They had swept up the broken glass and shoveled the garbage out of the courtyard of Miglori Manor public housing project.
Everyone wondered what was up. Women and children peered curiously out of broken windows. Men, clustered in knots of two and three along the dreary, graffiti-covered red brick walls, said the place had never looked so good.
Suddenly, the candidate and his entourage of television cameras, reporters and Secret Service agents swept across the asphalt.
"Who's the guy with the white hair?" one kid asked.
"That's the one running for president," his friend replied.
"John Anderson? I never heard of him before today," said a city maintenance worker who didn't want his name in the paper. "They just told us to clean everything up."
The independent presidential candidate was making a rare visit to an urban slum to dramatize his proposals for rebuilding American cities. He couldn't have picked a more depressing place. It was a media event, pure and simple, a visit created to provide some "visuals" for the television cameras.
Al Sykes and his friend Quentin Simms, both cement workers, had taken an hour off their jobs to see what was going on. "He's just coming down here to get more votes. He'd be the last one I'd vote for," said Sykes. "Why didn't he come down in the summer or spring instead of two weeks before the election? I'm voting for Carter."
Evelyn Garner, 14, had a message for the Illinois congressman. But she couldn't get through the crowd on her crutches, dragging her crippled legs.She said she had been unable to go to school for two weeks because there was not elevator and she couldn't get to her classroom. She thought Anderson could help her.
Anderson was led through the predominantly black housing project and down a worn-out railway bed beside the Arthur Kill River by Paul Brown, a leader of a local group called Coalition for a United Elizabeth. When they passed a pile of trash several residents yelled to the television cameramen, "Take pictures of the garbage, not him. This is where we live. There are rats all over."
At a press conference beside the river, Anderson accused President Carter of having "no great plans" for our cities and Ronald Reagan of "grandstanding" by making a visit to a slum in South Bronx, and plugged his own urban program.
Isaac Reynolds, a truck driver who was listening, said he was impressed with Anderson and might decide to vote for him. "If I thought he had a chance I would go for him. This country is in the pits," he said. "Things can't be no worse than they are. Something has got to change."