There was Allie the unemployed bookkeeper from Petworth. Wade the senior citizen from Kingman Park. Brenda the welfare mother from Capitol Hill. Betsy the lawyer from Northwest. Ken the D.C. government bureaucrat from Capitol Hill.
Nine people, strangers when they sat down at table number 57 at the beginning of Mayor Anthony A. Williams's neighborhood summit: six African Americans, two whites and an Asian American. One table picked at random out of 241 in the cavernous Washington Convention Center for a glimpse of how the conference looked at ground level, four rows from the front.
Nearly four hours later, when the summit broke up, the people at table 57 were talking like neighbors about how the District government could improve not just the city as a whole but the blocks on which they live.
All nine clearly care deeply about the future of Washington and haven't given up on it. They came with both specific suggestions and larger concerns.
Allie Barnes, 45, who lives with her husband and two children in the Petworth section of Northeast Washington, wants Morton Street, near her house, cleaned up: "I live in the neighborhood where I grew up. I remember when Morton Street was well kept. I'd just love to see those days again."
Wade Jefferson, 70, of the Kingman Park section of Northeast, thinks seniors need places to go, such as a teahouse. Betsy Kim, 36, of Northwest, an Asian American lawyer, wishes the city could find a way to integrate its neighborhoods--"We're diverse, but we're segregated," she said.
Brenda Floyd, 47, who lives in public housing on Capitol Hill, wants such housing spruced up: "I'd like to see that public housing communities are as neat as other neighborhoods instead of being an eyesore."
Williams told the crowd he wanted to hear such ideas so he could develop programs to carry them out that can be included in next year's budget.
"This isn't just idle chitchat. It's real work," Williams told the group of nearly 3,000 people.
"Awright," Floyd said.
She and the others at the table like Williams in general, and particularly yesterday. They thought he was funny, laughing a lot and clapping often, such as when he said he wasn't going to stand at the podium like Eva Peron and make decrees (as in, "Don't cry for me, D.C.").
And they endorsed his idea of pausing to take stock now that the city government has weathered its fiscal crisis and many city services have improved.
But the group doesn't see improvements yet in schools and public safety. "We're teaching 21st-century kids with an 18th-century mentality," said Gerald McCorkle, 51, who works with at-risk youth in Southeast Washington. McCorkle lives in Maryland, like some others at the conference, but attended because his organization, Covenant House, sent him.
Table 57, like the others, was equipped with laptop computers and individual hand-held devices so participants could provide instant answers to conference organizers, who shared the results on big screens.
"The technology makes this more exciting. I really feel like some results can come from this," McCorkle said.
Table 57's most eloquent discussions were more low-tech, as when the participants said their top priority for the District is strengthening families.
"The youth don't care about living anymore," said I. Toni Thomas, 60, a Maryland consultant with contracts in the District. "I was with some youth and I asked them what they wanted to be when they grow up."
Floyd interrupted with the answer: "They say, 'I ain't going to live that long.' "
"So how do we get to them?" McCorkle asked.
No one had an answer or a button on a keypad to push.