At 7 o'clock each morning, Thelma Jones walks two blocks from her house on T Place SE to the Marbury Plaza apartments at 2300 Good Hope Rd. There she catches the number 92 bus to her job at the Government Printing Office downtown, where she is a journeyman bindery worker.
Sometimes it is a disappointing walk. Sometimes she waits and waits for the 92. "Sometimes at 7:30 I have to go back home and get my car," Jones said. "I end up driving to work and paying $2 for parking."
"The safest way to travel by bus out here," community leader Ronald Moyer said, "is to make sure you have at least two hours' traveling time."
Bus service, or what many perceive to be a lack of it, continues to be a problem for Jones, Moyer and others who live in Ward 6 east of the Anacostia River. Many complain that buses don't show up on time, or don't show up at all, and that meetings with city transportation officials have not produced a solution.
Just across the river toward Capitol Hill, other Ward 6 residents choose from three different subway stops, where Metro trains whisk them to work.
Transportation is just one issue that concerns ward residents as they consider the two Democratic Party candidates seeking their votes in the city's Sept. 14 primary. There are no other Ward 6 candidates on the ballot.
Four years ago, Nadine Winter retained her Ward 6 City Council seat by the slimmest of margins in a race that focused on real estate speculation and the widespread displacement of the ward's longtime residents. With real estate sales at a virtual standstill, that issue has been defused.
This year, Winter faces another tough battle against John E. Warren, the ward's school board representative since 1974. The issues are crime, jobs, housing, commercial development and transportation, as Ward 6 residents continue to seek ways to improve their communities.
Ward 6, the city's second smallest ward, is a study in contrasts. "We are a microcosm of the city," said attorney Sharon Nelson, chairman of Neighborhood Advisory Commission 6B near Capitol Hill. "It's sort of amazing that we live so well as neighbors because we are so diverse."
Ward 6, all 3,287 acres of it, stretches from the foot of the Capitol east across the Anacostia, encompassing territory on either side of East Capitol Street, much of Southeast Washington up to the Navy Yard, as well as Old Anacostia and surrounding neighborhoods past Fort Stanton Park.
Police from four of the city's seven police districts patrol the ward. Suburban as well as city sports fans pour into the ward on Sundays to watch the Redskins at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium. Children come to Ward 6 to watch circus clowns perform at the D.C. Armory. Farmers bring fruits and vegetables to sell at Eastern Market and the Farmers Market. The ailing and injured often arrive in the ward by ambulance for treatment at D.C. General Hospital. Even the city's criminals come to Ward 6 to spend time at the D.C. Jail.
There are rich and poor in Ward 6, white and black. The median income is below the city average, the unemployment rate higher. And in the last decade, dramatic changes have shaped the face of the ward.
Between 1970 and 1980, the population of Ward 6 declined more than 22 percent, from 94,600 residents to 73,400, compared to a drop in population of less than 16 percent citywide. At the same time, the ward's white population -- boosted by the renovation of town houses in the historic district around Capitol Hill -- increased 9 percent, while the population of blacks and other nonwhites dropped 28 percent.
Enrollment in the area's public schools has declined more than 54 percent overall and at rates as high as 80 and 90 percent at some. Only schools east of the Anacostia have added to their enrollments. Thus, while Ward 6 becomes more racially mixed, it is increasingly made up of single persons or small families.
There is affluence in the refurbished Victorian- and Queen Anne-style homes near the Capitol. Merchants on H Street are still struggling, 14 years after destructive riots, to restore the commercial strip. Across the 11th Street bridge, many people live on food stamps. Some businessmen say they are barely hanging on.
Crime is still on the upswing. On Capitol Hill, residents last year won their battle to keep the local police substation, which the city had planned to close. There and elsewhere in the ward, people have organized "neighborhood watch" programs to keep out would-be criminals.
"People read the statistics in the newspaper and they're scared," said Moyer, chairman of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6C. "There's a mounting need for more protection."
Some are content with the help they've received from police; others are not. "We've made constant pleas to the police department to put foot patrols out here, and they don't do it," complained Al Russell, vice president of the Anacostia Merchants and Professional Association and owner of Glass House Opticians on Good Hope Road. "You can't watch my business from a car running 25 mph down the street. That, in my opinion, is not surveillance."
For Russell and other Anacostia merchants, police protection is just part of the problem. They see unemployment as the main reason for crime and still are waiting for city officials to develop a plan to revitalize the commercial area east of the river.
"Most of the merchants in this area have a lot of financial problems," Russell said. "We feel somewhere down the line we should be supported by some community organization, with loans or whatever. A lot of the small businesses around here will definitely go under without some assistance. And without the businesses, the community will go under, too."
Merchants on H Street NE have similar concerns. There they are trying to rebuild what was destroyed in the 1968 riots, and to attract a variety of stores.
"Most of us are concerned about keeping our businesses and making our street competitive with other areas," said Loraine Alexander, store owner, contractor and president of the H Street NE Businessmen Community Association. "We're trying to get some ladies' shops, some paint stores, some bakeries, some shoe stores. We have a neighborhood here that needs that. We need stores that service our community."
City officials have recognized, along with Alexander, Russell and other merchants, that a lack of stores, supermarkets and centralized shopping facilities forces many ward residents to go elsewhere in the city or into the suburbs to shop. Construction of the Hechinger Mall, just outside Ward 6 on Benning Road, has helped. But traveling there remains a problem for the ward's aged.
"We want transportation for senior citizens to Hechinger Mall," said Francis Queen, ANC commissioner in 6A01. Like many other ward activists, Queen would like to see the city develop a shuttle bus system to the mall. "We've been meeting and meeting and meeting and meeting," she said, "but it never goes through."
For many in Ward 6, fights continue to center on the smaller issues of zoning, liquor licensing, trash collection and keeping video game arcades away from schools.
"People don't want any more of that stuff coming into the area," said ANC 6A02 commissioner Virginia Evans, who is fighting to stop a local grocery store from receiving a license to sell beer. "Our area has a lot of schoolchildren. I think the people really want to keep their community residential."