Marion Barry won the D.C. Democratic mayoral primary in 1978 largely with the support of the inner city, where many renters and young "urban pioneers" saw in him a street-wise activist who could improve their housing and restore their neighborhoods.
As he seeks a second term this year, Barry appears to be even stronger in many parts of inner-city Wards 1, 2 and 6, an area that hugs Washington's commercial core and the Federal Triangle and, according to the city's most recent analysis, contains roughly a third of the city's registered voters.
"I'm going to carry every ward of the city, and already we're above 50 percent support in Wards 1, 2 and 6 according to our polls," Barry said yesterday, after receiving the endorsement of City Council member John A. Wilson (D-Ward 2), at a ceremony at the James Creek housing renovation project in Southwest Washington.
"I think we're probably a tiny bit stronger in Wards 1 and 6 than in Ward 2, but it's not that much of a difference," Barry added. "John will help me out in Ward 2."
Barry has used the incumbency to win additional support from the elderly who live in publicly subsidized housing, from gays and Hispanics who received greater representation at the District Building, and from long-time black homeowners who traditionally have supported incumbents.
But in his zeal to promote major office building and commercial construction downtown and along the Georgetown waterfront, Barry has alienated members of some community groups who fell the mayor has abandoned his grass-roots ideals in favor of businessmen and developers who contributed generously to his reelection campaign.
"Adams-Morgan delivered 40 percent of its vote to Barry in 1978 and Barry turned on the community," said Manuel Lopez, a community activist who supported Barry last time but is now helping organize for Patricia Roberts Harris.
Ivanhoe Donaldson, Barry's campaign manager, concedes Barry may have lost support in some areas where Donaldson said the mayor tried to balance his concern for residents with the need for economic expansion. "You've got to be pro-economic development because it produces jobs," Donaldson said.
Barry also may have gotten the political short end of significant changes in the racial and economic makeup of the inner city that resulted from a boom in condominium conversions in the late 1970s and the eastward movement of white, middle-class families to houses in Logan Circle, Shaw and on Capitol Hill.
This is particularly true in Ward 2, which includes a remarkable mix of very rich and very poor neighborhoods, a wide range of ethnic groups and the heart of the city's commercial and business district, where Harris appears to be finding some support among newcomers, community activists and preservationists.
"The mayor is not as strong in this ward as he'd like to be -- but strong enough," said council member Wilson.
Sylvia Grey and Clement Mesavage are among the young, affluent and largely white newcomers to the Dupont Circle area in Ward 2 who may have some impact on the outcome of the mayor's race, especially if it proves to be a close contest.
Grey and Mesavage were among the many thousands of middle-class professionals, blacks and whites, who were drawn to the shiny condominiums and renovated row houses that have mushroomed in recent years in Dupont Circle, Foggy Bottom and Southwest.
Many of the new arrivals are young professionals who are putting down roots for the first time and who feel no allegiance to an incumbent.
Rent control and the protection of low-cost rental housing were of overriding concern to voters in that area four years ago, just as the wave of condominium conversion was taking hold. Since then, more than 11,000 rental apartments were converted to high-priced condominium units, and those who bought those units developed different concerns: the crime rate, rising tax assessments, government efficiency and city services.
Grey, 29, an economist who lives with her husband in the Imperial House condominiums, 1601 18th Street NW, said last week she probabably will vote for Harris, Barry's chief rival in the Sept. 14 Democratic primary, because "I'd like to see a change."
"From what I've seen living here for 1 1/2 years, I'm not pleased with Barry," said Grey, who moved here from Baltimore. "It seems as if morale is much lower here among police and civil servants than it is in Baltimore . . . . Harris has shown in her experience with the federal government a managerial ability the city can use."
Mesavage, 30, an engineer who moved from California a year ago to a new condominium apartment near Dupont Circle, is far less certain which candidate he will support. In fact, he planned to vote for Betty Ann Kane for mayor until he learned last week that Kane dropped out of the mayor's race nearly two months ago.
"I guess I'll just have to vote for someone else," said Mesavage, who lives in a six-story building at 1735 New Hampshire Ave. NW. "I'd probably tend to vote for someone who would be for increased crime control. That would be my biggest concern in deciding at this late date."
These newcomers pose a challenge for the candidates because many of them have only the vaguest understanding of D.C. politics, waited for the last minute to register and often are hard to reach because of tight security in the condominium buildings.
"You have a new group of people there and you've got to get to know them," said Anita Bonds, Barry's deputy campaign manager. "Many in Wards 1 and 2 are professionals who are not so much concerned about a job as about the finer things in life . . . and concentrate on enriching their neighborhoods."
Barry's campaign aides say they are confident of doing well in Ward 2 with support from gay activists, Hispanics and Asians. Susan Meehan, Barry's Ward 2 coordinator, said the mayor has picked up strength in parts of the ward, but conceded Barry has his work cut out for him in winning over many of the new faces.
"If we have a problem, it's a problem of perception," she said. "People don't know what the mayor's record has been."
Ted Chase, Harris' Ward 2 coordinator, said some preservationists who were put off by Harris because she was being backed by developer Oliver T. Carr Jr. came around after Harris urged that the historic Rhodes Tavern be preserved. The tavern near 15th and I streets NW is threatened by the new Metropolitan Square complex that Carr is developing.
Manny Lopez said last week that Harris has a good chance to capitalize on deep-seated resentment toward Barry among community groups, but to do this she must get out more and meet with residents.
"She has to expand her contacts and outreach in areas," Lopez said. "The constituency is there. We have to build up the enthusiasm for her."