In a festive kickoff of a three-day national conference on
volunteerism, ordinary people stood shoulder-to-shoulder Sunday
with the president and two former presidents, in a frenzy of
paint-up, cleanup, fix-up along north Philadelphia's gritty
Bill Clinton, George Bush and Jimmy Carter, along with Hillary
Rodham Clinton, Barbara Bush and Rosalyn Carter splashed pastel
paint on the grimy, graffiti-soiled walls along the thoroughfare
marred by razor wire and bullet holes.
Also taking part were Vice President Al Gore and his wife,
Tipper. Retired Army Gen. Colin Powell, the instigator of the
event, raked trash.
Former President Gerald Ford and former President Ronald
Reagan's wife, Nancy, are attending but did not participate in the
Putting down his crutches, Clinton limped along the stained
wall of a pool hall and spread a coat of beige paint, careful to
keep dribbles off his shoes.
A few blocks away, Bush wore a baseball cap to keep the paint
out of his hair. Somebody asked Mrs. Bush if her husband was a
handyman. "Well," she said, pausing. "No."
The summit, originally a brainchild of the late George W.
Romney, drew delegates from 150 communities in 50 states,
government dignitaries, corporate leaders and community activists
who gathered to devise ways for private citizens and businesses to
improve children's lives.
Nonpartisanship was the watchword of the day. "Today we're just
Americans - not Republicans, not Democrats, not Jews or gentiles,
not rich or poor or black or white," Bush declared. He did not
mention the fact that Clinton had belittled Bush's "Thousand Points
of Light" call for volunteerism during their 1992 contest for the
Powell and Gore, who may be presidential rivals in 2000,
referred to each other with studied courtesy. The former chairman
of the Joint Chiefs of Staff introduced Gore as "our distinguished
vice president." Gore replied that all Americans had Powell to
thank "for leading this effort on the ground."
Residents welcomed the attention. While watching the president
paint, Malcolm Jefferson, 27, said, "He gets to see it the way we
have to live in it."
Steven Washington, 14, one of the volunteers who worked beside
Clinton, said, "I found out something. The superstars and
everything, people that are really up there, are just regular
people." Washington discovered something else. On his left arm he
had painted the telephone number of a girl he had met on the job.
Another painter, Quran Fulton, 16, warned that the graffiti
would be back within a month. …