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  •   Page Two

      "This is such a unique place.
    No wonder in so many ways
    it's so dysfunctional.

    -Gracie Baten,
    president, Shepard Park Association

    He sees police cars on patrol now when the family goes to church on Sundays. Their city income taxes were processed promptly this year.

    Yet both are troubled that the city is being run by the control board and Congress. It's a feeling shared by many in their neighborhood.

    "The whole issue turns on self-governance," says E. Ned Sloan, a lawyer, longtime activist for D.C. statehood and Douglas Sloan's father. "The control board -- it's a slap in the face, notwithstanding the fact that it was needed."

    "Poor city," says Gracie Baten, who succeeded Paul McKenzie as president of the Shepherd Park Association. "I was upset that Congress passed the voucher bill [providing money for city students to attend private schools, over local government objections]. Where does it end? I felt like a lab animal. Dissect, and try this and that, and see if I survive. That's ridiculous. This is such a unique place. No wonder in so many ways it's so dysfunctional."

    Sheperd Park
    Gracie Baten (left) talks with Paul and Trish McKenzie, who moved to the neighborhood four years ago. (Helena Pasquarella / TWP)
    Thirty blocks south, in Crestwood, Lillian Cooper-Wiggins can supply a long list of how that dysfunction degrades her neighborhood every day:

    Drug dealers lounging on the streets. Pay phones, used by those same drug dealers, sprouting like weeds. Daytime drinkers outside a Metro facility on 14th Street. Roaming pit bulls, one of which killed a neighborhood cat. Trash-filled alleys. Tree stumps that have been an eyesore for so long that neighbors planted flowers in them.

    "Insofar as the city government is concerned, I'm very disappointed because for our taxpaying dollars, we don't seem to get anything," she says. "You tell us to hold on -- you're going to be able to provide more services for people like us. In the meantime, we're out here almost fending for ourselves."

    Cooper-Wiggins used to be in city government, as head of the Taxicab Commission. She says the control board has not improved her life -- "We still have those outrageous salaries, and we still have outrageous contracts being let. It's the same problem we had before. It was looked at as cronyism, but I don't know what it's called now."

    Cooper-Wiggins, a retired journalist, sometimes dreams of leaving the city. But she loves her neighborhood, in spite of its troubles.

    Despite the alley problem, the street in front of her house is "as clean as it could be," she says. "It's almost like living in the country. The neighbors are nice, and we look after each other. . . . It's very convenient to Wheaton Plaza or downtown. The parks are here. We can do walks, those kinds of things. It's a mixed neighborhood. You got white, black, everybody, all kinds of churches, all denominations. It's a good area to stay in."

      Sheperd Park
    Barbara A. Young holds her grandson, Leon, 6, on the front porch of the house she has lived in for 37 years. (Helena Pasquarella / TWP)
    On a modest and well-kept block in Petworth, where she has lived since 1961, Barbara A. Young also intends to stay. But she is worried: She is 60, and there are no young people on her block trying to improve the world. Sometimes, she walks a block out of her way to avoid walking through a group of drug dealers.

    The one government service she is happy about, for now, is the public school her 6-year-old grandson attends, a magnet school located in Truesdell Elementary School.

    Still, "we don't even let him out the front," she says. "We are afraid of bullets or of cars racing down the street at 80 miles an hour."

    Down the middle of Ward 4 runs a stretch of the city's longest commercial corridor, Georgia Avenue, perpetually balanced between decline and glory. (Once it was called Brightwood Avenue, but a senator from Georgia exercised the option of congressional interference and had it renamed in 1906.) President Clinton strolled part of the historic black business section after his 1992 election, leading some city residents to hope his visit was the beginning of a revival for Georgia Avenue.

    Here's the good news from recent years: A renovated Safeway, a new Rite-Aid, a new Pep Boys and new senior citizen housing created from a former theater. But there also are boarded-up buildings, too many dingy-looking carryouts, too little parking and too much fear of crime.

    "This is a really neat neighborhood," says D. Mark Cooper, executive director of Lutheran Social Services of the National-Capital Area, which has its headquarters on Georgia Avenue. "It's on the brink. It could go either way. But it's held on. It has not gone into slums."

    There are a fistful of initiatives, big and small, whose sponsors hope will overcome failures of the past to spruce up Georgia Avenue. The People's Involvement Corp., a nonprofit group, is supervising a study of community needs and desires, expected to be completed in June. Cooper's group wants to buy the five row houses next to its headquarters and renovate them for its own use. Near the Maryland line, a group of District and Montgomery County business and civic people have formed a coalition to work for improvements there.

    Lilette Green-Campbell, principal of the Bridges Academy, a private school on Georgia Avenue, recently declared her faith in the city by acquiring several modular trailers. She hopes they will house her preschool students, who now attend class at Emory United Methodist Church across the street.

    But Green-Campbell, 49, will need city permission, and she is not looking forward to asking for it. Her past dealings with the city have included year-long waits for tuition reimbursement for subsidized students, inconsistent rulings by building inspectors, seemingly arbitrary rules on sanitation and tuberculosis testing.

    "The right hand absolutely under no circumstances knows what the left hand is doing," she says.

    As frustrated as she is with city government several miles away, she likes the world at her doorstep. The businesses on her block are stable. She knows the police nearby. Her students have three city libraries to choose in the neighborhood and a park to play in.

    "Right now, I don't think much is going to happen here until the mayoral election," she says. "I think the city is being punished for reelecting Barry. Everything is being allowed to fall apart."

    Cecil "B.J." Lockhart, 53, is waiting, too. He recently planted petunias in the curbside dirt outside the row house that houses his insurance company on Georgia Avenue. He installed a giant fluorescent light, so his clients feel safe arriving at dusk.

    "Sometimes," he says, "we have to take situations ourselves and solve them."

    Next: Ward 7 in profile.

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