WASHINGTON — To hear his mother tell it, about the only thing Anthony Williams did wrong as a kid in Los Angeles was get on his bicycle and careen down the large hill known as the "Arlington dip" in the West Adams neighborhood where he grew up.
The problem was, his dad would be waiting at the bottom for him.
"He would speed on that bicycle as fast as he could," said Virginia Hayes-Williams, who with her husband, Lewis, adopted the boy when he was 3. "He would ask me, 'How do I always get caught?' "
Now 47, Williams still likes to race, but this time he is seeking a different kind of adrenaline rush--one likely to kick in today. Williams is the Democratic nominee for mayor of Washington and, given his party's huge registration advantage in the city, the favorite to win the post.
Born in Los Angeles to a teenager forced by her family to give him up, Williams spent his first three years in a foster home. Hayes-Williams, his future mother, worked with the boy's foster father at the post office. She delighted in seeing pictures of the toddler and sought to persuade acquaintances to adopt him.
None would, so Hayes-Williams and her husband, also a Postal Service employee, did. They brought him into a family in which he would be one of eight children.
Williams didn't find out about his adoption until age 14. He says he was nonchalant about it then, and remains so to this day. "I haven't really thought about it since I found out," he said. "I think that's a tribute to my parents."
His mother may have viewed him as an almost perfect child, but his siblings say otherwise. To them, he often was the instigator who didn't get caught, pulling such pranks as adding green food coloring to oatmeal and slyly avoiding the blame.
"He knew how to get everybody else in trouble," said brother Lewis Williams IV, 49. Williams, a business professor at the University of Redlands, laughingly refers to Anthony as "Mr. Angelic."
Anthony Williams graduated from Los Angeles' Loyola High School in 1969 and attended Santa Clara University. He left school after two years and joined the Air Force. He continued his education in the mid-1970s, receiving an undergraduate degree from Yale University and graduate degrees in law and public policy from Harvard University. After a series of administrative posts with public agencies in Boston, St. Louis and Connecticut, he moved to Washington in 1993 to take a job as chief financial officer for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Though he never moved back to his hometown, Williams, his wife and their 23-year-old daughter regularly visit Los Angeles, where most of his family still lives. And his mother, 71, joined him on the campaign trail.
The buttoned-down, bow-tie-wearing Williams could hardly be more different than the man he hopes to replace, the flamboyant and controversial Marion Barry Jr.
Williams first gained public attention for his role in efforts to reduce the multimillion-dollar budget deficit plaguing Barry's administration. In 1995 he was made head of the city's financial control board, a panel created by Congress to oversee the local budget.
Decisions by the board frequently rankled Barry and his supporters. But Williams rode his reputation for fiscal responsibility to an easy victory in September's Democratic primary, and he now enjoys Barry's support as he stumps to succeed him. Williams believes that his business-friendly attitude and management philosophies are similar to those of Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan.
"I'm actually the ideal person for this job right now," a confident Williams said recently.