Let's play "Political Jeopardy!"

The answer: "Absolutely not."

The question: Will Cora Masters Barry be a candidate in next year's election for the Ward 8 seat on the D.C. Council?

The District's former first lady said she has no idea why that rumor is swirling in political circles, and unlike another first lady who is headed toward a run for elected office next year, Barry insists that she has no such plans.

"No, I'm not running for the Ward 8 council seat," she said before a reporter could even finish asking the question.

Barry said she is focusing all her energy on developing the Southeast Tennis and Learning Center, a project she has been working on as part of her Recreation Wish List Committee of Washington.

"That is really my passion," she said.

The proposed facility, which will cost more than $5 million, is to be located in the 700 block of Mississippi Avenue SE, and received a big boost last week when Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) said the city would spend $3.7 million to help pay for its construction. Barry has said the center will include six tennis courts, a walking and fitness trail and a playground for toddlers. It also will include a community center with computer training and academic tutoring.

A year ago, first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton joined Barry for a formal announcement of the proposed facility, which also is being financed by a federal grant to the city and through private donations.

These days Clinton is stumping across New York, testing the waters for a possible run for the U.S. Senate representing the Empire State. But Barry said she isn't even thinking about running for local office.

Barry said the recreation and education center "is really my passion," though some community activists wonder whether her work with the center is a prelude to a council campaign.

"I don't know why they're saying it," she said. "This is all wishful thinking."

Barry also pooh-poohed speculation that her husband, former D.C. mayor Marion Barry, might run for an at-large council seat next year.

"If he is," she said, "he hasn't told me."

A History Lesson

The U.S. Senate had just approved the District's fiscal 2000 budget. Off the Senate floor, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) was talking with reporters about another spending bill when someone asked him about the vote on the District's budget.

Harkin laughed and recalled that soon after he was named chairman of the Senate's D.C. appropriations subcommittee in 1987, his first year in the Senate, he stopped by to see the legendary Sen. John C. Stennis, of Mississippi, who served in the Senate 42 years.

When Harkin told Stennis of his committee assignment, Stennis told him about a meeting he had with then-President Harry S. Truman after the Mississippian was elected in 1947. The exchange says a lot about how the District has been viewed historically on Capitol Hill.

According to Harkin, Stennis said: "Truman asked me what committee I got on, and I said the District of Columbia. Truman said, 'I was, too. My advice to you? Get off it as fast as you can!' "

Stennis did and, Harkin joked, "I did, too."

A Pat on the Back

The city's political leadership has always viewed MCI Center as the centerpiece of its strategy to revive downtown Washington. Owner Abe Pollin, who took a risk locating the mammoth sports and entertainment arena in a moribund area, was asked at a recent meeting of Washington Post editors and reporters to give a report card on those efforts as the basketball Wizards and hockey Capitals prepare for their third season there.

Pollin ticked off the development taking place near the center: hotels, restaurants, the 22-screen movie theater complex planned over Gallery Place and the $685 million convention center a few blocks north of the arena.

"I don't think the convention center would have been started if I hadn't built there," Pollin said. "In all humility, I think I achieved the goal of helping revitalize the most beautiful city in the world, the nation's capital."

There's still a ways to go. Pollin had promised 300 events a year at MCI Center, but that goal is 100 events short. And the showcase restaurant at the arena, the Velocity Grill, went belly up earlier this year because it couldn't pay its bills.

But Pollin said he is confident the center will host about 225 events next year, increasing incrementally to 300. And he said he soon plans to announce a deal with a major restaurateur to take over Velocity's space.

They Want to Go Home

Brenda Graham, president of the Frederick Douglass Residents Council, said she has been fielding telephone calls day and night from some of the 600 people she represents in Southeast Washington.

The questions from residents, she said, are short and to the point: They want to know how soon they will be able to move into their new homes.

"The residents are excited about the opportunities that will be made available to us," Graham said. "Residents are asking when will they get started [with construction]. We're asking residents to be patient and bear with us."

The enthusiasm, Graham said, is for the most ambitious residential development that her community has ever seen. The project, Graham added, will change lives.

Two weeks ago, federal officials presented the District with the largest single public housing grant in the city's history--$30 million that Mayor Williams called a leap forward in his administration's efforts to revitalize downtrodden areas east of the Anacostia River.

The grant will be used to replace dilapidated public housing units with contemporary town houses and to assist residents with training, jobs and education. It's part of a series of grants worth $571 million that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is awarding to 21 cities this year. In the District, the money will be used to make housing available for 600 families and demolish 448 deteriorated public housing apartments--333 of which are occupied--at the Frederick Douglass and Stanton Dwellings developments in Southeast Washington.

HUD plans to change the physical shape of public housing by demolishing the worst public housing developments--high-rises and barracks-style apartments--and replacing them with garden-style apartments or town houses designed to be more a part of their surrounding communities.

Graham said many residents also were concerned about crime, but Graham said D.C. officials assured her that police will work to curb crime after the construction.

Ward 8 Democrats Name President

The Ward 8 Democrats in Southeast Washington have a new president: Philip Pannell, who briefly was president of the group in 1991.

In a party election held last week, Pannell topped Mary Parham Wolfe, who had been president of the organization for two years.

Pannell, an outspoken activist known across the city pointed criticism and sharp wit, said he will begin to address several issues, including low voter turnout in the ward, the political empowerment of low-income residents and getting young people more involved in the political process. "I plan to speak more forcefully about people being left out of the political process," he said. "In Ward 8, we have been ignored, disrespected and politically neglected."

Pannell--also a member of the State Democratic Committee--said Mayor Williams needs more people from Ward 8 in top positions of his administration.

The mayor said he is looking forward to working with Pannell and praised him for his "dedication" and for being an "effective" advocate for Ward 8. "Phil is willing to speak his mind, and I respect him for that," Williams said. "Phil is not a shrinking violet."

Pannell said he did not complete his term as Ward 8 president in 1991 because he was frustrated with apathy and disorganization within the party. "I got removed," Pannell said. "This time around, things have changed. People came to me; people are saying they want to work with me, and I feel I have the intensity to do the work."

VOTE ON MARIJUANA

District voters overwhelmingly approved a measure last fall to legalize the medical use of marijuana, according to results released this week. Republicans in Congress have promised to try to block its implementation.

Citywide, the initiative was approved 69 percent to 31 percent--75,536 to 34,621--but the totals varied by ward. Here is a list of results by ward:

Ward Total Yes Percent Yes Total No Percent No

1 9,991 76.2% 3,121 23.8%

2 10,636 73.4% 3,847 26.6%

3 15,695 71.5% 6,2552 8.5%

4 10,515 64.2% 5,867 35.8%

5 8,568 63.7% 4,872 36.3%

6 9,484 69.4% 4,188 30.6%

7 6,805 61.2% 4,319 38.8%

8 3,842 64.1% 2,152 35.9%

Individual precinct totals are available on the board's Web site--www.dcboee.org.

SOURCE: D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics.