As the primary election date approaches, The District Weekly takes a look at some of the people and issues in wards that will be nominating and electing City Council members this fall.
Leroy Coads lives in Woodridge, on the upper edge of Ward 5, where trees and open space surround large, airy homes. He describes most of his neighbors as college-educated, civic-minded and generally well-off with moderate incomes. "We do pretty well out here," he said recently.
James Williams lives at the opposite edge of the ward on North Capitol Street, where vibrations from the heavy traffic crack plaster walls in the row houses of some Edgewood residents. Williams said of his neighbors, mostly blue-collar workers with low to moderate incomes, "A lot of people are just wondering, 'How am I gonna pay the bills?' "
Although they live in different worlds within the ward, Coads and Williams share with many other Ward 5 residents concerns that have become key issues this year in the Sept. 14 Democratic primary. Eight candidates are vying for their party's nomination to represent the ward, and whom the voters choose will depend in part on how the candidates address some of the residents' key concerns.
Roughly bounded by the Eastern Avenue District line, Benning Road and Florida Avenue, New Jersey Avenue and the B & O Railroad tracks, Ward 5 claims a huge chunk of near-Northeast Washington and a sliver of Northwest, and includes the National Arboretum and Catholic University. About 82,000 District residents call Ward 5 home.
People here, most of them black, have concerns that are unique to their ward, and others that interest residents throughout the city. Because the ward has the greatest amount of industrial-zoned land in the city and the second highest number of residents who own their homes, according to the city's Office of Planning and Development, commercial development and escalating property taxes have become key issues. Property taxes alone have increased almost 16 percent this year.
However, Ward 5 residents also share concerns about such things as unemployment, crime and city services that are issues throughout the city. With the Democratic primary just a month away, these issues are being raised and discussed more than ever.
Four of the seven candidates seeking the Democratic party's nomination ran in the last ward election in 1978. Many political observers, including Ward 5 Democratic Committee chairman Antonell Aikens, consider three people as front-runners in the primary: William Spaulding, the incumbent; Robert Artisst, who lost the 1978 election to Spaulding by a slim 360 votes; and Douglas Moore, the former At-Large City Council member.
Virgil Thompson, a former security guard and trustee at the University of the District of Columbia, and Robert King, a social planner, also are 1978 candidates back in the running. Richard Lee, a florist, and Rufus Langford, a former D.C. Corrections Department accounting technician, have joined the others seeking the Democratic party's nomination in a ward that votes overwhelmingly Democratic.
Of the 36,404 registered voters here, 31,423 are Democrats, 2,313 are Statehood party members and 1,478 are Republicans.
Other candidates are W. Robert Evans, a real estate broker, running as a Republican, and Isadore Mizell, a travel agent, who has filed as an independent for the general election.
In addressing some of the ward's key issues, candidates have proposed everything from setting more rigid, uniform tax assessment guidelines for assessors, to combating what residents say are overly subjective tax assessments, to developing the area around each of the ward's subway stations into farmers markets. But they also focus on gut issues such as increased police patrols because, as Williams put it, "Our concerns are those that run across the city."
With its deteriorating business corridors and new developments, senior citizen homes, public schools, housing projects and large frame houses, Ward 5 is much like other wards in its mix of people and contrasting lifestyles. It has 15 distinct neighborhoods, from the sprawling homes in Michigan Park and Woodridge to the cramped row houses in Bloomingdale and Edgewood.
In many ways, Coads and Williams represent major sectors of the ward. Each has a strong sense of neighborhood that sometimes makes the view from Coads' enclosed side porch different from the one from Williams' front stoop.
Williams, a retired Postal Service and labor association general clerk, says bus service and unemployment are gut issues in his community, one of the ward's poorest. Coads, a retired labor official, sees dissatisfaction with city services such as trash and litter collection, erroneous and exorbitant water bills and unfilled potholes as man-on-the-street issues in his neighborhood. In the nearby Lamond-Riggs community, 20-year resident Lillian Huff, a self-described civic leader, homemaker and businesswoman, agrees with both.
All three also list crime as an increasing concern. The ward has suffered a 26 percent increase in the number of crimes during the last three years. Huff, Williams and Coads all want more police patrols through residential neighborhoods. Burglary, auto theft and vandalism are major crimes here.
In addition to these concerns, a 1977 government attitude survey showed that ward residents were most concerned about the lack of shopping facilities. Since then, however, shopping has improved with the opening of the Hechinger Mall at Bladensburg Avenue and Benning Road, on the southern boundary of the ward.
Williams said the mall doesn't solve the shopping problems of residents on the other side of the ward, however. "To get to the mall I have to ride the bus and then transfer and transfer again," said Williams, who lost his sight two years ago. "What about the senior citizens in Edgewood Terrace who can't drive?"
Despite the popularity of the mall, other residents say it doesn't replace the small but busy pockets of commerce that were once within blocks of many neighborhoods. So far, commercial development has been getting the most attention from City Council candidates.
Much of the talk centers on the New York Avenue corridor. The tract includes about 240 vacant or underutilized acres, 40 percent of the city's industrial-zoned land. Nearly 500 small, light-industry companies remain in the corridor, but in the past few years an undetermined number have failed or moved to the suburbs.
Present plans to revive remaining businesses and attract new ones involve designating the area an enterprise zone, along the lines of the strategy proposed by the Reagan administration to encourage development through a formula of tax incentives and federal support. Some residents, however, perhaps weary after a decade of government planning to develop the corridor, are not sure the enterprise zone will provide new jobs for city residents.
Everett Scott, chairman of the Upper Northeast Coordinating Council, an umbrella community group that monitors city planning, said he and several other community leaders don't support the enterprise zone concept because it allows citizens little power in deciding what and who would be included.
"What it would mean is somebody from Georgia could come in here and set up," Scott charged.
In addition to the corridor, business strips along 12th Street and Rhode Island Avenue are considered prime targets for urban rejuvenation, although little has been done recently to renovate the area.
Williams said residents of the Bloomingdale, Edgewood and Eckington communities -- collectively called BEE -- have been working to turn space at Fourth Street and Rhode Island Avenue NE into a small shopping center with a grocery and drugstore. Other proposals, completed as long ago as 1976, have been detailed in various city-sponsored studies throughout the ward concerning the Brookland, BEE, Upper Northeast and Ivy City communities. Some residents are growing impatient with the amount of time it is taking to get beyond the planning stage, however.
Many expected development to pick up speed with the opening of the area's three subway stations, Fort Totten, Rhode Island Avenue and Brookland. Little has happened around any of them so far.
The ward has seen major development in recent years, however, with construction of three senior citizen complexes and the "New Town In Town," Fort Lincoln. The complex at South Dakota Avenue and Bladensburg Road NE includes town houses and subsidized senior citizen apartments.
Because the ward has the second highest number of owner-occupied dwellings, community leaders say the ward needs more public housing for others who cannot afford to own property.
Of the 32,400 dwelling units in the ward, 5,660 are publicly assisted in housing projects such as Montana Terrace, Brentwood Village and Langston Dwellings.
For the past several years, more than 25 community action groups have been instrumental in getting changes in the ward. After years of pushing and prodding, construction began last month on a library that citizens fought to have built. Four months ago, Woodridge residents stopped a liquor store from opening in the neighborhood. Now they are trying to prevent a 7-Eleven Store from opening because, Coads said, they don't want the traffic it would bring.
It is a classic parodox among communities that want development but not change. Urban displacement that often follows development and the ensuing property tax increases seem to have them in a Catch-22.
"They want it but they don't," Coads acknowledged.
Williams explained why. "It's got so much potential," he said, "it frightens us."