front page - search - community 


Allen, Jarvis lend hometown perspective to council colleagues

(Published November 1, 1999)


Staff Writer

Sandy Allen remembers the first time she met Charlene Drew Jarvis at the District Building.

"I met Mrs. Jarvis in 1980," Allen said. "When I was the receptionist, she used to always stop and talk to me. We used to eat candy together."

Jarvis said she first became aware of Allen because she knew Allenís mother, who sat on the board of the local American Red Cross chapter.

Of the 13 members on D.C. City Council, Allen and Jarvis Ė both Democrats ó are the only native Washingtonians. Both council members said that growing up in Washington has helped them to view politics in the District differently than their fellow council members.

"I think that it gives me a perspective on the District that most of my colleagues donít have, because Iíve watched this city up and down," said Allen, 56, a lifelong Ward 8 resident who has represented her ward on the council since 1996. "I think that the council, just like politics in the District of Columbia, is still very young. The council is now in puberty as is politics in the District of Columbia."

Jarvis, 58, also said she believes that being a native Washingtonian gives her a unique outlook on the city in her role representing Ward 4 on the council since 1979.

"I understand the history of our neighborhoods," she said. "I knew U Street when it was a thriving entertainment district. I knew the public schools when they were segregated but academically excellent. I knew the families and the histories in our community. That gave me a special perspective on legislative initiatives."

Jarvis said she saw politics as a way to rectify the economic inequities that afflicted the cityís African-American neighborhoods after the 1968 riots.

"I was concerned about the slow pace of revitalization in our neighborhoods that had been affected by the riots," she said.

Jarvisí said her vision for the District is to bridge the chasm of distrust separating whites and African-Americans.

"One of my fondest hopes has been that white and black native Washingtonians would come to know one another," she said.

She predicted that the heritage tourism movement in the District will increase racial understanding between blacks and whites by increasing awareness of places of history in Washington that are not well known to the white community.

"The distances that separated these two communities are being closed by the events of today and our appreciation for the history of yesterday," she said.

Allen said she derived part of her world view from being a welfare mother from 1971 to 1974 and investigating abuses of the welfare system nearly 20 years later.

"I never dreamed of being a council member," Allen explained. "My people were not being heard. I had 18 years of city government experience prior to the council and I felt that the people in the community where I lived deserved to have one of their own represent them. I campaigned on being homegrown and it worked very well."

While working as a city council receptionist from 1979 to 1984 and as a Ward 8 coordinator for former mayor Marion Barry from 1987 to 1990, she said she witnessed inequities in services offered to Ward 8 residents and the same services offered to residents of other wards.

"I started interacting with people from all walks of life," Allen said. "I saw a need for my part of the community to get the same things that people from other parts of the city were getting. People from Ward 8 pay taxes, too."

"We have to make sure that African-American children coming out of Ward 8 have the same opportunities as other people in the city regardless of economics," she said.

Allen, the chairman of the city councilís human services committee, said she envisions a Washington in which all residents can enjoy a decent quality of life. Allen defined her crowning achievement during the last legislative season as passing a patientsí bill of rights. The patientsí bill of rights requires health maintenance organizations and other health benefit providers operating in the District to increase access to needed specialists and emergency procedures and to ensure that care is not disrupted when a physician leaves a plan. The patientsí bill of rights also includes specific requirements for D.C. health plan grievance and appeal procedures.

Jarvis, as chairman of the councilís economic development committee, said she has attempted to create jobs, increase D.C. tax revenues and produce business growth by introducing legislation to build the downtown MCI Center sports arena and the new $650 million expanded Washington Convention Center. Jarvis also introduced legislation creating the National Capital Revitalization Corp., a quasi-independent public corporation whose mission is to bring jobs, revitalized neighborhoods and economic growth to the District.

Councilwoman Kathleen Patterson, D-Ward 3, said she admires her two D.C.-native colleagues.

"In both cases, we have excellent working relationships," said Patterson, a native of California. "There are a number of issues we have worked on jointly."

Jarvis and Allenís fellow legislators said that while being a D.C. native could affect oneís historical perspective or connections, it does not affect a legislatorís policy-making ability.

"I think the longer youíve lived here, the deeper your ties," Patterson said. "And I think that while I have teenage children who have come through the D.C. public school system for example, Sandy has been in the community longer and I think she has grandkids in the District schools. In that sense, the roots are perhaps not necessarily deeper but actually wider. I would say the same about Mrs. Jarvis. Theyíve both been politically involved longer than I haveÖ

"I donít think that takes you to any place different in terms of policy but I think in terms of background, rep and the number of people you know. But I donít really see it having a big impact or distinction in terms of policy issues," Patterson continued.

Councilman Harold Brazil, D-At large, agreed with Patterson.

"Natives like Charlene and Sandy have a better historical perspective," said Brazil, who grew up in Ohio. "But I, like them, know, understand and love Washington ó essential ingredients to be able to govern here effectively."

Allen is a fourth-generation Washingtonian whose great-grandmother, Bessie Franklin, escaped slavery in St. Maryís County, Md., and walked to the District. Allen grew up in a tight-knit community. When she was young, she said her neighbors used to call her parents if she walked on the wrong streets on the way to and from school.

Unlike other members of the council, Allen does not hold a full-time job.

"This is all I do," Allen said. I do it every day, 12 to 14 hours a day."

Allen has spent most of her career in the D.C. government. She has held positions in the departments of public works and human services and at the council offices. She was also the past president of the Seventh District Advisory Neighborhood Committee, served for 12 years as an advisory neighborhood commissioner, and managed former mayor Marion Barryís 1992 successful campaign for the Ward 8 city council seat.

"Iíve always done something in the community because thatís the way I was raised," she said. She credits her grandfather, James Carter, for encouraging her to help better her community through service.

Allen is a graduate of Birney Elementary School and Douglass Junior High School. She obtained her GED in 1965 after attending Maria Wan Vocational High School.

She is the mother of two sons, Jon, 35, and Gilbert, 29. She has 11 grandchildren who also reside in Ward 8 and attend D.C. Public Schools.

Jarvis was the first African-American woman to serve as chairman, when she filled that role in an acting capacity after the death of Council Chairman David Clarke, and led the council as it passed a balanced budget for fiscal 1998. She also served in 1998 as chair of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. Since 1996, she has served as president of Southeastern University in Southwest Washington.

She is a third-generation Washingtonian who has resided in Ward 4 for most of her life. She is the daughter of Lenore Robbins, a professor at Spelman College in Atlanta, and Dr. Charles Drew, the former head of the surgery department at Howard Universityís medical school. Jarvisí father grew up in Foggy Bottom and sold newspapers at Nineteenth Street Baptist Church on the corner of 19th and E streets NW.

Jarvis grew up on the campus of Howard University. Jarvisí community, like Allenís, was a small community whose members demanded excellence from each other.

"Our community was a very tight-knit community," Jarvis said. "My teachers were my motherís and my fatherís friends. My piano teacher and my violin teacher were on the campus of Howard University where I grew up. Our community was very economically integrated and our families demanded academic excellence."

Before she became a politician, Jarvis followed her father as an educator and scientist. She graduated from Banneker Jr. High School and Roosevelt High. She received her bachelor of arts degree from Oberlin College and completed her masterís degree at Howard University with a 4.0 average. She also received a doctorate in neuropsychology from the University of Maryland and a doctorate of humane letters from Amherst College.

After completing her education, Jarvis conducted research at the national institute of Mental Health on the effects of brain mechanisms that affected vision. She was later appointed to the instituteís advisory committee. Jarvis has also worked on a womenís health task force for the National Institute of Health, where she conducted a longitudinal study on the effects of estrogen replacement therapy. Additionally, she worked on a breast cancer task force for the Department of Health and Human Services. She currently serves as a member of the board of the National Museum of Health chaired by Dr. C. Everett Koop.

Jarvis is divorced and has two sons Ė Ernest, 37, and Peter, 36.

Copyright 1999, The Common Denominator