- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 6, 2000

Paging Robert NewmanThe happy sounds of youngsters at play are the first things that greet visitors of Rosedale Recreation Center at 17th and Gales streets NE, just off Benning Road. Venture inside the gates of Rosedale, though, and an entirely different and disappointing picture emerges.Here, Rosedale children stumble past overgrown weeds, beer bottles and empty crack-cocaine bags. A neon-colored condom suggests adults "play" on the grounds at night. Shards of glass cover the neglected tennis courts. Sparrows spar over leftovers from a nearby McDonald's, and a broken water fountain floods the dirt where seniors ought to be able to sit in the sunshine. Where is Robert Newman, director of the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation?
Parents, coaches and volunteers around the city have been complaining for months about unkept promises made by Mr. Newman. The Washington Times and The Washington Post have reported and editorialized about the problems since early spring. WRC-TV Channel 4 recently reported on the agency's mismanagement. Uncut grass over here, dangerous playground equipment over there, restless teen-agers crying out for organized activities. Some $3 million in federal funds have yet to be spent on the Arts Smarts program, and a contract for grounds maintenance was hastily pulled together only two and a half weeks ago. It's all on the record.
So are Mr. Newman's promises. "Rest assured," he said this spring, "that we will be prepared … with clean, attractive and secure facilities and grounds." Really?
Take ball fields. Mr. Newman requested nearly $2 million this fiscal year for renovation. The scope of the project, he said, would include "electrical upgrades, replacement of wiring components and installation of park lighting." The only thing lighted at night at Langdon, a sprawling park and recreation area off Rhode Island Avenue in the Woodridge area of Northeast, is the swimming pool. Neither the ball fields, tennis courts, nor basketball courts can be used after dark. Langdon's gymnasium, meanwhile, has been closed since May. At another Woodridge recreation center, Taft, off South Dakota Avenue, parents and volunteers maintain the ball fields so youngsters can play.
Now don't for one minute think the problems are only at sites in Northeast. Parents, coaches, staff and volunteers in all quadrants spend their own time and their own money to pitch in and fulfill Mr. Newman's unkept promises and it is a good thing they do. However, for Mr. Newman to depend on their generosity, and that appears to be the case, suggests he is in over his head.
Of course, the lack of leadership from Mr. Newman's boss, Mayor Anthony Williams, is problematic as well. Indeed, when it comes to the mayor he, too, is long on promises and short on services. He said recently that residents "sent a strong message that quality recreation and park facilities are vital to quality life in your neighborhoods … We've made a commitment to taking better care of our facilities to preserve them for the future." It cannot happen soon enough for District residents and their children.

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