District Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), saying that "government needs to get out of [its] comfort zone," returned yesterday to the public housing complex, where a 55-year-old grandmother was killed last month, in order to hear residents' concerns.
"We've had a lot of talk," Williams said. "Now we're going to see some action. . . . And that's why I'm here to listen."
Williams, who said he is working on plans to bring shopping opportunities to the East Capitol Dwellings area within a year, took a 30-minute walk through the housing complex. He also said a playground would be built there within six months.
"Kids don't have a place to play. Kids need a place to play," he said.
Later last night, Williams took part in a "town hall" meeting, where more than 100 people crowded into a small, sweltering room at a recreational center. Several residents urged him to make the police presence more visible in the neighborhood. One said that if the mayor stayed long enough, he probably would hear gunfire in the area.
Several residents, both inside and outside the meeting, questioned Williams's motives. Cynthia Blake, who moved to the housing complex last year, was standing outside her apartment as the mayor and dozens of people with him walked by.
"What's the purpose of him being here?" she asked. Helen Foster-El, an East Capitol Dwellings resident who was fatally shot as she protected children from gunfire, was "not the first person to die around here," Blake said.
"Every time a crisis happens, the government comes out and makes a lot of promises that they're going to beautify the neighborhood, and then they go behind closed doors and vanish," she said.
Twavonne Walker, 26, lived a couple of doors from Foster-El, whom she described as "like a mother."
"I think it's too late," Walker said, sitting outside as her toddler son played in the yard. "Someone could have come through a little more often and put more police out here. They're out here now, but they weren't. They need to clean up the neighborhood and get the drugs out so it can be safer for the kids to play."
Then Walker thought again. "I'm glad the mayor's out here," she said. "It's good."
Earlier, Williams spoke with the Rev. Bernard Taylor, pastor of Open Door Baptist Church. Taylor scolded Williams at Foster-El's funeral service last month, saying the mayor had ignored their community.
"The mayor has demonstrated his willingness to work with this community," Taylor told the audience at the town hall meeting. "All of us have to [pull together] to make a difference in this community."
Six months into his term, Williams said he and his staff have enlarged their focus beyond budget and service matters, traveling to neighborhoods throughout the city, putting more police on the streets and working with city and federal agencies to attack drug markets and reduce crime.
"I've been over east of the river 5 billion times, but I don't live on East Capitol," Williams said in an interview on WTOP. "I didn't grow up on East Capitol. . . . I think it would be patronizing to say that I really understand what it means to live in those conditions.
"One of the things we're trying to do this summer is [implement] the neighborhood revitalization stabilization effort connected to the drug market strategy," Williams said. "We're going to be identifying some key neighborhoods for comprehensive government-private sector treatment. And these walks help me focus our efforts."
Williams said he was encouraged by his outreach efforts.
"What I hear from people on the street is that the goals we have set for this government are having an impact," he said. "I have not heard one person tell me that the city is going to hell and I better get my act together."
CAPTION: D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) hugs Frank Wilds during a visit to East Capitol Dwellings, a public housing complex where a woman was killed last month as she tried to get children away from gunfire.