When the District's African American Civil War Memorial was unveiled seven years ago, it was expected to draw tourists away from the monuments on the Mall to the historic Shaw neighborhood.
But in the past week, the nine-foot-tall bronze statue became a backdrop for the political drama unfolding in the District. Two candidates for mayor chose the city gem to play a visual supporting role in kicking off their mayoral campaigns.
On Wednesday, D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D) greeted a throng of supporters who gathered at the landmark before parading down the revitalized U Street corridor between Vermont Avenue and 14th Street NW.
She filed her campaign papers at the Franklin D. Reeves Municipal Center, entering a race with two council colleagues, Adrian M. Fenty (D-Ward 4) and Vincent B. Orange Sr. (D-Ward 5), and former telecommunications executive Marie C. Johns. Lobbyist Michael Brown plans to announce Wednesday.
Fenty, who held his rally there yesterday, had decided to use that spot months ago to host a political rally complete with a DJ, platform and, of course, hundreds of supporters waving his green and white campaign signs.
No one is happier that the candidates picked the memorial site than Frank Smith Jr., the former council member who describes himself as the "architect" of the monument, named the "Spirit of Freedom."
Smith said he didn't have anything to do with the decisions by Cropp and Fenty, but word of two candidates appearing at the statue within a week is drawing a significant amount of attention.
"You see all the publicity it's getting," Smith said. "It's all over Fenty's Web site, and Cropp had it on her fliers."
More than 100,000 visitors a year come to the monument and museum, many by tour bus or Metro, which has a stop named after the statue.
But the numbers drop after tourist season ends, Smith said.
The political events remind District residents to visit the museum and the memorial, which cost $2.6 million and features the names of 208,943 black Union soldiers and their white officers.
"It is the most significant monument in the city that is off the Mall," Smith said. "It has helped to revitalize the city."
The significance of the civil war monument was not lost on the candidates or their supporters.
"It shows that we recognize the struggle that people went through to bring us to where we are now," Cropp said. "Each of us has a responsibility to make this world a better place for the ones to follow us as the soldiers who fought hard for us."
Fenty said he chose the site because of its "historical significance" as well as its proximity to his campaign office.
"The historical significance is it gives us the opportunity to highlight a local monument to national heroes that is situated in a District neighborhood," he said.
Although one Fenty supporter grumbled that Cropp had "preempted" his candidate by gathering her supporters there days before the Ward 4 council member's mayoral rally was scheduled, Fenty said it was not an issue.
"The more the merrier," he said.
Cropp said she wasn't aware that the monument was among Fenty's citywide campaign stops.
"I had no idea that Fenty was going to use it," she said.
But the candidates agree that it's ideal for the message they hope to convey in their campaigns for the 2006 mayoral race.
"We want to use the Civil War monument and U Street as an example of what was, what is and what can be," Cropp said.