It was billed as the triumphant culmination of Major Marion Barry's 1979 summer youth employment program -- a semi-formal dinner dance for 1,000 Friday night at the Shoreham America where the best and brightest would receive awards, the mayor would be honored and all would dine on roast chicken and white wine as the band played.
But the mayor never showed. At the most, fewer than 100 youths straggled into the cavernous ballroom. Dinner was 1 1/2 hours late and, from the best reports available, the band never played.
"It wasn't on my schedule." Barry said yesterday as he shook hands on what his office announced earlier would be an official "Long Walk" down Georgia Avenue. "I don't know anything about it."
The dinner dance was the creation of the D.C. Concerned Citizens Caucus, a nonprofit advisory group of the mayor's social and political allies, which helped line up 700 jobs for youths, according to Shirley Sturghill, the group's public relations spokeswoman. Just how and why the event was bungled remained a mystery last night to most of the 200 or so guests who included School Superintendent Vincent Reed and several city council members. Shoreham Americana, which which appeared last night to be stuck with a $16,000 bill.
A thousand chicken dinners were ordered at $25 a plate. About 800 ham last night, along with an unknown number of cases of wine, according to George Kutrumbis, the head waiter at the affair.
Many members of the organization seemed puzzled by what had happened.
Sturghill said the group had apparently made arrangements for home of the youths to come to the dinner by bus, but that at least one bus had gotten a flat tire on the way to pickup the youths.
But other young people reportedly boycotted the banquet to protest the fact that they have yet to get their summer job paychecks.
Also not present, although listed as "honorary committee members" of the dinner on the official invitations were D.C. Del. Walter Fauntroy, D.C. City Council Chairman Arrington Dixon, and John Tydings, executive director of the D.C. Board of Trade.
The summer jobs program, though highly-touted by the mayor and his administration, was plagued by malfunctions from its inception last spring. Critics, including many of the young people who participated, charged that the program never provided anywhere near the 30,000 jobs promised and many of those who were employed either were given nothing to do or were tardily paid.
The invitation to the dinner included notice that "revenue from this affair will help provide a number of educational resource grants to selected participants from our summer youth program, and help to offset expenses incurred administering this program."
According to Betsy Tibbs, president of the group, various "private contributors," such as Abe Pollin, president of the Capital Centre, the NAACP and Morgan's Seafood, agreed to underwrite the cost of the dinners for the youngsters, who were not asked to pay the $25 fee.
But she said she has not yet counted up all the contributions and is not sure if the organization has enough to cover the bill.
Tibbs said two buses were supposed to pick up more than 100 teen-agers at a Southeast Washington Metro station and take them to the dinner. But one bus had a flat tire and the driver of the second bus, instead of going ahead, went back to help the other driver with the flat.
"It was dark and the children got cold and disgusted and went (back home)," Tibbs said.
Meanwhile, at the Shoreham, about 100 tables were set up in the Regency Room and only about 10 had anybody sitting at them. Some of those had only five people.
"I just couldn't figure out why we were talking to an empty hall," said Jerry Phillips, of WHUR radio, who was master of ceremonies.
The event was supposed to start at 7 p.m. and at 10 p.m., there were still no more than 25 youngsters present, said one guest, and dinner had not been served.
About 90 youngsters were supposed to received awards, but only about two, according to this guest, were present.
All evening, the places for Barry and his wife on the head table remained empty. And by about the middle of the evening, Sturghill said, the party organizers realized Barry was not coming.
Barry was supposed to be the featured speaker, but no announcement was made to inform the guests that he wasn't coming. When it came time to present Barry with an award, Phillips, the presenter, said he didn't know who to turn to.
At that point, Audrey Rowe, the mayor's special assistant on youth affairs, who was present, popped up and accepted the award on Barry's behalf.
Tibbs, who described herself as a Barry supporter, said the group had twice postponed its annual awards dinner so the mayor could be there. She said last Wednesday, a representative of the mayor's office told her Barry "would definitely try to be there."
But Holman said the group was told more than once Barry could not attend. "There's a definitive difference between the mayor trying to make an appointment and giving a definite confirmation . . . as it stood, he wasn't scheduled to be there. There's a difference between reality and keeping people's hopes up."
"All of us expected the mayor to be there," said Calvin Rolark of the Black United Fund, a recipient of an award.
In his closing remarks, the Rev. George A. Stallings Jr. told the gathering that the fact that so many youngsters were absent might have been a "blessing in disguise" because it showed "what this city would be like without its youth."
The banquet, however, was not the only feature of the evening. There was also a cocktail reception before hadn with an open bar, a disco dance in another room afterwards, and a VIP reception after the dance in one of the two suites donated to the group.