Do you occupy Fentyville, the Gray Area, Barrytown or Loathemburg?

December 5, 2013

One City?

That was what Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) campaigned for back in 2010, before he was tainted by scandal. Remember that?

If we’re going to judge whether a mayor under investigation by federal prosecutors deserves a second term, let’s scrutinize the city’s divisions, which have only grown under Gray’s stewardship.

We are, stubbornly, four quadrants: Fentyville, the Gray Area, Barrytown and Loathemburg.

Fentyville is inhabited by the District’s growing number of educated, moneyed and predominantly white residents. They still pine for former mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D), the young, hip, high-achieving, hard-charging triathlete with an aloof corporate management style and a willingness to shake up the status quo.

The candidates

See the Democrats who have picked up nominating petitions for the District's April 1 primary and find candidate profiles and video coverage of the race.

The Gray Area’s populace is mostly — but not exclusively — middle-class African Americans. They express ambivalence about Gray, but also relief that economic development is beginning to spread out to the rest of the city.

Barrytown is solidly African American, a land filled with lifetime Washingtonians who fear they are being left behind. They long for those promising days when a respected civil rights figure became the leader of the nation’s capital and gave summer jobs to all the kids, long before former mayor Marion Barry became a punch line.

Loathemburg? Mixed race, mixed income, mixed up. These folks don’t like the current mayor or any of his challengers, despite the fact that half the city seems to be running for the top job. They express amazement that the nation’s capital can’t produce a worthy leader.

Where your heart lies usually depends on how your family and neighborhood are doing. On the day two Wal-Marts opened in the District, I wanted to take a snapshot of the city to see how folks felt about Gray’s accomplishments.

The Wal-Marts on H Street and Georgia Avenue lie at the crossroads of the Gray Area and Barrytown.

“Being able to come here? To shop in my city? Never thought it would happen,” exulted Keisha Mingo, 35, an African American federal contractor who got laid off because of the sequester.

She’s a reluctant inhabitant of the Gray Area. She sees progress but is well aware of the federal investigation. Four people involved in Gray’s 2010 campaign have pleaded guilty to felonies.

Angie Hoffman is equally conflicted about Gray.

“At first, I just wanted him gone,” said the 34-year-old lobbyist, who is white and lives near the Georgia Avenue Wal-Mart. “Fenty did so much for the city that was terrific when I was younger. The redevelopment, the restaurants, Logan Circle, all that.”

But since Gray was elected, Hoffman has become a mom. Her neighborhood park is one of the 21 playgrounds that have been renovated under the Gray administration.

“Now, he’s doing things that affect my immediate life,” she said as she bought toddler snacks at Wal-Mart. “And I’ve really changed my opinion about him. I even wrote him an e-mail to tell him this.”

Jim Byers is undeterred by the scandal. For him, the Gray Area looks more and more attractive.

Byers, a black, 46-year-old marketing executive, lives in Dupont Park in Southeast Washington, an area Fenty ignored. Now Gray is trying to bring Wal-Mart to Skyland, a dying shopping center, which would make Byers’s neighborhood more vibrant.

But even if Skyland gets a Wal-mart, Richard Butler won’t have the mayor he wants most.

Butler, 50, learned to cook while he was locked up. He’s now doing well as a line cook in one of the city’s new restaurants.

Have any of the recent mayors made his life better?

“All I want is Marion Barry,” said Butler, who is African American and a permanent resident of Barrytown. “He’s the only one who ever looked out for the people, always said the right things to us.”

Eventually, I left the grand-opening hoopla of the Georgia Avenue Wal-Mart and headed directly into the heart of Fentyville — the Whole Foods Market at Tenleytown, where you can get wild-caught Alaskan salmon and Le Gruyère Reserve cheese.

In Fentyville, folks long for the youthful mayor who presided over the city’s school reform efforts and the creation of the District’s bike lanes and new recreational facilities. Tenleytown has the giant new Wilson Aquatic Complex, which opened with great fanfare under Fenty. He was there for ribbon-cuttings for new libraries and dog parks.

“The schools were getting better. Kids actually had books,” said Rose Dean, a 66-year-old retired fundraiser who is white and firmly a resident of Fentyville. Dean, who did fundraising for the Reading Is Fundamental program, was delighted by the focus on education reform during Fenty’s tenure.

But Fenty’s steamroller style wasn’t embraced by everyone. And that brings us to Loathemburg, which stretches the entire length of the city.

“I don’t trust any politician. They all have their problems,” said an octogenarian shopper who geographically lives in Fentyville — we bonded outside the Whole Foods arugula section — but emotionally resides in Loathemburg. Her husband “would die” if she gave me her name for publication, she said.

She is white and has lived in the District for 50 years. Seen it all. Wishes there was someone new she could embrace for the next election but hasn’t found anyone worth her support.

I understand that feeling. I am a card-carrying member of Loathemburg who makes occasional trips to Optimistland. I loved Fenty’s youth and dedication and drive. But he stopped listening to the city and acted like a jerk. A city needs more than an executive: We need to be inspired by a leader.

And Gray? A man who led a life of great character and compassion got into office, and things happened that shouldn’t have. People are disappointed.

One City? Not yet. And maybe never.

To read previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/dvorak.

Petula is a columnist for The Washington Post's local team who writes about homeless shelters, gun control, high heels, high school choirs, the politics of parenting, jails, abortion clinics, mayors, modern families, strip clubs and gas prices, among other things.
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