"I've been arrested 50 times; now I'm the elected mayor," said Takoma Park's Sammie A. Abbott at a gathering here this week while trying to establish his credentials with Vladimir Atopov, his gray-suited counterpart from the city of Volgograd.
Abbott, 77, who was a guest at a conference here marking the 40th anniversary of the destruction of Nagasaki by an atomic bomb, explained to Atopov that Takoma Park is looking for a small Soviet town outside Moscow with which to establish a sister relationship. Then, said Abbott, who is recuperating from a cataract operation two weeks ago, the towns could jointly pursue the fight against nuclear weapons.
Atopov listened attentively and, before moving off into the reception the two men were attending, replied through an interpreter that Abbott should submit an official letter to the Soviet Embassy in Washington addressed to a certain friendship society.
Later, Abbott sighed. Thus far, he said, the embassy has refused to accept anything from Takoma Park.
A tireless veteran of decades of civic battles over issues ranging from disarmament to construction of freeways, Abbott was making his first trip overseas since he served in Europe as a soldier during World War II. The $2,000 for the Japan trip was raised by friends in Takoma Park.
It grew out of Takoma Park's decision on Dec. 12, 1983, to declare itself a nuclear-free zone and refuse to do business with companies involved in the production of nuclear weapons. The city law bans transport and production of nuclear weapons and components within city limits. It also calls for trying to establish a sister relationship with a Soviet city.
Debate over the legislation attracted a reporter from the mass-circulation Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun, who spent two days in Takoma Park. His writing put the town on the map in Japan.
Later, Abbott got an invitation from Hiroshima and Nagasaki to attend a conference of mayors from Japan and 22 other countries in the two atomic cities on the 40th anniversaries of the bombings to discuss disarmament.
Just to make sure that Abbott was coming, Hiroshima Mayor Takeshi Araki gave him a call in Takoma Park and the two men chatted long-distance, with an interpreter at the Japanese end.
The conference began in Hiroshima, where Abbott was one of about 55,000 people attending the Aug. 6 commemorative ceremony.
Abbott talked with Japanese who had survived the bomb, including a woman who had endured 16 operations to repair her face. He toured the Peace Memorial Museum, where relics of Hiroshima's destruction are on display.
"When I saw the twisted glass, the nails that were congealed into one mass, when I saw that, I saw what that . . . weapon does -- why, there's no escape," Abbott said.
Abbott said that he had brought with him a letter from D.C. Mayor Marion Barry supporting the aims of the mayors' conference and pledging that the District would get involved in the future.
Abbott is scheduled to return home today.