Janice Gibson was in the corner of the room in the student union building at the University of the District of Columbia yesterday afternoon, listening impatiently to Marion Barry detail the legislation he had ushered through the City Council to stop housing speculation.
She was growing more and more frustrated with what she heard. A frown was on her face, a wrinkle in her brow. A couple of times, Gibson tried to interrupt. "But Marion," she began. Barry kept talking.She waved her hand. He recognized another questioner.
Gibson moved up the aisle, walking in spurts that almost corresponded with Barry's short, measured phrases. She interrupted again, and this time Barry listened.
"Every day, I look at Irving Street and I see empty houses, and black folks getting put out and bars on the windows . . . This is happening every day" she said, "in spite of (the bills) or whatever you're talking about.
"I looked one week and a whole corner was gone at 14th and Harvard. That was a good building there. And you know what's going up there? A parking lot. What do we need a parking lot for at 14th and Farvard?
"It's not fair Marion," she said, sitting down, her voice trailing off. "And all those laws, it's a bunch of . . ."
"The cities are our last stronghold, and they're pushing us out," Gibson said. "Where are we gonna go? Back to Africa?"
Barry, the student radical turned establishment politican, conceded he had only limited answers.
"If you expect Marion Barry to solve all the problems that have been comfronting black people for 200 years," he said. "You're not being fair."
Student idealism, black nationalism and hometown concerns confronted Barry and Republican Arthur A. Fletcher head-on yesterday, as they took their campaigns for mayor in Tuesday's election to the campus of the city's public university.
The students quizzed the candidates mostly on what they would do to help create more jobs and housing for black District residents, to make sure that poor and black areas of the city received the same level of city services as affluent white areas.
At Barry's request, the candidates spoke and fielded questions separately, and after Barry left, more than half the audience departed also. Others trickled out slowly as Fletcher spoke.
"It's a Democratic town. It's a Democratic school," explained Reginald Jones, vice-president of the school's Student Government Association.
Still, Fletcher, at times resting his hands on the side of the lectern in professorial fashion, lectured for nearly an hour on his experiences in government and business consulting. Affirmative action, he claimed at one point was "my major contribution to humanity."
Among those who stayed to hear both candidates, opinions were divided.
Audrey Jones, a 46-year-old English student who used to be a nursing assistant at St. Elizabeth hospital said she favored Barry. "His interest was with black people. He also said we should be able to know what's going on (in the mayor's office) and he would get with us," Jones said. "I like that."
"I don't know too much about (Fletcher)," she said. "He seemed to think it was important to know what kind of jobs he had had. But that has nothing to do with this situation."
Kelvin Young, chairman of the political Science Student Organization, which sponsored the forum, said Barry had a style and a background that appealed to young people. "But the substance of his program is questionable," Young said.
Young said he sensed a strong commitment by Barry to the ideals he set forth, but felt Fletcher had more management ability to carry out the task. "Marion Barry, I think, is commited to doing the job," Young said. Fletcher, I think, could do it."
Jones, a 26-year-old economics student, said he found one thing similar about both candidates: "Promises, Promises, Promises" he said.