The Case for Anthony Williams

Ajay Raju: Williams is a "champion of the dispossessed and a persuader of the privileged."

Tony Williams. | Photo by Jeff Fusco.

Tony Williams. | Photo by Jeff Fusco.

(Editor’s note: This week on Citified we’re featuring op-eds from supporters of the mayoral candidates. Monday, Ken Trujillo endorsed Jim Kenney. Today, Ajay Raju, CEO of Dilworth Paxson, makes the case for Anthony Williams.)

The 2015 Philadelphia mayoral primary is nothing less than a referendum on our future and a reckoning with our past. Those of us who believe deeply in our city’s destiny recognize the urgency to secure and consolidate encouraging indicators of new investment, a newly growing population, and a restored recognition of Philadelphia as a player on the global stage.

We recognize the urgency in seizing upon these heartening developments because we know how desperately so many of our fellow citizens need the promise of brighter days ahead. From the heights of Center City’s skyscrapers, those hubs of profit and productivity, we can observe the impoverished and neglected neighborhoods to the North and West. Not so far away from one another but still worlds apart, these landmarks illustrate the deep divisions within our city, divisions that hold us back from fully realizing the potential of this watershed moment. For the top 40 percent or so of Philadelphians, the bounds of success coincide only with the limits of their talent and ambition. These are the Philadelphians with access to our top-flight educational institutions, our fast-growing innovation sector, and — more fundamentally — adequate housing, safe streets, and the peace of mind that comes with not having to choose between groceries and a utility bill. For the other 60 percent, the road to opportunity is beset with obstacles. Entrenched poverty and its concomitant violence, foundering schools, and a fraught relationship with law enforcement characterized by mutual mistrust have all conspired to exclude too many of our neighbors from the grand prospects of this dynamic new age.

Beyond the systemic problems that have so jarringly stratified the experiences and perspectives of ordinary Philadelphians, we continue to be subjected to a political class perilously wedded to an outmoded attitude toward governance and growth. If the last 20 years have ushered in a technological revolution of unprecedented scope, the advances of the next 20 will make today’s cutting edge innovations seem downright archaic. Everything from the way we pay our property taxes to the way we find parking spots is fit to be digitized, automated, and reduced to an app on our smartphones. If Philadelphia’s leaders lack the vision to anticipate and exploit these innovations, and to ensure their availability from City Hall to Cobbs Creek, our city and our citizens will be left behind for generations to come. As we choose a new mayor, we seek a connector with the skill to bring together the Philadelphia of the 40 percent and the Philadelphia of the 60 percent, and the vision to chart a course from the Philadelphia of today to the Philadelphia of a high-tech, globalized future. We need a leader who embraces these imperatives in pursuit of a sustainable, inclusive prosperity. It will be a hard job, and Anthony Hardy Williams is the man for it.

A champion of the dispossessed and a persuader of the privileged, Williams is uniquely positioned among his fellow candidates to forge common ground between the underserved and the upper crust of our city. Williams has the passion to advocate doggedly on behalf of those who have been marginalized by institutionalized inequality, and the political savoir-faire to convince the elites that community stewardship is good business. Williams also has the foresight of a true progressive, one who sees the possibilities of an oncoming era and who harnesses those possibilities for the benefit of all Philadelphians. Tony Williams has what it takes to make Philadelphia live up to its history without miring us in its recent past.

While we need not question whether any of the candidates in the primary field truly have Philadelphia’s best interests at heart, we’d be doing ourselves a disservice not to ask what it is they actually stand for. More convincingly than any of his rivals, Williams’ positions on the issues are spurred not by the calculus of political expediency, but by a determined belief that access to opportunity, justice, and accountable leadership should be denied to none.

Over the course of a quarter-century in public service, Williams has been a committed and consistent advocate for policies that would provide Philadelphians with strong schools, safe communities and a path to success for even the most disenfranchised of our fellow citizens. Williams has sponsored bills and procured grants to both combat violent crime and support restorative justice initiatives; he has fought to reduce tax burdens both on low-income homeowners and small business owners; and he fosters an ecumenical approach to solving the crisis of our public schools. The central theme of Williams’ political philosophy is that any given problem can be viewed from more than one vantage point and made susceptible to more than one solution. Though Williams’ stalwart convictions on the issues that mean the most to those with the most at stake have occasionally come at the cost of his own political fortunes, his open-mindedness has been integral to his achievements as a policymaker and as a consensus builder.

At a time when widespread economic disparity, educational inequity, and entrenched disillusionment with governmental authority threaten to tear Philadelphia’s social fabric asunder, our next mayor must be able to build unifying bridges. We need a leader who possesses the good sense to engage with Philadelphia’s powerful union constituency but the backbone not to fall into its pocket. We need an effective liaison between the two distant ends of our city’s socioeconomic spectrum. We need a diplomat with a temperate disposition, who will reconcile rather than alienate the diverse populations of our city whose prerogatives seem at first glance to be intractably at odds. We need a leader with the credibility, borne of his upbringing, to rebuild trust between beleaguered law enforcement agencies and the vulnerable communities they are sworn to serve. We need a mayor who envisions a future for our city as great as its history, a future secured by uniting all of us toward a greater collective good, toward one Philadelphia. We need Tony Williams.

Ajay Raju is the Executive Chairman & CEO of Dilworth Paxson LLP.