Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

The son also rises

Anthony Hardy Williams wants to be mayor, while others put him in a box.

Anthony Williams speaks at the In Conversation With Philadelphia event at Pipeline Philly on Monday, March 30, 2015. ( STEPHANIE AARONSON / Staff photographer )
Anthony Williams speaks at the In Conversation With Philadelphia event at Pipeline Philly on Monday, March 30, 2015. ( STEPHANIE AARONSON / Staff photographer )Read more

BOXES HAVE BEEN built for Anthony Hardy Williams: Privileged. Pro-charter. Pro-fracking. "Dark money" sponge. He's not liking any of them.

Some say the state senator was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple. That means, politically, he got a huge boost from his father, Hardy Williams, a state senator who was part of a rising black class in the 1960s that broke the stranglehold of a white-led, paternalistic Democratic Party.

Ed Rendell called Hardy "the godfather of independent African-American politics in Philadelphia," working out of his Wynnefield base. Hardy Williams went his own way, and Tony, who lives in a Southwest Philly rowhouse, seems to have inherited that gene.

Yes, he was elected to his father's Senate seat in 1999 and is in his fourth term. Never mind that Tony served as a state rep from 1989-98, then ran for both seats - and won. Kind of a legend in Philadelphia politics.

Williams favors charter schools, a stance that is anathema to the powerful teachers union. Never mind that he introduced the $2-a-pack cigarette tax to benefit the public schools.

One embarrassment is the Hardy Williams charter school in the Southwest, which went bust. Started by well-intended neighbors, he says, who lacked the resources and skills to make it any better than "abjectly average," Williams served as chairman for a few years, then exited before the school was taken over by Mastery charter schools.

The fracking charge rankles because it includes a Daily News story reporting that Tony's wife, Shari, is vice president for government relations for the pro-fracking Marcellus Shale Coalition. Never mind that Tony voted for environmental-impact fees imposed on the fracking industry.

Opponents say he is backed by the "dark money" of "three suburban millionaires" who push charters, which is true. Never mind they have no financial interest in charters.

"Dark money" is a term for money that supporters can spend on behalf of candidates, but must be totally independent of their campaign.

Williams denies he has dark money. "I have illuminated money," he says, showing a light side that isn't often obvious.

Charters is one issue that delineates Williams. To me, he has the perfect squelch: "If we closed charters today, would it make the school district better?"

The answer is no, and explains why Williams sent his two daughters, Autumn and Asia, to charter or parochial schools.

After a quick meet and greet at the Clothespin, we climb into his personal 2013 Cadillac XTS 2000 and head to a pizza-and-beer candidates' night at Center City's 4,000-member Liberty City LGBT Democratic Club.

He doesn't get to speak until near the end, it's a long night, but he reminds attendees he's been a vote they could count on long before gays became "it" for the political class. He nearly steals the LGBTQ limelight from Jim Kenney, who has long fought for pro-gay legislation and may have lost some rowhouse support over it.

Williams, 58, is better known in the 8th District - parts of Delaware County, West and Southwest Philly - than the rest of the city despite his 2010 failed run for governor (backed by "dark money").

Williams looks cool and classy in his attire that hides a barrel waist he tries to melt by hitting the treadmill three times a week.

He's been in Harrisburg for 26 years, and one insider describes him as a "nice guy, easy to talk to," but not known for hard work.

Williams' colleague, state Sen. Daylin Leach tells me, "We have disagreement on issues," but people regard him as a "serious player in the Senate, well-prepared," intelligent and well-liked.

"He's a coalition builder," says Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, a political ally.

Someone close to Williams says he's open to listening to all, but doesn't tolerate foolishness.

To test his temper, I led Williams back to the story about his wife making her money from fracking.

Shari, his second wife, "worked her way up" and "she has the dominant career in the household" - her $112,000 salary to his $107,000 - says the self-confessed onetime male chauvinist.

I'm surprised by that. Did he take a 12-step program or was having two daughters the cure?

Aside from the boxes, what's different about Williams?

He's the only candidate to have run his own business, the ATV vending company in the '80s. That may make Williams more sympathetic to business owners than his opponents.

Business is about jobs and jobs are about education and Williams' one Big Idea concerns what might be called post-high school education.

"Graduating students [who are] grade levels behind doesn't help them or us," he says. Why not direct job-training money to high schools, to extend their education by two years to learn specific, necessary job skills?

Finally, I ask him what's the one thing he doesn't want to hear. Charters? Fracking? Dark money?

He thinks for a second, smiles and replies: "Your dad wouldn't do that."

Phone: 215-854-5977

On Twitter: @StuBykofsky