that in Washington, D.C. – we have more — we deal with the federal government.
We are joined at the hip with the federal government, both with the Executive and with the Congress. But they are two separate branches of government. We have to deal with both of them. Fortunately we have a very good relationship with the Bush Administration and it’s improving all the time.
And I actually think that now for example on a law enforcement basis, I’ll give you an example. The work of our police with the FBI is now setting a model I think for the rest of country. To give you an example we do a good job with the IMF World Bank. We do a good job with the inauguration. We are already into experience of working very, very closely with the federal government.
We’re trying to do that now with something called a joint operation center. We have a center where there is line working real time coordination between Secret Service, FBI, and our law enforcement people. That’s a good thing.
We need to do that prospectively. Give you an example; there are something like 30 police departments — more than 30 police departments federal and local in this region. We all don’t broadcast on the same frequency. Clearly I mean no one sat around and planned this. But clearly now in the situation we are facing post-September 11 this is a major challenge we all have to meet and we’re determined to meet.
MARGARET WARNER: You said earlier that Washington is a target rich environment. Do I assume, can I take from that that you are assuming that if there is another terrorist attack, Washington is very much still on the short list of cities that would be attacked?
ANTHONY WILLIAMS: What I’m saying very emphatically to my people in our business community — which really need to be rallied — is that we are a great city and a great company — and a great country. We’ve been knocked down but we haven’t been knocked out. I tell people don’t be scared; be prepared.
In other words, we’ve got to have one separate message. There are new risks in our lives. We’ve got to assume these risks, get on top of the risks and manage it, and at the same time, recognizing this, go on about our lives. I think it would be foolish to say everything is fine; we’re going to go on about our lives. That’s wrong, but it’s also wrong to hide in your closet.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. But what is the biggest challenge in getting prepared for this?
ANTHONY WILLIAMS: The biggest challenge is getting prepared for this I think is – and I think we’re moving aggressively on this — is the intergovernmental cooperation that is really required here. In New York City, for example, you have 40,000 policemen to handle their responsibilities and Lord knows Rudy Giuliani has some huge responsibilities up there because of its prominence as a financial world center.
Here in Washington, D.C., the political capital of the world, to meet all these responsibilities, we have 4,000 policemen roughly. There is no way we can meet these responsibilities as first responders without help of the federal government — that is obvious — but also working with the surrounding counties, working with the states in Maryland, Virginia and people being involved.
MARGARET WARNER: Finally what would you say to mayors of other American cities who have not been targets yet, who have not been hit yet? What would you way mayor to mayor is the one most important thing they need to do to get ready?
ANTHONY WILLIAMS: The most important thing you can do to get ready I think is learn – you know the lessons that we’ve already learned. Get out there with early information as to the facts. Don’t mix up your factual information with the important information you have to provide in terms of reassurance for your public.
Don’t wait for perfect information. The cost of perfect information is incredibly prohibitively expensive. And look for your vulnerabilities — when you are looking at where your weaknesses are, that’s exactly what they are; they are your weaknesses, and that is where you ought to be deploying your time and effort and resources, and finally don’t try to do it alone. You need the cooperation.
MARGARET WARNER: Mayor Williams, thanks very much, and good luck.
ANTHONY WILLIAMS: Thank you.