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.
Some people in this city consider Ward 3 the most affluent section of the District, removed from the daily problems of crime and unemployment faced by other city residents. The quiet, lush, almost country-like setting of streets in some of the neighborhoods contributes to this belief.
But one ward resident, Joseph Manno, 78, of 3726 Connecticut Ave NW, is tired of what he believes is an unfair stigma. "A lot of these people are prisoners at night, afraid to walk the streets because of the crime. That's not different than most parts of the city," he said.
"Ward 3 should not be singled out as rich and white," Manno said. "There is a lot of . . . poor, white people living here." Manno, a resident of the city for 45 years, said he knows of many elderly persons who remain in the ward because they have no place else to live, although they spend most of their fixed incomes on rent. "They're stuck in their little rooms, and they don't want to leave," he said.
But the issues that are important for Ward 3 residents as they consider candidates in the Sept. 14 primary election vary depending on age, income, family size and neighborhood.
For the elderly, the issues include crime, transportation, rent control and stronger laws to protect tenants faced with condominium conversions. For homeowners, a key issue is rising property taxes, which range from a 3.1 percent increase in American University Park to 20 percent in the Forest Hills neighborhood. The city's average increase in residential property taxes is 9.4 percent. The ward has some of the highest assessments in the city: home values range upwards from $107,000 in Glover Park to $392,000 in Massachusetts Avenue Heights.
In neighborhoods like Chevy Chase, where many of the younger families live, education and recreation are among the major issues. Across the ward, in the Potomac Palisades and Foxhall neighborhoods, noise from planes using National Airport is a burden community leaders say they can live without. And from neighborhood to neighborhood, residents want better city services, from cleaner streets to increased police patrols.
Three Democratic candidates are vying for their party's nomination to fill the Ward 3 City Council seat: Polly Shackleton, Ward 3 council member since 1974; Ruth Dixon, a political scientist and former president of the D.C. League of Women Voters; and Mark Plotkin, a member of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3B and former District school teacher.
The lone Republican candidate, Lois DeVecchio, an ANC 3D commissioner and former property manager, will face the Democratic primary winner in this ward, where Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 2 to 1.
The city's largest ward, its 6,500 hilly, rolling acres covering the area west of Rock Creek Park to the Potomac River (except for the Georgetown neighborhood), lost to Ward 2 in April's redistricting. The ward is home to American and Georgetown universities, the University of the District of Columbia and Howard University Law School, along with numerous embassies and chanceries.
But what makes Ward 3 stand out is its people -- on the whole, unlike those in any other ward. Of the 78,000 residents, 92 percent are white, compared to a citywide proportion of 27 percent. Less than 5 percent are black; they represent less than 1 percent of the city's black population, according to data from the city Office of Planning and Development.
Higher incomes and education are synonymous with Ward 3. The average income, according the 1978 D.C. tax records, the most recent information available, was $26,000 compared to $15,000 for the rest of the city. Unemployment in the ward was far below the city average of 11.8 percent for July. There is only one public housing apartment building, located on Connecticut Avenue.
Special problems exist, however, for the ward's elderly population, which is double the city average. Many elderly residents are concerned about Medicare cuts and, like Cleveland Park resident Joseph Manno, worry over rising rents, especially for those living along the Connecticut Avenue corridor since Metrorail's Red Line was extended last year to the Van Ness-UDC station.
Although a friend refers to Ward 3 as the "geriatric ward," Manno said his counterparts are as politically aware and powerful as any group and turn out in large numbers to vote. "Being elderly, voting is one of the few things you can do and feel like you are participating," he said.
Bee Gettys, who lives in the American University Park neighborhood, said that although there seems to be a higher concentration of affluent people in Ward 3, most residents are retired or middle class struggling to get by. "It takes everything to live in this house, and it's only for sentimental reasons that we stay here," said Gettys, who lives with her husband on his Army pension in the house her immigrant father built 42 years ago.
"I deliver meals-on-wheels, and I can tell you this area is not all affluent," she said. "I don't feel we live any marvelous, isolated life."
Gettys said some of the issues important to her in this election are property taxes -- this year hers increased to nearly $2,000, about $800 more than two years ago -- better education, more reliable transportation and crime. "Because of the crime I wouldn't stay out here without my dog," she said.
A number of Neighborhood Watch programs have begun in the ward, despite a 5.8 percent decrease in crime overall in June, compared to June 1981, according to 2nd District Deputy Police Chief Roland Perry. He said most incidents are property crimes, such as car theft.
Land use issues are also a concern for Ward 3 residents in an area of the city where historic preservation ranks high on the list of priorities, according to Nancy Feldman, ANC 3D chairman and president of the Palisades Citizens Association.
"We are concerned about the nice quality of life here and the open space we enjoy," she said. She noted that residents oppose further intense development of certain areas, especially along Massachusetts and Wisconsin avenues, that would add to the already congested traffic of Maryland commuters.
While crime, education and taxes are all important to Marvin Shapiro, a Chevy Chase resident, he believes a key issue should be race relations. "The overriding issue is racism. We have to get blacks and whites living together," he said.
Ward 3 is unusual in one respect because the ward is limited mostly by natural boundaries. Immediately to the east is Rock Creek Park, to the north is the District-Maryland line and to the west and south is the Potomac River.
For Shapiro, Ward 3 life is isolated. "Up here you are so removed," he said. "You get up here and city politics doesn't seem to matter because the District Building seems like a thousand miles away."