Form more than two years now, Edna Hopkins Smith has been trying to find out if she is eligible for a low-interest government loan to rehabilitate a house she owns at 409 T St. NW. The house is in the historic LeDroit Park section of the city and is currently boarded-up and vacant.
After being stifled by various bureaucrats, she decided late last year to ask for some help from the neighbor across the street, Mayor Walter E. Washington who lives at 408 T St. NW.
Smith outlined her dilemma before thousands of television viewers on the "Direct Line to the Mayor" call-in show broadcast over WJLA-TV, on Dec. 5. "The money ought to be available," the mayor said, noting, "That's in my block." He added:
"If you will stop in my house, if you live in that block, tomorrow, I will assist you because I'm trying to seek a property there, too, and I'll need the same thing," he said.
Eight weeks later - despite the politically impressive response from the mayor - Edna Smith says she is right back where she started, not knowing what to do.
"How do you expedite the red tape? I still don't know. I have yet to hear from the mayor," she said in a telephone interview last week. "I'm not pressing for any confrontation or anything like that. I'm not particular about going by the mayor's house," Smith explained. "I just want some information."
Ironically, rather than putting the case to rest, Smith's call to the mayor has spawned still another bureaucratic mess. With all of the he-said-she-said-I-said flavor of backyard gossip, the mayor's office is steadfastly asserting that Washington has responded, while a bewildered Smith still believes he has not.
THe confusion began the day after the show, when Smith telephoned the mayor's office. A secretary answered the call, said she was unfamiliar with the situation and asked Smith to write a letter. Smith did, but in the meantime, other things were happening.
Unaware of the letter he was soon to receive, Washington came into the office that same day and instructed an aide to go to work on the woman's problem, according to Sam Eastman, the mayor's press secretary. The aide eventually got in touch with Theresa Brown, president of the LeDroit Park Historic Preservation Society, who finally reached Smith and told her that her loan application would be considered as soon as funds were available, Eastman said.
As far as the mayor's office was concerned, that closed the book, and rather quickly at that, since Smith's letter did not arrive until more than a week after the television program. "The mayor felt he had responded to the letter by getting on it before it even got here," Eastman said. "If she's complaining that she didn't get a response from the mayor, she got an immediate response before the letter even arrived."
Well, for one thing, Smith said she doesn't consider that a response. "If I write to you, I expect to hear from YOU," she said.Moreover, Smith said, Brown never reported to her on the status of the loan application. And on that point, Brown agrees.
"I could not tell her that. I do not even know if she has a loan application in," Brown said, adding that it is the city government which approves the loans, not the preservation society.
Not only that, but Brown also did not consider herself speaking on behalf of the mayor. "I considered myself acting on behalf of myself and anyone else (who lived) in the LeDroit Park area," she said. "I can's stay that I could speak for him (Washington) in an official capacity."
But didn't the mayor's office request that she talk to Smith, a reporter asked?
"I beat them to the draw. I contacted them and told them I would get in touch with her," Brown said, later adding, "I get tired of folks who you go out of your way to help and they still come up with all this fooolishness about they can't get any help."
So the situation has reached an obvious stalemate. The mayor has spoken, Brown has spoken and Smith is still waiting for someone to speak. Perhaps the lesson of it all is that the mayor's handling of lofty - and even not so lofty - public promises is best done without getting outsiders involved:
That's the way he resolved his Nov. 21 pledge to outline plans for a crackdown on smut in the city with all deliberate speed.
That promise was made in the wake of a Nov. 11 tour of downtown sex shops led by then Police Chief Maurice J. Cullinane. A week after the tour, the mayor summoned key members of his cabinet to his office for a 90-minute meeting and instructed them to examine the legal arsenal the city had at its disposal for an anticipated war on the local sex industry.
"In one week's time, I'm gonna know what we have, what we need and if we need anything else, we're gonna get it," the mayor told a meeting of the Shepherd Park Citizens Association a few nights later. The proliferation of pornography was one of the items being discussed at the meeting.
A week passed and two months passed, and the information the mayor requested to be sent to him through City Administrator Julian R. Dugas still hasn't come to the mayor's desk.
"The mayor says it's in the hands of the city administrator," Eastman said last week when asked for a status report on the battle plan. "The mayor understands some reports have come in from some departments, but some have taken longer than was expected."