A Soapbox on Wheels

Riders on the S2 bus driven by Sidney Davis, a supporter of mayoral candidate Vincent B. Orange Sr., get a message on voting.
Riders on the S2 bus driven by Sidney Davis, a supporter of mayoral candidate Vincent B. Orange Sr., get a message on voting. (By Michael Robinson Chavez -- The Washington Post)
By Elissa Silverman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 21, 2006

The S2 bus pulled out of Silver Spring at 7:23 Tuesday morning, straddled the D.C.-Maryland border for a few minutes, then came to a jolting stop on Alaska Avenue NW across from the Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

Driver Sidney Davis strode to the middle of the bus and made a public service announcement: There is a critical election in the District this year for mayor -- has everyone decided who they will vote for in the Sept. 12 Democratic primary?

Davis, 60, a native Washingtonian and Metrobus operator since May 2003, said he is worried that people don't have all the facts to make an informed choice. So his bus routes have become a "D.C. Politics Hour" on wheels, a rolling civic conversation on who might best move this city forward -- strictly within the speed limit, of course.

Jovial and smiling as riders boarded, Davis began his lecture. Headphones were removed from ears, and faces emerged from behind newspapers. "If you don't have a choice, I'd like you to consider the records," he told the dozen or so commuters, many of whom were clearly startled by his speech. And if they hadn't made up their minds, he had a recommendation among the five leading contenders. And he just happened to have pamphlets on hand.

As the race for mayor enters its final month, the leading candidates have shifted into high gear to woo voters. Glossy campaign brochures are landing in District mailboxes, television ads will soon hit the airwaves, and once-polite community forums have turned into bouts of mudslinging.

But Davis said the District voters he encounters every day know little about the candidates. On his voyage across the city, Davis chatted up his riders: a multicultural mix of white-collar professionals who commute from Shepherd Park and Crestwood to downtown offices, Latinos who pack the aisles in the afternoon headed to and from jobs in the city and suburbs, and young people lugging yoga mats and iPods between Dupont Circle and Mount Pleasant.

The S2 bus, which mostly travels along 16th Street, cuts through three wards of the city, including Ward 4, which is the political base for the front-runner in the Democratic primary, council member Adrian M. Fenty. D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp, who is second in the polls, also lives in Ward 4, as does candidate and lobbyist Michael A. Brown. Other candidates include Marie C. Johns, a former telecommunications executive, and council member Vincent B. Orange Sr. (Ward 5) -- Davis's pick.

Heading southbound from Silver Spring on Tuesday morning, Davis's riders gave the impression it was a two-person race for mayor.

"I'm for Fenty," said Barbara Daniels, who boarded the S2 at Sheridan Street near Rock Creek Golf Course. Daniels said that although Cropp visited her church, she liked the youthful energy displayed by Fenty, who represents her neighborhood.

Zenaida Mendez, who works for the National Organization for Women, said she prefers Cropp (D) because the city needs more women in office.

Davis urged both women, as well as other passengers on the route, to check voting records and do their homework on the candidates. "The absence of information always makes you more vulnerable," he said, as the relatively new blue-and-white Metrobus idled and waited for a light to turn green.

Davis stressed that he is only exchanging information and provoking discussion, but he sometimes goes beyond that. He engaged riders with a gentle nudge of the arm as they robotically slapped SmarTrip cards and wiggled dollars bills into the fare box. "Are you a D.C. voter?" he asked one rider. "Have you made a decision in the mayor's race?"

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