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D.C.'s Ward 8 pins its hopes for economic improvement on Mayor-elect Gray
For the first time since home rule, both the city's incoming mayor, Gray, and incoming D.C. Council chairman, Kwame R. Brown (D-At Large), are from east of the Anacostia. Both live in Ward 7.
And many residents say they are confident that Gray - who grew up poor in Northeast Washington and later oversaw the Department of Human Services and local nonprofit agencies - can relate to what it's like to live in the poorest neighborhoods of the city.
Lovisa Archie Pearson, 28, who two days before Christmas was picking up two bags of canned goods at the Salvation Army office in Anacostia, four kids ages 1 to 8 in tow, was confident that Gray would look out for the area.
"I really think he's going to do something for us," she said. "He knows we need employment, housing and a lot of community support."
In his campaign, Gray tapped into widespread anti-Fenty sentiment in the African American community. On primary day, voters in Ward 8 turned out in larger numbers than even Gray campaign officials had expected. The number of ballots cast in Ward 8 rose 27 percent compared with the amount four years earlier, and 82 percent of them were for Gray.
"We dispelled the myth that Ward 8 don't vote," said Jacque D. Patterson, head of the Ward 8 Democratic Committee.
'They are still not hiring'
On street corners, in takeout restaurants and at barbershops across Ward 8, nearly everyone mentions "jobs" when asked what Gray's top priority should be.
At My Spott Barber Shop on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE in Anacostia, several patrons said it's baffling that so much development is occurring in western areas of the city, yet the jobs do not appear to be trickling down to Ward 8 residents.
"I see they are fixing up a lot of things and building new hotels and businesses. But they are still not hiring people, and I'm not sure why," Kevin Hines, 27, said as he waited for his 3-year-old son to get his hair cut.
"We expect to see some improvement east of the river," said Mary Cuthbert, a Ward 8 Advisory Neighborhood Commission member from Congress Heights. "We want to see it be the same like everywhere else they built up.
"And we don't need no bicycle lanes," Cuthbert said, referring to the perception that outgoing Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) was more attuned to the concerns of affluent parts of the city. "We need a store where you can buy some pantyhose and a shower curtain, and we want to see people go to work."
To get more residents working, Gray promises to reform the Department of Employment Services and place renewed emphasis on a law that requires city contractors to include a certain percentage of D.C. residents in their hiring. But Gray has said that the biggest opportunity for Ward 8 residents is the relocation of the Department of Homeland Security headquarters to the campus of St. Elizabeths Hospital in Congress Heights.