Continued from page 1

“He wants to go straight into the Navy after graduating,” said Mr. Smith, who earned his high-school-equivalency degree while behind bars and learned about the job fair from his parole officer.

In the meantime, Mr. Smith said he is “willing to take any position Costco offers, any position available,” including “physically demanding warehouse work.”

The mayor said that the D.C. Department of Employment Services (DOES) was not participating in Saturday’s job fair. While the humidity and hotter-than-July sun didn’t spare his honor, he said his administration is prepared to “handle the aftermath” of the day-long job fair.

“DOES is gathering the information from the job fair for Costco and will follow up,” he said, shaking the outstretched hands of passers-by and nodding at job seekers in line.

Asked what jobs programs are in place to give Mr. Smith and other returning citizens a hand up, Mr. Gray named DOES’ Project Empowerment without hesitation.

The program is geared toward hard-to-employ applicants between 22 and 54 years old with challenges such as homelessness and substance-abuse problems or a history in the criminal justice system. It also works with the unskilled and undereducated.

“With unemployment high, even though the numbers are coming down, people in search of jobs can become easily frustrated,” Mr. Gray said.

Bob King, a latter-day version of legendary community organizer Saul Alinsky, helped to organize the job fair as a follow-up to the sit-down with Costco representatives he helped put together at Mount Horeb in June.

On Saturday, Mr. King, also an elected advisory neighborhood commissioner in Northeast, was a bit surprised at the high volume of D.C. residents who turned out. He and other organizers and already working on an encore.

“We’ve got folks from every ward and we want residents in Ward 5 [where Costco will open] to get preference. We’re not interested in folks from Ward 9,” Mr. King said, a not-so-joking reference to adjacent Prince George’s County.

“Including walk-ins, we anticipate 2,500 applicants. We don’t want anybody to leave here without being seen,” he added.

The next step is to follow through on the demand by having another job fair in September, Mr. King said.

Costco isn’t the only job provider in town,” he said. “We’re working on behalf of ex-offenders, seniors and the mothers and fathers who need and want a helping hand.”

The mayor still has head above the scandalous waters of a public corruption probe, but time will soon tell whether the jobs programs he has in place will actually deliver what people want: a J-O-B.

• Deborah Simmons can be reached at