Today in D.C. History: Anthony Williams Takes Final Mayoral Cannonball Plunge
On June 21, 2006, Anthony Williams took his final cannonball plunge into a D.C. swimming pool as mayor, his traditional way to open the city’s pools for the summer. Williams' two terms as the District's fourth Home Rule-era mayor began with a splash in 1999, when he made his inaugural dive. In 2006, Williams, who earned the nickname "Cannonball," stripped down to his red trunks for one last dip at Turkey Thicket Recreation Center in Brookland. The Washington Post described his final dive as "vintage Williams—neat and precise with nary a wave as he sliced into the pool."
As far as mayoral traditions go, Williams'—appearing shirtless in public and leaping into a pool—may be the most unique among the nation’s elected officials. The Post reported at the time that his spokesman, Vincent Morris, said, "We are very aware of how exposed he is—just a pair of trunks and nothing else." But Williams’ poolside antics had a purpose: He aimed to draw attention to D.C.’s summer programs.
The bow-tie wearing mayor urged his successor to keep the season-opener tradition alive, and D.C.’s political media was not quick to forget Williams' legacy. His successor, Adrian Fenty, dodged the question when reporters asked if he would carry on Williams' annual cannonball stunt. DCist wrote in 2007 that at one point Fenty challenged NBC4 reporter Tom Sherwood to take his place. But Fenty never took the leap, which Post and former Washington City Paper Loose Lips scribe Mike DeBonis tweeted was an early indicator of his aloofness.
This summer, Washingtonians wondered if the mayoral cannonball was a rite of the past, or if Mayor Vince Gray would put his administration’s controversy aside and dive in. In May, City Paper declared Cannonball Watch 2011 officially on during a sweltering Memorial Day weekend. But Gray stayed dry and fully-suited at the Barry Farm Recreation Center in Ward 8, where he ushered in the summer with the opening of 17 of the District’s public pools. Filling in for Gray, Jesus Aguirre, director of D.C. Parks and Recreation, gave the crowd their Williams-inspired entertainment.
Photo by Flickr user Lee Coursey via an Attribution 2.0 Generic Creative Commons license