Mayor Williams and the "Niggardly" Incident

Mayor Williams and the "Niggardly" Incident

Rosendall drafts joint letter criticizing Mayor's handling of incident over perceived slur

Wednesday, January 27, 1999

Mayor Anthony Williams
Executive Office of the Mayor
One Judiciary Square
Washington, DC 20001

Dear Mayor Williams:

We write in a spirit of good will to make strong objection to your decision to accept the resignation of David Howard as director of the Office of the Public Advocate. As he and many others conversant with the English language have made clear, the Scandinavian word "niggardly," which he used on January 15 in its correct meaning of "miserly," is entirely unrelated to the racial slur that it happens to resemble. That a simple misunderstanding could not be corrected without the loss of this good and dedicated person, who worked as hard as anyone for your election, is appalling and deeply discouraging to community activists like ourselves who are committed to advancing the welfare and mutual cooperation of all in our city. It is small comfort that the attacks on Mr. Howard appear to have had nothing to do with his status as your first openly-gay appointee.

We have nothing but respect for Mr. Howard, whose resignation despite his utter innocence in this matter reflected his commitment to placing the greater good ahead of his own. Indeed, if everyone else behaved with similar decency and honor, this railroading of a decent man would not have occurred. This is precisely why you should have rejected his resignation, reaffirmed your confidence in him, and stated that the charges against him were wrong and the attacks unfair. If false allegations of racism are treated the same as true ones, then justice and reason are stood on their heads and any authentic racial healing for our city becomes impossible. How can there be trust without fairness and honesty?

The facts have to count. If we fail to distinguish between decent people and bigoted people, if we acquiesce in treating the former like the latter, then we send a poisonous message to the people of this city not to mention an illiterate message to our schoolchildren. By stating that the mere resemblance of an innocent word to a slur was enough to justify the resignation of a valued and much-admired staffer, you have played directly into the hands of the most unscrupulous political vultures in our city, who have been rewarded rather than chastised for their mischief. If the facts don't count, if a person can be driven out based solely on false rumors, ignorance, and slander, then any talk about racial healing becomes a sham and a mockery. Surely, leadership requires more. Surely, leadership requires better than merely to throw up your hands in helpless surrender to a mad rush to misjudgment.

The only way to combat the traffickers in racial discord in our city with their absurd, reckless, and vicious talk of your not being "black enough" is to stand up to them, and fight back with the truth when falsehoods are spread and injustice is done. We are gravely disappointed by your failure to exercise better leadership and judgment in this matter. Unless that failure is quickly corrected, we fear that it bodes ill for your tenure as Mayor of all the people of Washington.


Richard J. Rosendall
Philip E. Pannell III
Barrett L. Brick
Ronald King
Jeffrey A. Menzer
Carlene Cheatam
Bob Summersgill
Charlotte M. Young
Franklin E. Kameny
Norman L. Bott
Eric Rosenthal
Craig Howell
Jeffrey L. Coudriet
Carl E. Schmid II
Bob Dardano
Hugh Joseph Beard, Jr.
L. Page Maccubbin
James M. Bennett
Robert Siegel
Bradley M. Lewis
Darren S. Buckner
Loyal T. R. Snyder
J. B. Collier

cc: D.C. Councilmembers
The Washington Blade
The Washington Post
The Washington Times
Washington City Paper
The InTowner

other news outlets

Related News Stories:

  • "Much Ado About an N-Word," Colbert I. King, op-ed, The Washington Post, 01/30/99
  • "About 'Niggardly,'" editorial, The Washington Post, 01/29/99
  • "NAACP's Julian Bond says Williams acted in a 'niggardly' way," Associated Press, 01/28/99
  • "An Official's Vocabulary Lesson," The Washington Post, 01/28/99
  • "Aide's Quitting Spurs Review By D.C. Mayor," The Washington Post, 01/28/99
  • "Top D.C. Aide Resigns Over Racial Rumor," The Washington Post, 01/27/99

Copyright 1999 by Richard J. Rosendall. All rights reserved.