Williams was born in Los Angeles and was adopted by Virginia and Lewis Williams, one of eight children in the family.
He graduated magna cum laude from Yale and went on to get a doctorate in law from Harvard and masters in public policy from Harvard. His career has been mostly in financial administration, but he also served in the US Air Force and as an adjunct professor at Columbia University. He entered the administration of the District of Columbia and rose to become its chief financial officer in 1995, before being elected mayor in 1998.
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