Candidates for D.C. mayor descended on Georgia Avenue NW yesterday to reach out to thousands of Ward 4 voters who gathered to honor the city's longest business corridor, which is still awaiting an economic resurgence.
For 20 blocks or more stretched the parade of politicians marking the eighth annual Georgia Avenue Day, an event that every four years seems to draw almost as many office-seekers as marching bands, carnival clowns and community groups combined.
This year the parade took on a special meaning for Charlene Drew Jarvis, the Ward 4 representative on the D.C. Council, who hoped yesterday's festival would energize her base for the primary election 16 days from today that will decide the Democratic Party's mayoral nominee.
Jarvis led the parade with a 14-car motorcade, calling out to spectators from the back seat of a convertible with the help of a cordless microphone. "Hello, Ward 4 voters! Vote Jarvis on September 11!"
"Every election year, this helps me," Jarvis, one of five Democrats in the primary and a festival co-founder, said later. "People have come to associate Charlene Drew Jarvis with Georgia Avenue Day."
Although the avenue runs through the heart of Jarvis territory, most of her primary election rivals made gallant showings yesterday. John Ray, an avid jogger, briskly walked the length of the parade route -- from the District line at Eastern Avenue south to Howard University -- shaking hands the whole way.
D.C. Council Chairman David A. Clarke rode his trademark bicycle, giving bystanders low-fives and high-fives as he pedaled past. D.C. Del. Walter E. Fauntroy walked and rode in a Jeep, using a bullhorn to urge voters, "Don't believe the hype! No other candidate but Walter Fauntroy can do the job!"
Former D.C. police chief Maurice T. Turner Jr., who grew up on Girard Street NW a block off Georgia Avenue, braved partisan taunts along the parade route, including one from a woman who called out, "Go away, Turner, we're Democrats here."
Democratic mayoral hopeful Sharon Pratt Dixon, a local lawyer, skipped the event to campaign door-to-door in other parts of the District, an aide said. "We thought it was probably a setup for Jarvis," said David E. Byrd, Dixon's campaign manager.
But the event seemed somehow bigger than the mayoral candidates and the dozens of other politicians seeking council, congressional and school board seats who joined in the parade. In the afternoon heat, some residents and merchants remembered how far the street has come since the riots after the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Others longed for more progress.
"We're losing ground," said Clifton "Skeeter" West, owner of a medical testing laboratory and president of the Lower Georgia Avenue Business and Professional Association, a group of 50 small businesses between Florida and New Hampshire avenues NW.
"For a lot of black businesses, it's still hard to get money," said West, whose payroll has shrunk in 15 years from more than 100 employees to four today. "We're losing our own community because we can't participate in redevelopment."
West, 56, who has maintained a business on the avenue for 25 years, said the drug trade is making it hard for businesses to survive. A flourishing heroin trade between the 3100 and 3600 blocks of the avenue forced three physicians to move recently, and threatens his own client base, West said.
"It's almost like war," he said.
Jarvis, who counts West among her supporters, said that the city has helped small businesses on the avenue with facade-improvement loans and working capital, but that the government agency responsible for helping black entrepreneurs has not done enough. Even so, Jarvis said 20 new shops recently have opened on Georgia between Eastern and Florida avenues NW.
Earleen Hughes, 50, a personnel manager with Goodwill Industries who watched the parade, said the avenue could use a movie theater and a recreation center for youngsters. Hughes, who lives on Quincy Street NW just off the avenue, said she was cheered by the impact of West Indians and other immigrants who have opened stores and dinner clubs there.
"We've come a long way, but there's still some work to do," Hughes said.
William Spivey, 64, who retired after 35 years with the Defense Department, said the corridor has rarely seen better days. "The businesses are holding up. Georgia Avenue is coming back."