The race for D.C. mayor, as seen by Lawrence Cole, a retired pipe fitter in Southeast: "Nobody is doing anything for this city now. There's a lot of straightening up to do. I'm going to vote, and I want someone serious and sincere."
The race for D.C. mayor, as seen by Robert Burger, at a candidates' forum in upper Northwest: "I want an administrator, not a politician. And someone whose moral character at least equals the average citizen."
The race for D.C. mayor, as seen by Alma Harris, who is raising her teenage son in a troubled Northeast housing complex: "We need someone new to deal with the drugs. But the people running just don't show me they have real strength."
With two weeks left before primary voting in the race to succeed Mayor Marion Barry, residents across the city say they are eager to vote -- but unsettled about whom to choose.
During a week's tour of key voting precincts in the District, and dozens of conversations with black and white, young and old, and rich and poor, many voters showed scarce passion for any one mayoral candidate, but a strong desire to elect an honest, moral leader who would work relentlessly to improve city life.
And though, in this unscientific sample, there was great variety in voter opinions about candidates, residents often spoke in chorus when assessing the campaign, its issues and its impact on the District's future. Most residents interviewed said they intended to vote in the Sept. 11 Democratic primary because they believed the city was at a pivotal moment.
"I really feel like this could be a new day for Washington," said Priscilla Gay, who lives in the Brightwood neighborhood of Northwest. Gay said she would probably vote for D.C. Council member Charlene Drew Jarvis (Ward 4) because "she is saying the most about education and I trust a woman more."
Still, residents across the city said they had been distracted by the mayor's drug and perjury trial, which ended Aug. 10 with his conviction on one count of drug possession, acquittal on a second and a mistrial on the remaining 12 charges. Only now, many said, are they seriously examining candidates. Few said they had wanted Barry to run again, but many said they hoped the next mayor would have some of his style, which they usually described as savvy or tough.
There was consensus in all parts of the city -- and in some spots a near desperate cry -- for the D.C. government to be more efficient and its leaders more upstanding. Again and again, voters said they wanted a mayor who relished family life and worked closely with youth.
It also was easy to find widespread disappointment in the campaign so far, with many voters saying candidates had not yet distinguished themselves.
Voters most often expressed anxiety about the city's deficit, its homicide tally, its schools, taxes and its national image. But few of those interviewed around town said they had great concern over other issues, such as race relations or D.C. statehood.
"I know the drug issue has been beaten to death, but we still need someone to do something," said Elijah Beard, a limousine driver from Northwest's Petworth neighborhood, who said he would vote for at-large council member John Ray because he seemed most likely to "take hold of things."
"Someone has to fire all these people on the city payroll who just show up and go home," Beard said, "and someone has to make the schools give kids more discipline."
One rainy morning last week in Congress Heights, a Southeast neighborhood at times overrun with violence, Beverly Hubble chatted with her cousin, Cherish Moore. They stood in the parking lot of an apartment complex that, even at 11 a.m., had a Guardian Angel on patrol. Both women are 19, and they say they're eager to vote.
Their neighborhood has had one of the lowest voter turnouts of any precinct. A drive through the area's streets reveals few hints of a campaign. Candidates' posters are nearly impossible to find, though several residents said there is plenty of neighborhood chatter about the election's importance.
"Nobody's been out here, but I'm not surprised. We can't even get cabs out here," Moore said.
"That's what I like about Mayor Barry; he came out here," added Hubble. "No one in the race is tough like he is. Looks to me like they just want the job. It's in the way they talk. It's not exciting."
Hubble said she is leaning toward Del. Walter E. Fauntroy (D.C.) because "he knows the whole city and has been here a real long time."
A few blocks away, Lawrence Cole, the retiree, said that the candidates all seem weak, but that he may vote for council Chairman David A. Clarke because "when I hear him talk, I think he means well. To me, he's the most sincere."
Similar uncertainty among voters was found across town in the Shepherd Park neighborhood of Northwest. A peaceful setting that's home to a large portion of the city's middle-class black families, Shepherd Park has had the highest voter turnout of any precinct in recent D.C. elections.
Dozens of residents attended a candidates' forum at Shepherd Elementary School last week. And during the event, campaign aides hustled through the neighborhood to find some of the few vacant spots left on telephone poles to tack up candidate posters, in hopes of luring undecided voters such as Arthur Lewis.
"I want someone who is above reproach, someone that people all over the city -- especially kids -- could look up to and respect," said Lewis, a consultant. "This is truly a watershed election, with Barry gone and the city's dire economic straits. But I'm hearing too many generalities from candidates."
His wife, Fay Lewis, said she too is still shopping. "The trial seemed to put the whole city on hold."
"From what I hear," her husband added, "people are looking for someone who, in a sense, is a savior."
He said he may vote for lawyer Sharon Pratt Dixon because "she is the only one who is getting specific. But I'm not sure she's electable."
The mayoral candidates also seem to be aggressively courting Michigan Park, a quiet Northeast neighborhood on the D.C. border that's filled with black families who have lived there for generations.
The neighborhood has the highest number of registered Democrats in the city, and usually has a high voter turnout in D.C. elections. Here, Ray's candidacy appears to be attractive to voters. His campaign signs adorn dozens of lawns.
But some residents there said Barry's lengthy trial has lowered morale and left doubts about how much the next mayor can do to lift it. In Michigan Park, a common hope among residents is for the next mayor to restore city pride.
"The city is as low as ever," said Warren Henderson, a cabdriver who lives on South Dakota Avenue. "We need to pick a mayor who is concerned about people -- I mean real concerned, not someone who just gives speeches."
Residents' weariness with the state of the city was found often in wealthy, and largely white, Northwest neighborhoods such as Spring Valley and American University Park, where voter turnout is typically very high.
Several residents spoke bitterly of Barry and the government, but they refused to give their names. Others said they doubted if anyone elected could reduce government bureaucracy and erase corruption.
"All I want is honesty, honesty, and honesty," said one man as he left a drugstore on Massachusetts Avenue NW.
And though those interviewed had unanimous interest in the campaign, there were few traces of election fervor. Earl Holbrook, 72, said there is ample debate among residents in his apartment building about whether to vote.
"People I talk to, white and black, say they may not unless someone starts looking strong soon," Holbrook said. "I want to vote. But I'm tired of all the shenanigans in this city. We need someone steady, honest and hard-working."