It's not often that sanitation worker Bernard Green gets to tell the mayor that he's doing things all wrong.
But yesterday, as his too-big paper suit bagged at the knees and his protective face visor slanted askew, D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) looked to the strapping Green for help.
"You're too far away," Green told the mayor as he reclaimed his pressure-washer wand and showed Williams the right technique for graffiti removal.
Williams spent the morning ridding a Dupont Circle alley of "Borf," "Ike" and other spray-can monikers because that nuisance was the millionth request for service at the mayor's call center, where D.C. residents call for trash pickup, dead animal removal, pothole fixes and dozens of other problems.
"Someone from the mayor's office called and said, 'You're the millionth caller.' I asked them, 'Does this mean I get a free dinner?' " said Therese Keane, who reported the alley scrawls in the 1600 block of Connecticut Avenue a couple of weeks ago.
Keane was slightly amused when the mayor's staffer told her she'd get a visit from Williams himself, rather than a free dinner.
She clicked a few pictures on her camera-phone at 8 a.m. yesterday, when garbage piles -- similar to the ones she's been complaining about for a decade -- were removed by an advance team that also pulled tiny weeds from pavement cracks in preparation for the mayor's cleanup.
The six-year-old call center has fielded complaints about countless rats, nearly 65,000 broken parking meters, more than 40,000 potholes, 233 leaning poles, 14 street vibrations and one request for HIV/AIDS testing, among other things.
"By taking all the calls into one place, we've been able to track the response better and find out where the problems are and where solutions may lie," Williams said.
Graffiti is a particularly insidious problem because it "sends the message that the community doesn't care," Williams said.
He wriggled his hands into bright orange work gloves and rolled black paint over the words "Philly Blunt" on a garage door, as sanitation worker Linda Bethea coached him: "Horizontal, Mr. Mayor. Side to side," she said, nervously.
Then he rubbed "Ike" off a metal door using a chemical spray and a soft cloth. And finally, after tossing off a little smirk to the reporters standing nearby, he used the pressure washer to blast "BORF HATES POST" from a brick wall. Until he needed help from Green.
After some helpful tips and a demonstration, Williams reclaimed the pressure washer, adjusted his stance and kept going, devouring more and more scribbles. Staffers looked nervously at their watches and the thick rain clouds gathering overhead as the mayor kept spraying.
"I never thought I'd see something like this," said Matilda Galvan, whose home has overlooked the Dupont Circle alley for 30 years and was surprised to see the mayor at work. "The biggest problem we have here are the rats. Do you think the mayor will get rid of the rats next?"