Navigation Bar
Navigation Bar

Related Items
On Our Site
  • Ward Profiles Index
  • Main D.C. Elections Page

      Ward 3 In Profile    

    A Part of but Apart From the City

    By Cindy Loose
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Thursday, June 11, 1998; Page J01

    This is the sixth in a series of ward profiles.

    Snow blanketed the city. Plows were nowhere to be found. Major thoroughfares were closed to all but skiers and the most valiant drivers with four-wheel-drive vehicles.

    Ward 3: A Statistical Profile
    Ward 3
    The ward is the largest in the city, covering more than 6,000 acres in the westernmost part of the District. About half of that area is parkland, giving the ward the lowest population density in Washington. Much of the ward's commerical development is on two major business corridors along Wisconsin and Connecticut avenues. The ward is also home to American University.

    Estimated 1997 population: 74,482
    Population lost since 1990: 4%

    Population breakdown

     58,481 (79%)
    Hispanic (of all races):
     6,635 (9%)
     5,515 (7%)
     3,631 (5%)
    American Indian:

    Supermarkets: 7

    Median household income (1997)

    Ward 3:


    Under 18:
    18 to 64:
    65 or older:

    Political affiliation


    In the ward, 85 percent of the households with children in 1990 were married-couple households.
    Citywide, 47 percent of the households with children in 1990 were married-couple households.

    Government employment
    In the ward, 24 percent of employed residents in 1990 held government jobs.
    Citywide, 32 percent of employed residents held government jobs.

    Private school attendance
    In the ward, 65 percent of children attended private school in 1990.
    Citywide, 16 percent of children attended private school in 1990.

    College attendance
    In the ward, 85 percent of the adult residents had attended college.
    Citywide, 52 percent of adult residents had attended college.

    Rental housing
    In the ward, 48 percent of the housing units were rental units in 1990.
    Citywide, 54 percent of the housing units were rental units in 1990.

    1994 Mayoral election
    Primary election voter turnout:
     Ward 3: 49%
     Citywide: 49%

    General election turnout:
     Ward 3: 58%
     Citywide: 51%

    Primary vote by candidate, Ward 3:
    John Ray (D): 14,295
    Sharon Pratt Kelly (D): 2,064
    Marion Barry (D): 586

    General election vote by candidate, Ward 3:
    Carol Schwartz (R): 25,671
    Marion Barry (D): 1,920

    SOURCES: 1990 Census, Claritas, D.C. Office of Planning, D.C. Board of Elections

    The beleaguered residents of the city had no relief after the blizzard of 1996, but many managed to find a scapegoat. They blamed Ward 3.

    It was the hottest rumor in the storm-plagued town: Everybody else was trapped, but west of Rock Creek Park in Ward 3, the streets were clear. As one 90-year-old woman from Petworth in Northwest Washington put it, over there, everything was "clean as a whistle."

    "It was such nonsense," recalls Shay O'Neill, who at the time had volunteered to drive her Jeep all over the city to transport kidney dialysis patients. God had not spared Ward 3. Nor had the mayor dispatched equipment to remove God's handiwork.

    This is an election year in a city that some have described as racially polarized. At times, Ward 3, overwhelmingly white and much more affluent than much of the District, seems to be the odd man out. It is geographically distinct, bounded by the park to the east, Maryland to the north, Georgetown to the south.

    If the neighborhoods of Ward 3 were newly constructed suburban towns, many would be hailed as innovative, exciting models for the nation. They incorporate many of the so-called new ideas in town building:

    Front porches and rear garages encourage communication among neighbors. Leafy streets invite foot traffic, as do shops and businesses built within walking distance of homes. And there is a mix of income levels, ages and races.

    Apartment buildings along Connecticut Avenue, for example, offer housing to the elderly and to recent college graduates settling into their first apartments -- just blocks away from multimillion dollar mansions.

    A few steps from the stately historic homes of Cleveland Park, where old money clusters, are apartments housing primarily poor immigrants just getting their start. The ward is 79 percent white, 21 percent minority.

    Many residents are what tax collectors fondly call "cash cows." With no need for welfare or other social services, and with no children in public schools, the cash cows submit to high taxes with relatively little expected in return.

    But despite the appearance of some neighborhoods, Ward 3 is not a suburban town. Its inclusion in a troubled and largely impoverished city makes its riches stand out as something just as easily envied as admired.

    Residents of the ward last year had a median income of $64,800 -- or nearly three times the income of Ward 8, the city's poorest and predominantly African American. Whether some politicians create resentment against Ward 3 or merely exploit it, it is rarely far beneath the surface of any debate.

    Ward 3 seems pleased with its council representative, Kathy Patterson (D), who is up for reelection. But the approaching elections generate less interest than discussions of Congress and the D.C. financial control board, whose creation three years ago was largely welcomed here.

    Today, however, about the best anyone says is that they are cautiously optimistic. They express hope in Camille C. Barnett, the city's chief management officer, and Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey, and they note seeing more street cleaners and fewer potholes. But they express disappointment that things haven't moved faster, or deeper.

    "I welcomed the control board, but I didn't expect them to be so, so undemocratic," said Marilyn Myerson, of Forest Hills. "But they've made some good hires, and hopefully things will improve a little."

    A widely held resignation in the ward echoes the moment in the movie "As Good as It Gets" when Jack Nicholson surveys his psychiatrist's office and asks the other patients, "What if this is as good as it gets?"

    But that's the prevalent attitude among residents without children in the public schools. Public school parents are unhappy campers.

    Yet home sales in the area are booming, and to a person those interviewed said they love this city and wouldn't want to trade it for any other place in the metro area.

    "People tell me that if I moved to the suburbs, I'd have all these wonderful services," Myerson said. "The problem with that is, that then I'd be living in the suburbs."

    If Ward 3 schools were getting more than their share, as some politicians have alleged, then why, asked Kate Hill, would her children sometimes have to wear coats and mittens in the classroom at Lafayette Elementary?

    Hill, president of the Chevy Chase school's Home School Association, said that year after year, the system has promised a new boiler. It was in this year's capital budget, and the latest promise was that work would begin in May. But as of May, there was no sign of action.

    Kate Hill
    Kate Hill sells a cake at a Lafayette Elementary School fund-raiser. "At best, D.C. is an equal opportunity abuser," Hill says of problems in the schools. (Juana Arias / The Washington Post)

    "This year, they put in a temporary boiler that temporarily put out heat," Hill said. "Some areas of the school were 106 degrees, and some areas were 61 degrees and the kids sat in coats." And when the temporary boiler turns on every half-hour or so, entire classrooms shake and rumble, as if an jumbo jet were taking off just outside the door.

    Like many parents, Hill is infuriated at the system's broad failures, both here and elsewhere in the city.

    "Am I angry? That's putting it mildly. Because it's the kids who are getting jerked, not just my kids but every kid in the city. At best, D.C. is an equal opportunity abuser."

    It doesn't help her blood pressure when leaders make a scapegoat of Ward 3. Every school in the ward has the problems that plague schools citywide -- schools with bad gutters that could be simply fixed but instead are left to threaten the entire foundation, schools that would lack books unless parents made weekly runs to public libraries.

    Sometimes it seems, she said, that city leaders are more concerned about making sure everyone fails equally than about making sure the tools are there for everyone to succeed.

    Hill said Ward 3 schools are among the most crowded in the city, and she is fed up with the divisive talk.

    "You can't blame people in the city who believe Ward 3 gets more -- they've been fed this by people who promulgate it for political gain," she said. "The misconceptions on both sides mean people can't find common ground, and that works to the politicians' advantage. It give them more power and less need to be accountable."

    Accountability would benefit every resident of the city, she said, and she wants the system to start by producing a line-item budget and by getting accurate counts of personnel and students.

    Page Two | Printable Full Text

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

    Back to the top

    Navigation Bar
    Navigation Bar