Anthony Williams Wants To Be Mayor

Or maybe the state’s first black governor. He also wants to radically reform the state’s school system. But is the bombastic politician someone to be reckoned with, or just a son trying to escape his father’s considerable shadow?

Williams was a bona fide player.

The Susquehanna money wasn’t enough, of course. Williams placed a distant third. But that’s not where his story ends. If you ask Tony, he’s just getting started.

AT 54, WILLIAMS is restive. He’s spent 22 years in the General Assembly, the last dozen in the Senate—in January, Democrats elected him minority whip, their number-two guy—but he wants more. Before the dust settled on the governor’s race last spring, he announced a bid for auditor general in 2012. Then he wasn’t so sure. He teased a run against Mayor Nutter this year, and then decided against it. He says now he’ll run either for governor in 2014 or mayor in 2015, though he hasn’t decided which.

Ask around about Williams, and you’ll hear the same adjectives. Passionate. Smart. Just like Hardy was. The pair looked alike, too—the same smiles, the same soft eyes, the same arching eyebrows, the same thin mustaches, the same light complexions. But Hardy was a political street brawler­, the kind of guy who cut deals in the Capitol’s backrooms and whose sharp tongue establishment pols sought to avoid. Tony, meanwhile, fancies himself an intellectual who burrows into the nuances of legislation and proffers big ideas.

The inverse of his father, in other words.

Even those who detest his vouchers advocacy don’t question Williams’s smarts or sincerity. But there’s also a widely held view that Williams’s bombast overshadows his intellect, that he tries too hard to be noticed. Further, he doesn’t seem committed to the coalition-forging and elbow-greasing­ that Philly politics requires. “I don’t see him building any effort to do much of anything,” one local politico says. “The idea that he would run for governor, or run for mayor, and be any good at that stuff is kind of silly.”

If Williams wants to be an A-lister, he’ll have to do more than talk about how serious he is. Or, as that insider puts it, “He’s still got to figure out who he is and what he wants.”

TONY NEVER WANTED to follow in Hardy’s footsteps. He wanted to make money. After earning his economics degree at Franklin & Marshall, that’s just what he set out to do: first as an analyst for a Washington, D.C.-area firm and an executive for PepsiC­o in New York City, then later running his own vending business. Growing up, he says, he watched his parents struggle. His mother was a schoolteacher, his father a criminal-­defense attorney whose clients didn’t always pay, then a politician whose 24/7 job strained the family. (Tony’s parents separated when he was in high school and divorced several years later.) His parents had idolized Bobby Kennedy, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., and exalted public service. He wanted none of it.

Even watching his dad mount a campaign for mayor in 1971—rallying the black wards with chants of “Power to the People!” and finishing third behind Frank Rizzo and Bill Green—didn’t spark an interest in politics.

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  • Anonymous

    Why is Tony Williams a Facebook friend with a Cash4Gold business called the “Gold Post”?