Mayor Marion Barry returned to the 14th Street corridor last night and found that unlike the Prodigal Son, he was not welcomed home.
As the mayor strode rapidly up the corridor, flanked by D.C. police officials and government aides, prostitutes greeted him with pleas for jobs. Self-professed drug addicts begged for a cleanup of drug dealing in the area. Mothers asked for homes and social services for their children. Businessmen demanded a halt to budget cuts they claimed would take sorely needed police officers out of the area.
"I been trained in Kentucky as a dental assistant," a prostitute named Linda told Barry at 14th and N streets, NW, his first stop along the strip.
"I have a child, a six-year-old girl. After I buy her food, clothes and pay rent I can't make it. A lot of us need jobs."
Barry said, "Do you want to do something else? I know it's tough to find jobs."
Before Linda could answer, he turned to another prostitute and asked her about her hometown, Memphis, Tenn.
As the mayor walked away, Assistant Police Chief Maurice Turner Jr., told him police had found that a number of prostitutes now working city streets were North Carolina housewives who come here on weekends trying to earn money.
As Barry walked deeper into the infamous drug trafficking area near 14th and T streets, Calvin Jackson pushed his way past two men, demanding to be heard.
"Let me go up there and tell him we ain't got no jobs," Jackson said. "That it's hard as hell to find a job in this city. I've been looking for work for six months."
Barry's return to 14th Street, the scene of much of his early activity as a political activist, was undertaken in an effort to show support for the police officers in the area and to reestablish contact with the people in the neighborhood, the mayor explained.
Last night, some of the same young men and women who had worked with him in Youth Pride Inc. asked for a show of the old Barry -- the activist Barry who talked of jobs, housing and social services for the poor.
"We expect more from a black mayor," said Calvin Sistare, a 14th Street area resident for 27 years. He's supposed to know this area. He's supposed to have been through everything we've been through.
"He was something in the old days when he'd come here in his old dungarees and tennis shoes. But now he's back in a three-piece suit, and he's too good for home."
The Barry of last night -- hands stuffed in the pants pockets of a pinstriped suit -- appeared to have little time for some of these constituents, sometimes turning away from questioners without responding at other times snapping out curt answers or telling people heatedly to "quiet down" or "keep your mouth closed."
The 90-minute walk was part of a recent effort by Barry to touch base with District workers, many of whom will be affected by proposed job cuts in the city's budget. The mayor's first excursion into the world of city employes took place last Tuesday when he rode along with a crew of District garbage collectors. He has also announced plans to ride with city firefighters in the near future.
Not everyone along the corridor was hostile to Barry and his entourage, which included dozens of reporters, photographers and television cameramen.
Outside of John's Place, a bar at 14th and S streets, Charlie Wiggins, a neighborhood resident, said it was "surprising to see the mayor come strolling by at this time of night. But I think it's a good thing. He has to mingle among the people.
"I don't have any specific advice for him. In general, I think he's doing a good job."
At R Street minutes earlier, another resident had an opposing opinion after Barry accidentally encountered his former wife, Mary Treadwell, as she drove by.
"Hello Mr. Mayor," Treadwell yelled from her car. The mayor waved and kept walking.
"He ought to get in there with her because we need to run both of them out of town," the bystander said.
Treadwell is currently under federal investigation for allegedly misappropriating federal housing funds given to a real estate spinoff of Youth Pride Inc., which she now heads.
The most difficult moments of the evening for the mayor came near U Street, where he was surrounded by regulars congregating in front of bars called the Success Cafe and the Republic, in the heart of the drug traffic area.
People urged the mayor to clean up the drug traffic. Third District Police Commander Alfonso Gibson told reporters that 40 percent of the homicides in the city were drug-related and the 14th Street was possibly engaged in a war between factions jockeying for control of drugs.
"I want them to clean up the streets," said Peaches Butler, who lives near 14th and Monroe streets. "They got dope everywhere. All these drugs around these little kids."
Barry asked Butler to quiet down. The request only made her more vocal as the mayor tried to take names of people looking for jobs.
"Why don't you quiet down." Don't talk so much," he told Butler brusquely.
Retreating from the crowd into the Success Cafe, Barry was told by Shirley Simmons, one of the owners, that businessmen needed more police protection in the area not less, as would happen when police jobs are cut. Barry told him that proposed police layoffs would not affect the 14th Street area. When Simmons asked for elaboration, the mayor referred him to Gibson and walked away.
Outside the cafe the mayor was confronted by several other people who protested police layoffs.
Melvin Jackson, who said his father and godfather are part-owners of the cafe, reiterated the need for more police protection. Again, Barry referred him to Gibson and walked across the street to his waiting limousine as Jackson tried, in vain, to talk to him.
A prostitute watching the scene started to laugh as Barry got into his car. Turning to the crowd she said: "I tell you what, I think Marion Barry has just turned the biggest trick of the year."