Only in America
With so much change in the air, it may be reassuring that some of the nation's storied political dynasties are showing new life. From the Udalls and the Bayhs to the Tafts and the Bushes, the value of families proved as big a story as family values. But nothing seems more quintessentially American than the saga of Anthony Williams. Given to a foster family at birth, he was raised by adoptive parents and went on to earn two degrees at Harvard. On Election Day, the 47-year-old Williams won handily to become mayor of Washington, D.C. His experience is a bracing reminder that anything can happen here. And—for good or ill—usually does.
so there he'd be, the brutish, menacing figure—or as menacing as anyone can be in a feather boa—taunting the good guys and whipping the crowd into a state of ecstatic fury. He and his rival would grapple in the ring, pretending to do all sorts of violence to each other. Finally the loudmouthed meanie would haul himself up on the turnbuckle, pause with a broad smirk to the crowd and flatten his hapless opponent.
At his 32-acre farm in Maple Grove, Minn., a few days after being elected the state's governor, former pro wrestler Jesse "the Body" Ventura was still savoring the fact that he had disposed of his Democratic and Republican opponents with a similar flourish. Though he'd been dismissed as a flake by the political establishment, "From day one I knew [winning] was a possibility," he says. Running on Ross Perot's Reform Party line with a shoestring budget (he spent only $300,000 and took no donations of more than $50), Ventura, 47, won in part because he articulated the concerns of ordinary voters in a straightforward way. But he also benefited by running a brilliantly gonzo campaign, which included showing up at candidate forums in camouflage and airing a series of quaintly unslick television ads that featured a Jesse action figure taking on Special Interest Man. A fiscal conservative (he has railed against the state's high taxes) and social moderate to liberal (he is pro-choice and backs gay rights), he appealed especially to younger voters, who supported him in record numbers.
In contrast to his public bluster, Ventura appears in private to be a quieter, rather gentle man who dotes on his wife of 23 years, Terry, 43, a riding instructor and breeder of American saddlebred horses whom he met working at a local bar. "I walked in, our eyes locked, and that was it," she says laughing. (The couple have two children: Tyrel, 19, an aspiring filmmaker who still lives at home; and Jade, 14.)
The ex-Navy SEAL, who was born James Janos and grew up in a blue-collar section of Minneapolis, acknowledges he will have to give up his popular current-affairs radio talk show and assume a slightly more restrained persona than that of the flamboyant thug he played in the ring. If everything goes according to plan—and when, in pro wrestling, does it not?—he is positive he can make his state proud. "The people of Minnesota knew what they were doing," he says. "We're going to do a good job."
Arizona's party of five
The newspapers call them the Fabulous Five, the quintet of women who swept Arizona's top elective offices and shattered whatever was left of the state's political glass ceiling. For the first time in any state—ever—the election created an all-female line of succession topped by Jane Hull, Arizona's first elected woman governor.
"Women are consensus builders," says Hull, 63, which may explain why women from across the political spectrum proved so uniformly attractive to voters. (Last year, Hull, as Arizona's secretary of state, assumed the governorship after Gov. Fife Symington was convicted of fraud.) Also elected were Hull's fellow Republicans Betsey Bayless, 54, secretary of state; Carol Springer, 61, treasurer; and Lisa Graham Keegan, 39, superintendent of public instruction. Democrat Janet Napolitano, 40, was elected attorney general, the first woman to win that post in Arizona. "This was not a backlash against men," says Napolitano. "This was about qualified women running for office and winning."
In 1951 a coworker at a post office in Los Angeles showed a picture of her 3-month-old foster child to Virginia Williams. "He had these wonderful big eyes and this winning smile," says "Williams, 72, who adopted him three years later. "I just fell in love with him."
Thus did Anthony Williams, given up to foster care at birth by his unmarried mother, embark on a life's journey that culminated this month in his election as mayor of Washington, D.C. A Democrat who served as the city's chief financial officer, he won the race to succeed Marion Barry by a 2-to-l margin over his Republican opponent.
Unlike his night-prowling predecessor, Williams, 47, is an avid birdwatcher and canoeist who favors bow ties and button-down shirts. He recharges with catnaps on his office floor and has a reputation for sound fiscal management. With a degree from Yale and graduate degrees in public policy and law from Harvard, Williams, says D.C. congressional delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, "knows how to fix the city."
A widow's victory
Charlotte Burks's husband, Tommy, 58, a popular Democratic state senator, was shot to death two weeks before Election Day on his hog farm near Monterey, Tenn.—allegedly by his Republican challenger, Byron Looper, 34. Then Charlotte was told that unless she ran as a write-in candidate in Tommy's place, Looper, an eccentric right-wing gadfly who had legally changed his middle name to Low Tax, would win by default, despite the fact that he was behind bars awaiting trial.
Charlotte, 56, readily agreed and soon had an army of supporters determined to deny the accused killer victory. When the ballots were tallied, she took 96 percent. "It's still a sad day," Charlotte said in a post-election statement to voters. "All I can say is thanks, and we'll try to do our best to continue what Tommy meant to you."
Robert Livingston's first job was cleaning up after the elephants at a New Orleans zoo. Now, as the likely next Speaker of the House of Representatives, the 55-year-old father of four will try to tidy up after Newt Gingrich. Newt quit after Republicans, under his leadership, nearly lost their majority in the House. A black belt in Tae Kwon Do, the conservative Livingston can be combative—his desk-pounding is legendary—but he also knows the value of harmony. "[Gingrich] is a revolutionary," said Livingston. "I am a manager."
The Family Business
From the Tafts to the Bushes, America's political dynasties keep on keeping
After his election as Florida's governor, Jeb Bush, 45, was asked about a Bush/Bush Republican ticket in the next presidential election—brother George W., 52, being an early favorite for the top spot following his reelection as governor of Texas. "I think he'll impose a vice-presidential nepotism rule," said Jeb. "If he doesn't, I will." As for the governors' father, the former President, he was asked recently how he felt about a Bush election bid in the year 2000. He pondered the question a moment, then replied, "I'm not sure I want to run again."
Where have I heard that name?
If the name is Taft, the state is Ohio. After an unexpectedly close race, Bob Taft, 53—son of Sen. Robert A. Taft Jr., grandson of Sen. Robert A. Taft ("Mr. Republican") and great-grandson of President William Howard Taft (who went on to be Chief Justice Taft)—became the first Republican to succeed a GOP governor in Ohio since 1903. "I'm proud to be part of this tradition," said victor Taft.
Evan Bayh believes he entered politics by choice, not because his father, former U.S. Sen. Birch Bayh Jr., pushed him. "He was never the equivalent of a stage mother," says Bayh, nor was Evan's mother, Marvella, who is the daughter of an Indiana governor.
"The offspring of public people fall into two categories," says Bayh, who at 42 has served two terms as Indiana's governor, "those who want nothing to do with the process and those who admire what their parents do and are inspired to do the same." So it was that Democrat Bayh took back for his a party the seat vacated by Republican Dan Coats—the same seat his father, now 70 and a lawyer in Washington, D.C., held for 18 years before losing it in 1980 to Dan Quayle.
When Tom and Mark Udall get to Congress next January, they'll be doing what Udalls always do. Tom, 50, of New Mexico and Mark, 48, of Colorado are, respectively, the sons of Stewart Udall, 78, and his brother Mo, 76. Stewart represented Arizona in Congress until President Kennedy made him Secretary of the Interior in 1961; then Mo won the seat. Jokes Mark: "The Udalls get together for weddings, funerals and swearing-ins."