Beauty, Controversy and Violence in D.C. Cherry Tree Blooms Put a Pretty Face on Multifaceted Nation's Capital - a Letter from Washington

Article excerpt

IN official Washington, the Bush administration hopes its increased relief effort will help keep starving Kurds alive without getting America stuck in an Iraqi quagmire.

In tourist Washington, visitors throng Capitol Hill, swirl around the Washington Monument, and stroll along the Tidal Basin admiring the spendor of pink Japanese cherry blossoms.

In inner-city Washington, a child-care aide phones her boss: "Please excuse me from work today. My son was shot last night - and killed." As in many other cities violence and murder, largely black on black, continue unchecked where poor minorities live.

Washington is a trisected city. In one clearly defined area government carries out the nation's business, and the city's as well. This area unreels down renovated Pennsyslvania Avenue from the White House to the Capitol, an invigorating 40-minute hike.

Like a teacher's transparent overlay, Washington's tourist area is partly superimposed on the government section. Where government works tourists gawk, from the FBI Building to the White House. They throng the Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials, Arlington National Cemetery, and Mount Vernon.

Few tourists or Washington officials see the city's third sector, a melange of run-down residential areas where violence is endemic and hope rare. Living in these areas are many courageous residents making Herculean efforts to rear children.

Child-care aide Annie Elkins is one such person, respected and loved by colleagues and friends. With most of her seven children she has succeeded, but Johnny was another story: He succumbed to the siren songs of drugs and the seamy world. Last week, Mrs. Elkins buried her son.

Only family and friends know of the anguish of Annie Elkins. But in official Washington and across America tongues wag about two very public families - the Kennedys and Reagans.

For the Kennedys the two-week-old accusation of rape in Palm Beach is yet another tragic event for a family that has had too many; the police investigation continues into the alleged actions of William Kennedy Smith, a nephew of Sen. …