The crowd that gathered to watch the president's motorcade outside Dunbar High School yesterday had everything -- except stereotypes.
Take Greg Wielechowski, 28, an unemployed welder from Highlandtown, the model of the disgruntled white Democrat who keeps helping Republicans win presidential elections.
Not this Democrat, said Mr. Wielechowski, holding a sign that read, "Bush is 4 years late."
"He didn't have to wait"
"If he really wanted to do something about the inner city, he should have done it his first day in office. He didn't have to wait for the jurors' decision and the riots" in Los Angeles, said Mr. Wielechowski, a devoted fan of public television shows such as "Nova" and "Frontline."
"I even have a skill, and it's tough to find a job. I think it's a sin Bush is coming down here to pacify people. People think it's a black-white issue. It's not."
Mr. Wielechowski was one of a handful of whites in a crowd of more than 50 who gathered at Orleans Street and Central Avenue, hoping for a glimpse of the motorcade. They were disappointed, however, as the president's limousine glided down Central Avenue and parked in a tent, blocking him from view.
But what had begun for many as a spectacle -- a chance to see a world leader who was making his third visit to the area in less than six weeks -- suddenly turned into a street corner version of television's "McLaughlin Group."
Arguing animatedly, men and women ranging from teen-agers to senior citizens touched on many of the issues that have surfaced in the wake of the Los Angeles riots: race relations, urban policy, job opportunities for blacks.
Issue 1: Who wants to own the projects, anyway? There was no disagreement on this. The crowd agreed that the Bush administration's proposal to have residents own their housing projects was ridiculous.
"They're dirty, they're disgusting," said Ruth Freeman, 57, who is black and who was offended by the spot clean-up Dunbar had undergone for its visitor. "White people don't want to own them, why should we?"
Issue 2: Do blacks have the same opportunities as other minorities, such as Asian-Americans?
Ronald Williams, 31, a political science student at Coppin State College, took the most pessimistic view. He saw no opportunities for blacks like himself, he said, because Asian-Americans get preferential treatment.
Otis Ferebee and Tony Robinson, both black, quickly challenged him. "That's the past," said Mr. Robinson, a 25-year-old private investigator. "This isn't about blame. Our problem is us." And Mr. Ferebee, who owns a cleaning business, said the problem was (( that not enough blacks went from being employee to boss.
"Blacks need to be the ones giving out the jobs, not applying for jobs," said the 25-year-old Glen Burnie man. "Koreans don't know how to speak English when they get here, they have to take minimum-wage jobs. Yet they work their way up, and they save every penny. You won't see them driving fancy cars, or spending it on clothes."
Issue 3: What was the education president doing for education?
Mary Blake and Tamara Boyd, both seniors at Dunbar, said no one at their school had received more than $1,000 in federal college aid.
"I live in the projects, and that's all I can get," said Ms. Boyd, 17, who plans to attend Norfolk State University. "And it's going to cost me $7,000 to go there."
The conversation wound down about the same time the president finished his speech. As the motorcade sped away, the crowd broke up, no one satisfied they had solved the problems they had debated. But perhaps the most disappointed person was Helen R. Jones, 83, who had sat in a lawn chair for more than an hour hoping for just a glimpse of Mr. Bush because "the more I see him, the more I like to see him."
"He at least could have waved out the window or something," she said.