The city gave an election on Tuesday, but in Ivy City, as in many Washington neighborhoods, many people chose to sit it out.
Sam Harris spent the day repairing a neighbor's car. Sharon Edwards worked all day at the Ivy City Early Learning Center. Ed Walker fell asleep in his living room while watching the television series, "another World."
Only 75 of the 584 registered voters in Ivy City cast ballots to elect new members of the school board, a turnout slightly lower than the 14 percent citywide average. At the Ivy City polls, some poll watchers dozed off in corners while others struggled to stay awake with pots of coffee and afternoon soap operas.
"This is pathetic," said Elaine Jordan, an election official, as she surveyed Ivy City from the polling place on the second floor of the Crummell School. "We have all of these poll watchers up here and there is not a voter in sight."
Tuesday's no show appeared to result more from alienation from politics in general than apathy about the school board race. There are thousands of school-age children in the Trinidad/Ivy City area, and when the community has rallied in the past, it has been with them in mind.
There are numerous block clubs and church-based youth groups. In midweek, neighborhood men will rush off to emergency meetings of the local board of deacons.
But when politicians in cars equipped with loud speakers rolled through Ivy City on Tuesday morning, echoing promises from campaigns gone by, people stuck their fingers in their ears.
Harris, a mechanic and Vietnam veteran, became indignant. "I'm out here trying to make rent," he said, his head poking under the hood of a car. "You think I'm gonna take off to go be tricked again? Be real, man. This government ain't for the blacks. They kill off the Black Panthers and let the KKK run free. I can't even feel like a man when I vote. I just feel like a fool."
Ivy City is a small but deeply rooted community on the eastern edge of Washington. Like neighboring Trinidad, it is concealed from motorists speeding past by the rows of warehouses that line New York Avenue, Florida Avenue and Bladensburg Road -- its rough boundaries. For years, it has been known to most Washingtonians only as the destination sign on a bus line.
Red brick row houses with green front-porch columns that resemble steel I-beams sit back from quiet, tree-lined streets. By day, the rocking silhouettes of the many retirees who live there can be seen through wind blown curtains, bathed in the flourescent-blue of afternoon television.
The concern about the neighborhood is so intense that it has spawned two competing civic associations, the Trinidad/Ivy City Civic Association and the Mount Olivet Heights Civic Association.
The groups meet regularly to discuss zoning proposals, capital improvements for the community and pavement of streets. In years past, the groups waged battles to keep the Hamilton Junior High from being closed and to get cancer-causing asbestos ceilings replaced in some schools.
"They keep trying to get us to join them," Garrett Terrell, president of the Trinidad/Ivy City group said of the rival association. "But we've been here since 1911. They've only been around since 1934."
When it comes to electoral politics, however, many residents become withdrawn. Some say they are uninformed. Others say they are suspicious of the players. Still others say voting will make no difference. So, on election day, a pall hangs over the poll.
"What? Me vote?" exclaimed Sharon Edwards, an 18-year-old mother whose son attends the Webb Elementary School. "I want my son to get a good eduction. I'm not going up there trying to vote and end up messing something up."
A block away from the Ivy City polls, Douglas Pearson, Jim Jones and Charles Carter sat on a stoop, idling the day away, sipping cola and beer.
When asked if they planned to vote, two say no immediately. Pearson said he had to think about it.
Said Jones, who is 48, "I want the best man to win, but I don't know who that is. I don't even know how this school thing works. I guess I'm just not smart enough. I guess I'm pretty dumb." He had embarrassed himself, so he turned away.
Carter, 62, raised himself onto his crutches and patted Jones on the back. "Don't worry 'bout it, Jim. We got mother wit. You hear some beautiful conversation around here on election time, but we know it ain't meant for us. See, we know this," he said.
The longest, and most emotionally draining battle, has been an effort by the Trinidad/Ivy City Civic Association to pressure District officials into completing a youth recreation center that was approved more than six years ago.
The mammoth, $1.4 million structure, built in the shape of a castle, towers incongruously over the neighborhood. It has been under construction for more than five years.
"We call it the 'White Elephant,'" said Curtis Dower, who lives behind the building. To him and other area residents, the vacant structure is a symbol of democratic backfire and part of the reason so few put faith in their collective effort.
The roof of the building, which holds a skating rink, began leaking before the recreation center was scheduled to open. City officials took months to determine that faulty materials had been used and months more to force construction workers to replace.
"Nothing is turning out like I though it would," Dower said as he surveyed the building's doors, which have already begun to rust.
"It does make you wonder.If you push for something, and everybody agrees on it and you still don't get what you want, I reckon a sensible man would start wondering what's the use."