Adams-Morgan, the community around Columbia Road NW, is a rich ethnic and economic potpourri whose Bohemian style and diverse population has created an international flavor unique in this town.
Underneath the surface, however, there are intense rivalries and competing interests, and Mayor Marion Barry found that out the hard way last week.
His administration, recognizing its campaign debt to the Latino community, proposed to establish a Latin Quarter tourist attraction center in the Adams-Morgan, modeled after the French Quarter in New Orleans. Many of the Hispano leaders closest to Barry supported the plan.
But the plan created an uproar among other groups in Adams-Morgan. Small businessmen, black and white, shouted fears of displacement. Community activists and neighborhood preservationists cried foul and said they had been left out of the planning process.
Blacks and whites complained that the name ignored the international flavor of the area. Some of the mayor's closest friends who live in the area advised that tourism was the wrong way to go in Adams-Morgan.
So the Barry administration withdrew the plan.
"It was just a badly informed way of approaching some campaign debts and of approaching this community," said Kalorama Citizens Association president Lawrence Myers, noting the mayor's indebtedness to the Hispano community for helping him win last year's closely fought Democratic primary. "It's gonna really hurt the mayor. It's gonna come back to haunt him."
Barry confronted some of those haunting concerns firsthand last Friday, when he held a press conference on Columbia Road NW, the main drag of the area, to launch a special needs assessment study of the Adams-Morgan and Mount Pleasant neighborhoods.
"Hello, amigos. Como esta?" Barry began, as the lilting Afro-Cuban pulse of conga drum rhythms floated from the speakers outside a nearby record store.
Accompanied by Aida L. Berio, director of the city's office of Latino affairs, the mayor heralded the $75,000 needs study as another indication of his administration's "strong commitment" to the city's Hispanic community, which has claimed credit for helping Barry win last year's closely fought Democratic primary.
When the press conference was over, one black woman in the crowd of about 50 people had a question for the mayor, which he preferred to be asked in private. But she reiterated her concerns later in a conversation with a reporter.
"How in the world are you gonna do so much for so many immigrants when you have people already over here who don't have nothin'?" she said. "They can get jobs, and we can't. Why can't we get jobs? They've got homes and all. Why can't we get homes?"
Most of the city's Hispano population lives in Adams-Morgan, but most of the residents of Adams-Morgan are not Hispanos.
"The fact is," said Myers, "they (Hispanos) are one component and a fairly recent component of a very old operation. They have to be fed into the community as one component, and not as a majority component which they are not."
"Adam-Morgan is not an entity, it's a confederation of quite diverse neighborhoods and interest groups," Myers said. "It is a confederation that works most of the time, but the fact remains there are (some) neighborhoods that are as different as night and day."
That is the established way of working that was disturbed by the Latin Quarter proposal, which had strong support from some of the Latino leaders closest to Barry.
Barry later acknowledged that domestic diplomacy in Adams-Morgan will be delicate. In addition to ethnic sensitivities, the area is haunted by displacement and speculation, and threatened by development at one end and poverty at another.
"You've got all this tension up there," Barry said. "We're trying to bring things together."
Barry said he does not think blacks in Adams-Morgan feel threatened or neglected by his emphasis on the needs of the Hispano community. He dismissed the woman's remarks about blacks being overlooked. "One or two people in the crowd doesn't represent the feeling of the community," he told a reporter afterwards.
"We're doing so much for blacks everywhere else, so I'm not worried," Barry said.
Some whites have expressed concern and told him they feel threatened, Barry said. "Some of them are racist, quite frankly," Barry said, "and I've told them that."
Some area residents insist that Barry cannot look at Adams-Morgan through any one pair of ethnic glasses.
"In this area, emphasis shouldn't be placed on any particular group," said Dwight Gaither, 42, an Adams-Morgan resident for 25 years who watched Barry's sidewalk press conference last week and maintained a wait-and-see attitude.
Gaither and others interviewed said there is nothing wrong with Barry paying attention to a long-neglected Latino community. "But perhaps it could be arranged differently, so nobody would feel they were left out," Gaither said. "The rat problem around here is not a Latino problem. It's a city problem."
Lydia Fanfan, a Puerto Rican who moved into the area recently, said she doesn't think Barry is showing preference, but said she sensed tension among ethnic groups. "No one group wants the other to get the limelight completely," she said.
The neighborhood activists of Adams-Morgan relish the few levers of power that citizens have, and one of those is planning. The Latin Quarter proposal, they say, allowed a single group to, in effect, plan for a major portion of the community.
"There is not so much a resentment toward giving the Latino community attention," one activist said. "The deeper resentment on the Latin Quarter was that Latinos were going to control a planning process for the (whole) neighborhood.
"The community feels they were being hustled, not by the Latino community, but by the people in its leadership, some of whom don't even live here. You can't hustle Adams-Morgan."