- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 15, 2003

Thousands of D.C. residents yesterday responded to a summons by Mayor Anthony A. Williams by attending the Citizen Summit III — “Real Challenges. Real Choices” — to talk about tough issues facing the city.

The mayor opened the daylong discussions inside Exhibit Hall A of the Washington Convention Center in Northwest with a video tribute chronicling the life and political career of the late Mayor Walter Washington.

Then the residents gathered inside the huge hall weighed in with their front-porch advice concerning education, public safety, affordable housing, jobs and health care.

Mr. Williams cited education and employment as dividing walls in the District. “We’ve got a city with a number of successes,” he said, “[but,] our city is still divided. … The city is divided by income. … Some parts of our city have prospered while other neighborhoods have been left behind.”

Mr. Williams told the nearly 3,000 residents — rich and poor — from all eight wards of the city that his vision is one of inclusion.

Residents were seated at tables with laptop computers and keypads to record their votes and with facilitators to lead the discussions. They offered recommendations and possible solutions to crime, blighted neighborhoods, displacement of senior citizens by development, and the District’s failing health care system.

D.C. political activist Dorothy Brizill arrived bright and early. She attended the two previous summits, and said yesterday’s was the worst to date.

“The mayor and the facilitators won’t stop talking. People didn’t come to the meeting to hear about the demographics of the city. They came, I think, to participate and let their voices be heard. And they have to respond to issues already framed by the mayor,” she said.

Residents were asked to address some hard questions such as, “What can be done to improve the quality of education? What can be done to make neighborhoods safer? What can be done to create more housing opportunities?”

After mulling over solutions, residents cast their votes based on a number of strategies listed in printed brochures they were given by city officials. But some participants also voiced their opinions.

“The crime in the District is terrible and crime has escalated,” said Marcus Talley, a Ward 5 resident who has lived in the District since 1928.

But he said the city’s strategy to add more officers citywide, with special focus on “hot spots,” doesn’t work for him. Mr. Talley, 89, is 100 percent sure the District does not need more police on the streets.

“They just need to do their job. If they would do the job the way it should be done, then there would not be any need for more police,” he said.

“I would like to see the whole city revamped. When I came here in 1928, you could almost eat off the street [it was so clean]. We used to have police boxes on the streets, and the police could call [if there was a problem] and a paddy wagon would come,” he said.

Mr. Talley also talked about a time when people could leave their doors unlocked and their windows up. But not anymore, he said. “Now, you have to put iron bars on the windows.”

Affordable housing is the main concern of Ruby Franklin, who also lives in Ward 5. Ms. Franklin, 51, who attended the mayor’s first summit in 1999, said the first one impressed her because she felt as if her opinion mattered.

“I’ve seen some improvements since the first summit in social services and housing. But, the quality-of-life issues — vacant buildings, car theft and blighted neighborhoods — are still a problem,” she said.

Yesterday, Ms. Franklin came out to weigh in on the lack of housing for low-income residents in the District. She, her daughter and grandchild are faced with the daunting task of finding a new home.

“I have to move. I live on Capitol Hill and the landlord wants to sell. You pay $900 to $1,300 for rent in the District and based on our income we can’t afford much more. Where is the assistance the Williams administration was going to give us?” she said.

While residents participating in the summit had a working lunch, protesters gathered outside of the Convention Center to voice their disapproval of the mayor’s lack of affordable housing and poor schools with a “Rally to Wake up Williams.” The crowd chanted, “Go Tony Go,” before speakers bashed the Williams administration and called for the ouster of the mayor.

In ending the summit yesterday, the mayor complimented residents for their hard work and took them on a video tour of the city that included scenes of the way neighborhoods and commercial corridors will look in the future.

For Rosalind Candie, the Citizen Summit III was an experience that she will not soon forget. Ms. Candie, a native Washingtonian who lives in Northwest, said the opportunity to cast a vote was important to her as a resident.

“It was marvelous — it’s an open forum and a great opportunity to let the mayor know how I feel,” she said.

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