A quote in a July 8 Washington Post article on issues of primary concern to Washington voters was incorrectly attributed to Joan Tillman. The remarks should have been attributed to Gloria Root.
Donald Davis stopped working for a while the other night to look through the basement doorway at Paul Junior High, just around the corner from his home in the Manor Park section of Northwest Washington.
For half an hour Davis watched and listened as the candidates for mayor thumped their fists and made the loudspeakers crackle on the issues of no-fault insurance, crime, housing.
Is anything they're talking about really important to you? a reporter asked the 34-year-old janitor. Davis, a wiry man with a short-cropped Afro, shook his head.
"Only thing that really matters to me would be programs to train people for better jobs," he said. "Right now, these kids are coming out of school without knowing how to do a job. We just throw them out there with no experience.
"People coming out of school right now got no dreams. Young boys now have no ambition, nothing to look forward to because there is nothing for them to do. We got to get more jobs around here," he said, turning away from the forum.
Before the candidates talk and after the candidates talk, people at the forums talk, and these days they talk about jobs.
Among nearly 40 persons interviewed at three recent candidate forums, jobs, job training and schools that train young people for jobs were by far the greatest concern.
"The thing that bothers me the most about the city is that these young people coming up got nowhere to go," said Alvin Colson, 69, a retired postal worker who lives in the Adams-Morgan neighborhood in Northwest and who had just attended a forum for senior citizens at Martin Luther King Library. "You're either a big-time lawyer or a doctor in this town or you're looking for a job, unemployed."
Alison Conklin, 56, of Northeast, who came with one of several groups that were brought to the forum by city buses from senior citizen centers, said she won't vote to reelect Marion Barry mayor because he hasn't done enough about jobs.
"I like that Gold Card he sent out," Conklin said of Barry's discount buying card for senior citizens. "But that don't do nothing for my grandson age 22 and his buddies. They just spend all day standing around. I tell him go find work, but there's no work. That boy is bound for trouble."
The responses of those interviewed are a gauge of the campaign for the Democratic nomination for mayor as it picks up speed toward the Sept. 14 primary, nine weeks away.
Many of those interviewed--in these instances, senior citizens and residents of key middle-class wards in upper Northwest and Northeast Washington where voter turnout is often highest--already have picked a candidate to ride with to all the forums. They have heard all the catchy political lines.
They are not the insiders. They don't run the campaigns. But they show up at the forums, the early stage for election-year politics in Washington--the District's New Hampshire primary and Iowa caucuses of sorts all rolled into one.
The forums are where the candidates trade early political punches, where any weaknesses come to light before the rough going late in the campaign. What the people at the forums have to say can at times become the talk of the election in weeks to come.
The people at the forums do talk of other things: crime, schools, high property assessments, poor city services, drugs, and the high cost of buying a house.
Yet it often comes back to jobs.
Lucy Franklin, who attended the Ward 4 Advisory Neighborhood Commission forum at the Paul School, 8th and Ogelthorpe streets NW, cited the case of her father.
The mortgage on his house was paid off long ago, but he would not have been able to keep it, she said, if she and her husband had not agreed to move in with him and pay part of the ever-rising property tax bill.
Even the schools issue has a jobs twist.
"The issue is education. We need to integrate the educational system and job opportunites in a way that will allow our young people to get a job, buy a house and stay in the city," said a man attending a forum sponsored by Jack and Jill, a black social and civic group.
The man, who asked that his name not be used, said he is a lawyer from the affluent Shepherd Park area of upper Northwest Washington, with two children, ages 2 and 5.
Most of those interviewed said they believe the mayor can improve the job market in Washington, where overall employment rate is about 10.5 percent--the highest in the metropolitan area and above the national average of 9.5 percent reported last month--and black youth unemployment is estimated at more than 50 percent.
Ironically, the open window on the political mind of some Washingtonians provided by the interviews offers no glimpse of who would be the best candidate to bring more jobs to city.
Barry supporters often were critical of his record on jobs. Yet, they contended, he has nearly four years as mayor behind him and his challengers will have to learn the job if he is replaced. They also said that they felt Barry might do better in his next term.
Voters favoring the major challengers--lawyer Patricia Roberts Harris and City Council members John Ray and Charlene Drew Jarvis--said Barry has not done enough to find new jobs and that they have faith in their candidate to do better.
A Washington Post poll of 1,374 Democrats taken last month indicated that 89 percent of those interviewed believe the mayor can make a difference in bringing jobs to the city, in both the public and private sectors.
Of that 89 percent, about 36 percent said they thought incumbent Barry could do best, 26 percent said Harris, 24 percent were undecided and the rest thought other candidates could do best.
Although the number of undecideds was slightly higher than the 14 percent undecided on their choice for mayor, the 36-26 spread roughly paralleled the overall results of the poll, which found Barry leading Harris 45 percent to 32 percent.
That suggests that although employment may be a major concern, it has not yet emerged as a campaign issue that clearly sways voters toward one candidate or another.
Many of those interviewed at the forums insisted on the ability of the city's chief executive to bring more jobs to the city regardless of any broader economic problems.
"The mayor can attract business to the city with the same incentives and tax breaks they give to the people building downtown," said Joan Tillman, an early childhood education specialist.
"A mayor could go to Chrysler and ask them to bring in some light industry, constructing some car parts . . . . Instead of selling off city-owned land, they could lower the price and get some businesses that will bring more grease-monkey type jobs to Washington, you know, blue-collar jobs," Tillman said. "We don't have enough of them."
Manuel Cantrill, who owns a small bakery in Springfield and lives in Northeast, echoed complaints that some businesses don't locate in the city because they believe there is poor cooperation from the city government, worker compensation and unemployment insurance rates that are higher than those in surrounding areas, and high land prices.
"Instead of helping businesses , that crowd downtown is giving workers everything, calling themselves liberal and sending businessmen out of here," Cantrill said. "They better wise up or all they'll have left is their damn workers' rights."
All of those interviewed at the forums were not one-issue oriented.
"Survival in the city day-to-day is hard," said Alma Arrington Brown, head of the Jack and Jill organizaton. "It's a headache to get your car inspected . . . . You call the District Building for anything, just information and you get put on hold or you have to call back 20 times."
Anthony Brown, a graduate student at Howard University's School of Social Work, had a book in his hand as he stood in the back of the forum at Paul with his 4-year-old daughter. The book was a 1977 study of the city's Department of Human Services.
Brown wanted to ask Barry why the city's delivery of human services had not improved since 1977. He wanted to ask the other candidates what they would do to make sure that the poor are treated better.
"To rely on this city government for help," he said, "is to wait and wait, you could be dead. We pay high taxes, there's all this talk about caring and sensitive leadership, but look at this the report . They know what the problems are. But nothing changes."