Chapter Five: Voices
By Blaine Harden
Washington Post Staff Writer
June 18, 1995
Anne Mohnkern Renshaw was pleasantly surprised when Barry came back from the dark side of addiction.
"I wanted him to be back on his feet, because one does not want to see anyone crumble," said Renshaw, who lives just west of Rock Creek Park and who supported Barry in each of his first three terms as mayor.
Yet, as chairwoman of the District's Chevy Chase Advisory Neighborhood Commission and as an activist homeowner, Renshaw was left cold by Barry's spiel about redemption. She judged it unwise to pin the salvation of Washington on a man who had recently salvaged his sobriety. In the fall general election, therefore, she voted against Barry, as did 93 percent of the electorate in mostly white, affluent Ward 3.
Renshaw was angry that Barry did not have the good sense "to step aside and allow the District to have new leadership." But her vote was something more: the melancholy response of a white liberal Democrat fed up with racial politics that forced her to feel guilty about being white.
Renshaw moved to Washington in 1974, determined to help make home rule work. She remembers being excited that real political power would pass into the hands of the city's black majority. "I believed it was an opportunity to shape the city in a way that the residents wanted and needed. I came to Washington expecting to contribute," said Renshaw, who is not insulted to be described as a local policy wonk.
She is a trim, divorced, childless woman of 55 who jogs every other day, wears oversize eyeglasses with brown enamel rims and speaks in neatly formed sentences. A graduate of Skidmore College, she studied Victorian literature at the University of London, has a master's degree in communication from Boston University and owns her own public relations firm in the District. She has devoted a significant slice of her life to maintaining standards in Ward 3, the only part of Washington that saw significant population growth during the 1980s.
When she arrived 21 years ago, Renshaw leaped into the civic life of the city. She volunteered to work on women's issues and was quickly appointed to a six-year term on the D.C. Women's Commission. When Barry first ran for mayor, Renshaw characteristically did her homework, reading every issue paper she could get her hands on.
"He had energy and ideas. He had a way of speaking out for those who needed strong support," Renshaw recalled.
Even after her neighbors began to give up on the mayor in the 1980s, she stuck with him. Shortly after she began working with city hall, however, she began fighting it.
The wars started at an intersection in front of her two-story house on Military Road, where accidents were common. A parade of injured motorists tromped through her living room, calling for ambulances and bleeding on her carpets. For years, Renshaw fought for a stoplight, winning only after she organized a traffic count that proved the road was dangerous.
"That was something that citizens should not have to do. Traffic engineers should be able to determine what is a dangerous road. Yet we had to do it."
After Renshaw was elected to her local Advisory Neighborhood Commission, she began fielding complaints from residents about city services and city workers.
"The response of the city back in the later 1980s was not courteous to those of us who paid taxes. There were few examples of a work ethic. They lost pride in what they were doing, and it showed. There was insolence on the telephone. Employees did not give their names and did not follow through."
Then, last fall, there was Barry again, claiming redemption. Before the general election, Renshaw said her friends and relatives urged her to get out of the city. They told her to go before Barry was reelected and property values went down. To a degree, Renshaw says, they were right. More houses than she can remember are up for sale in her neighborhood now.
But Renshaw is staying put. She said she will work with Barry because she has no other choice. What she desperately wants to halt, though, are his guilt trips about race:
"Enough! Enough! Put a cork in it!" said Renshaw, raising her voice. "As a politician, as a leader of this city, [Barry] must have the vision to take us into the next century, and race has to be left behind and it should have been left behind years ago."
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