- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 7, 2001

Was D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams' second "Citizen Summit" yesterday just a feel-good, pre-election event, as critics and political foes suggest, or will spending at least $600,000 in city money to pick the brains of thousands of average D.C. residents really help the mayor identify and fix the things that worry or annoy those who live in the nation's capital?
The mayor and his staff are convinced the summits are worth the money. But the roughly 3,000 people who spent the day at large, oval-shaped tables 10 to a table in a cavernous banquet room in the Washington Convention Center left the summit with mixed feelings. They weren't all sure they accomplished their mission: to evaluate the mayor's performance and suggest where future dollars should be spent.
Mr. Williams said improvements have been made since the first such summit in 1999. He said his administration has lowered crime and violence, cleaned up 1,400 abandoned buildings, and resurfaced city streets. The bill for the day's program, including sandwiches and soft drinks, came to $800,000, but some $200,000 was paid for by gifts from two foundations.
The thousands who attended the summit came from the 39 neighborhoods in the city's eight wards. Rich or poor, all brought with them a wide range of front-porch advice.
Serita Sanders, did not attend the summit in 1999, so yesterday was the first time she had her say about the city she lives in. She thought the idea of a summit was noble, but she was withholding her final judgment.
"I'm still waiting to see. [Mr. Williams] said, 'We got a great number of city streets repaved.' But guess what, it wasn't in my neighborhood. Everything seems to be a little slow in Bloomingdale," she said.
Bloomingdale, formerly a part of LeDroit Park is in Ward 5.
A big problem the residents had to struggle with was the way in which Mr. Williams' questions were framed. They were vague, essay-type questions.
One such question "What values must we stand for as citizens in order to meet and rise above the challenges facing our city? is a hard question to answer on the laptop computers the mayor's staff had placed on each of the tables. Especially for someone who wanted to give Mr. Williams a detailed idea of what they go through every day.
The question got Minnie Elliott so excited she spoke too fast for the delegated laptop typist at her table. Natleen Chance of Michigan Park, Ward 5, couldn't keep up with her.
Ms. Elliott, a Ward 5 resident and president of the Brookland Manor/Brentwood Village Residents Association in Northeast, took the lead at table No. 194 to talk about a casualty of the budget wars one that remains a sore spot for D.C. residents: the closing of D.C. General Hospital.
"I feel that D.C. General should have stayed open. I pray no one in Ward 5 has a heart attack and has to be taken to Greater Southeast Hospital they wouldn't make it," she said, referring to the distance the ambulances have to travel. Others at her table nodded in agreement.
A native Washingtonian, Ms. Elliott, 63, was also concerned about the displacement of D.C. residents. She said affordable housing is a must in the city.
"I've seen blacks displaced in Georgetown, in Southwest and in Northwest … If we're not careful, we're going to lose D.C. The people they are building houses for downtown aren't the ones who stayed in the city [with all the killings and the drugs]. The new developments are for people outside of D.C. They're not making housing affordable," she said.
Residents who were happy to help the mayor, however, couldn't be sure their thoughts and advice would really get through to him.
Mary Cuthbert, a resident of the District for 35 years who lives in Congress Heights in Ward 8, said the Citizen Summit concept is good, but she had problems with the questions and answers. She said the answer can be [manipulated] any way the mayor wants them to go. To date, she's disappointed with the mayor's performance.
"Safety is still an issue and there are not enough police," Ms. Cuthbert said. She added that the streets are still dirty, the trees aren't pruned and the tree boxes look bad. The mayor, she said, hadn't even attended a town meeting in her ward.
On the other hand, Frances Prophet, 69, a native Washingtonian who attended the 1999 summit, said the city seems to be running better. Ms. Prophet lives in Ward 7.
"Crime has gone down in my area and I know he made some promises to clean up the alleys, and he did do that. I've also seen an increased police presence especially around 58th Street. It was bad at one time and now it's a little better," she said, sitting with her group at table 248.
James H. Jones, a fan of Mr. Williams, is ANC chairman of 4A in Crestwood, one of the wealthier wards. What bothers the people in his ward? Deer browsing, drivers who don't stop at stop signs, and police officers who don't enforce that infraction.
The people of Crestwood are also upset about a cell-phone tower at the tennis facility in Rock Creek Park.
All the information and advice that was typed into the hundreds of laptops yesterday will be sifted and if possible worked into the 2003 budget, officials said.

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