Mayor Marion Barry, just back from his tour to Africa, took another trip yesterday - this time through the Ward 7 area of the city to find out what Washingtonians think about his 8-month-old city government.
Barry got several complaints, some kisses and a bottle of champagne as people demanded better public housing and a subway stop in their neighborhood and grumbled that Barry hasn't done much different from the mayor he replaced.
No one asked about Africa.
At 34th and Benning Road, everyone started shouting about the supermarket, small stores and gas stations that have left the neighborhood.
Even before Barry's midnight blue LTD Ford sedan pulled into the boarded up, abandoned service station at 34th and Benning, people were waiting for the mayor.
"I want to show him all the dirt and trash behind this gas station," said Bernice Spriggs. "Since this place closed there's no traffic through here, only crap games and boys hanging out."
I want to ask him what he thinks is different around here since he became mayor," said 19-year-old Freddy Freeman. "Nothing, I'm going to tell him. And I want to ask him to go down to the Department of Labor and try to get a job. I've been down there and I don't have no job. I can't wait till he gets here."
"My mother," said Charlotte Sanders, "was killed at 17th and Benning Road, when she was getting off a bus, by a teen-ager driving like he was crazy. My mother. I want him to do something about these teen-agers...I want him to know I'm bitter. Maybe he could change the laws about them driving."
Barry arrived. He told the crowd of about 75 people of his love for their neighborhood, how he appreciated their support in his campaign for mayor and then he told them about his trip to Africa.
"I've just gotten back from Africa and some people are asking me why I went over there," Barry said. "I wanted to tell them they're not enlightened, but I was nice about it and explained to them that Washington is more than a city...it's an international capital....
"But my first love," the mayor said, a smile coming to his face, "is this city. I'm not running for any other office, I don't want to do anything else but be your mayor."
Barry made the trip east of the Anacostia River, to Ward 7, as the first in a series of weekend trips through the city. Barry said the trips are intended to get him out of the District Building and into the city to talk with the people who live there.
The mayor made Ward 7 his first trip at the request of Lorraine Whitlock, who managed his campaign in that area last year. Barry lost the Ward in last September's Democratic primary. His aides have said he wants to build a strong political base there before his next election, because the ward is a thriving, largely black, and increasingly middle-class area that has the third highest number of registered Democratic voters in the city. Barry has even tried to buy a house in the Hillcrest section of the ward recently, but with no success.
For Barry, yesterday's trip - coming just after his two-week trip to Africa and last week's luncheon for an African president - required a shift in thinking from international diplomacy to local diplomacy about the litter in Lee Chamber's front yard on 36th Street.
Chambers, in a red T-shirt, eased up to the mayor just after he pulled into the old gas station. He told Barry he can't see the grass on his lawn for all the beer bottles and soda cans. The mayor looked away and continued shaking hands.
But Barry had to listen when a man wearing a blue baseball cap started much of the crowd shouting and arguing when he asked the mayor why a Metro subway stop couldn't be put at 34th Street and Benning Road.
"When are you going to get a Metro stop here?" asked the man waving his finger in Barry's face. The man said that since Metro subway stops were placed at the Stadium Armory complex and the intersection of Benning Road and Minnesota Avenue each a mile from the River Terrance area where the mayor was standing - businesses along that stretch of Benning Road had been closing because the crowds that once waited for buses are gone.
"We're never going to get any businesses to move back into these empty, boarded up stores unless we can get Metro, or something, to bring life and some money back to the area," the man told the mayor.
He hadn't finished talking when most of the people in the crowd started shouting and pushing closer to the mayor.
"It's my understanding," Barry said, raising his hands to quiet the crowd, "that when it was under discussion about putting a Metro stop here, the majority of you who spoke up about it opposed it..."
"We're talking about now," said one woman as she started to walk away.
same thing you're telling me from the people in Georgetown," the mayor added. "They didn't want a Metro stop either when they were planning where to put them..."
Other hands popped up and the questions changed to litter, to cars left parked in one spot for days and to teen-agers who hang out on street corners. The woman whose mother had been killed on Benning Road went up to Barry. He told her he is working on requiring a mandatory insurance for such incidents.
Barry slowly inched out of the crowd that followed him, answering more questions as he went to his car.
Then, it was on to the Anacostia Youth Athletic Club picnic.
As Barry walked past the swimming pool area at the Kenilworth-Parkside Recreation Center where the picnic was held, a young man, dripping water, came out of the pool and yelled:
"Hey, Marion Barry," he said, "when are you going to stop jiving and start doing what you said you were going to do...you're doing just for the money to be on TV like the rest of them."
The mayor turned, looked at him and walked on.
Later he said to a reporter, "I don't know what that kid was talking about, but I can't satisfy everyone. That's one out of 99. Some people don't understand what I'm trying to do, that's all." CAPTION: Picture, Mayor Barry stopped on his tour of city neighborhood to talk with youths at the Anacostia Athletic Club. By Gerald Martineau - The Washington Post