For the second time in five days, President Carter made a "nonpolitical" foray into Northern Virginia -- this time to sign a major mental health bill at the region's largest community mental health center.
Carter's entourage included his primary opponent, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), his wife Rosalynn, Health and Human Services Secretary Patricia Roberts Harris, local members of Congress and politicians and a phalanx of reporters from as far away as Paris, France.
Absent were some of the patients of the Woodburn Center for Community Mental Health in Annandale, who were told they would have to reschedule their therapy sessions for security reasons. The center, which sees 3,000 patients a month, was still open for emergency care, however.
Last Friday the president had flown to Loudoun County to sign a higher education bill before a throng of 2,000 at Northern Virginia Community College's smallest campus.
In between remarks about the importance of the new law -- designed to improve the delivery of mental health care -- Carter found time to heap praise on Sen. Kennedy and his family, mentioning the senator's slain brothers, calling him a "compassionate and sensitive" senator, even blowing a kiss to Kennedy's sister, Eunice Shriver.
"I'm particularly glad to come here," the president said, "to a community mental health center where people have been served for 30 years. This act creates significant new opportunities for mental health care."
But some in the crowd seemed slightly skeptical of Carter's "nonpolitical" motives. "Come again," one worker called out to the departing president before turning to a colleague to say: "Maybe we'll see him again in four years."