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East of river groups flunk mayor

(Published July 31, 2000)


Staff Writer

Setting their sights on Mayor Anthony A. Williamsí promises to revitalize Wards 7 and 8, residents critical of the Williams administration have become increasingly vocal in recent weeks about their concern that they are being overlooked.

Two separate groups representing Ward 7 and 8 residents have both recently voiced parallel comments about their concerns for their respective wards. The vocal dissatisfaction with the mayor came shortly after the two wards voted overwhelmingly against the June 27 school board referendum that the mayor vigorously supported.

A group of about 100 Ward 7 residents, calling itself the Ward 7 Community Prayer Group, held a rally July 19 at the Minnesota Avenue Metro station to encourage the mayor to relocate a high-tech high school and the Department of Employment Services into the ward.

The next day, Ward 8 residents were fuming also. Community activists there had started up a campaign called "Wake Up Call," aimed at voicing their displeasure with the mayorís performance in the ward. They showed up at city offices at One Judiciary Square July 20 for the first of what they said is a planned series of protests in which, borrowing from the mayorís own administration, they presented a Ward 8 report card. The mayor got a resounding "F."

"The mayor has a 77 percent approval rating throughout town. We think thatís a little different on our side of town," said Eugene Dewitt Kinlow, a leader of the Ward 8 protest.

Former D.C. police chief Ike Fulwood, who was instrumental in the Ward 7 rally, said, "We donít want some trickle-down theory. We want a commitment from the city to specific economic development."

Itís no secret that Wards 7 and 8 have long been a step behind in the race for economic development. A lack of jobs east of the Anacostia River has been a known fact for a long time. But now that the Washington areaís economy is in a gilded age of low unemployment and government surpluses, an intense group of community activists says the cityís resurgence is passing them by.

Both contingents said that while specific causes such as locating the DOES facility in Ward 7 or fighting a proposed homeless shelter in Ward 8ís D.C. Village are important, they both focus on larger issues such as business development and education.

"Economic development, public safety and good education are related," said Fulwood.

His groupís goal, he said, is to not let the commercial upsurge of the rest of the city pass by Ward 7. "What we want to do is figure out how to bring businesses to the ward," Fulwood said. "We want our fair share."

Although Fulwood was critical of what he called the mayorís broken promises to Ward 7, his criticism was generally mild compared to those of Ward 8 residents.

There they say the city has consistently burdened them with public projects like prisons, homeless shelters and waste treatment plants.

James Shelton, a resident of the ward, said during the protest, "We donít need more problems, we need help before you start overloading us with liabilities."

When Mark Jones, the mayorís deputy chief of staff, said, "The mayor and the administration encourage everyone to judge us by our results," Kinlow defended his failing report card the way a teacher defends failing a student.

"The grade remains," he said. "They provided the elements for the grade by their inability to produce."

In response to criticism of his commitment to Ward 8, the mayor posted a fact sheet listing his administrationís progress in areas like home construction, building community centers and reducing crime. His fact sheet also said there will be $5 million invested in a technology program at Ballou Senior High School.

Both Kinlow and Fulwood say their wards have long suffered poor reputations, and that they risk losing even more middle-class residents. "There are all kinds of people who live over here, all kinds of people," Fulwood said.

Copyright 2000, The Common Denominator