Ward 8 Area Seeing Few Results From Fenty, Some Residents Say

Fenty's Cabinet visited Parkway Overlook Apartments in January to show commitment to Southeast Washington. The building has since gone into foreclosure. (By Susan Biddle -- The Washington Post)
By David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 4, 2007

Six days after Adrian M. Fenty became mayor of the District, he took his Cabinet on a tour of a dilapidated, violence-plagued apartment complex in Ward 8 in Southeast Washington. Strolling around the block, he promised curious onlookers that he would not forget them.

It was the first of Fenty's numerous visits to the city's poorest ward, a strategy aimed at avoiding the pitfalls of his predecessor, Anthony A. Williams, who oversaw a downtown renaissance but was mocked in neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River, where services lagged.

But as Fenty (D) nears the end of his first year in office, a growing impatience for more tangible development in Ward 8 is testing his pledge to create a government that serves all communities equitably and bridges the economic divide that grew during the past decade.

Led by D.C. Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8), community leaders contend that Fenty has used their neighborhoods as a political backdrop but failed to follow up his rhetoric with action. Although the mayor titled his State of the District address "Moving Forward Faster" and delivered it at a Ward 8 senior center, residents worry that the ward never made it onto Fenty's fast track.

Theresa Howe-Jones, an advisory neighborhood commissioner, said she has watched the mayor respond quickly to rebuild the Georgetown Library and Eastern Market after fires and demand that fire hydrants in Adams Morgan be tested. But she wonders why her long-standing concerns about hydrants in Southeast have gone unaddressed.

"They had the attention placed on them, but none is placed on us out here," she said. "It's all right to come out here and make an announcement, but when it comes to implementing an idea or issue and you don't do it, that sends a signal that you don't want to do it in the first place."

The flash point for many residents' frustration was Fenty's decision this summer to break off negotiations with D.C. United over a proposal to build a soccer stadium that would anchor a massive mixed-use project on 110 acres of parkland along the Anacostia known as Poplar Point. After three years of meetings with government officials, ward leaders said they had reached consensus on United's plan, which includes housing, offices and stores, only to be blindsided when Fenty reopened the process. During the same period, the Nationals' new baseball stadium has been nearly completed on the other side of the river.

Residents had begun to envision Poplar Point as a catalyst for a commercial revitalization of the area the way Verizon Center helped transform Seventh Street. Because they have waited years for long-promised development, some are running out of patience.

"It caught me off guard. I thought we were moving ahead, but then it seemed like everything stopped," said David Smith, who lives in Ward 8 and runs a youth outreach program there. "We don't have time to wait. We need expediency."

Jackie Ward, an advisory neighborhood commissioner, said that three days before Fenty suspended talks with United in July, the mayor told an audience at Union Temple Baptist Church that he would support the stadium.

"He said it seems to be the will of the people and he will go along with what the people want," Ward said.

Barry, who served four terms as mayor, has held several meetings during which he has urged residents not to allow Fenty to make decisions without their input.

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