In Congressman’s Shooting, a Like-Minded Gunman Shakes a Liberal Enclave


“You kind of forget there are people out there who think very differently than you do,” she said.

The liberal bubble in Del Ray is cushioned by signs calling for kindness and resistance, babies and rescue dogs both in bows and in strollers, and chalk signs asking for introspection from neighbors. In a temporary public art project on Mount Vernon Avenue, the central street the city promotes as “made for strolling” on its website, neon orange and pink origami birds beckon for people to write “burdens” on rocks as a way of letting go.

Alyson Winter, 29, stopped pushing the stroller of her 6-month-old son, Henry, in front of the mural on Thursday morning to read some of the smooth stones piled in four boxes. A social worker visiting from Charlotte, N.C., she finished her latte as she studied the scrawled fears of the neighborhood, which included procrastination, anxiety, President Trump and Republicans.

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“There’s a luxury of engaging with this sort of community art,” Ms. Winter said. “A metaphorical means of doing something isn’t as meaningful or practical as ‘Where’s my next meal going to be?’ or ‘Where am I going to sleep tonight?’”

But 20 years ago, Del Ray’s streets were far from comfortable. Shop owners and residents pass on stories of when it was a “bad” neighborhood with inexpensive homes and drug deals, fingers tracing out air quotes.

“My parents would’ve skinned me alive if they caught me down here,” said Sean Harvey, 46, who attended the nearby T. C. Williams High School and now works at Executive Lock & Key Service, a hardware store on Mount Vernon Avenue. “Now it’s changed. These people love people, and they just want you to be a good person.”

Mr. Harvey said that when a woman asked to leave a ‘hate not welcome here’ sign in the front window, he had no objections. Del Ray, a little village of people who support one another, Mr. Harvey said, is unlikely to return to its rough ways, regardless of the shooting and the posters.

“It’s like throwing a match in a pool, and hoping the pool catches fire,” he said. “It’s not going to happen.”

Liz Davis, now 57, knew it was a tough neighborhood when she started visiting Del Ray in 1974. But she loved it, she said, this dumpy neighborhood of beatniks, artists and creativity. She moved here permanently in 1998.

Sitting inside the Dairy Godmother, the renowned frozen custard shop she opened 16 years ago on Mount Vernon Avenue, she traced out what was: the boarded-up bank now open for business, a biker bar down the street and the drug deals that would happen behind a nearby rent-a-room place. Rent was cheap. She could afford the $1,800 monthly lease to open a store that was more creative self-expression than profitable business.

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Yet as the creative stores drew more people and land values began to climb, Ms. Davis watched the neighborhood gentrify, losing its diversity and affordability over time. Even as her monthly rent surpassed $6,500, she refused to raise the price of the $3 small cup of custard, vowing to never become a place that would price out customers.

The homogenizing of the neighborhood mentality is part of the reason she sold the Dairy Godmother and plans to move back to Wisconsin by the end of the year.

“There’s no diversity here,” Ms. Davis said. “This is a gentrified neighborhood. They just don’t think of themselves that way.”

A self-described old-school Republican who does not support the Trump administration, she is reluctant to share her political views. She is uncomfortable in a neighborhood she now feels is unwelcome to anyone on the other side of the political aisle.

The night before, Ms. Davis said, she had discussed with a conservative neighbor the kindness signs — which she declined to put in her store window — and the challenges of being a Republican in a liberal neighborhood.

“Kindness is the default,” Ms. Davis said. “You shouldn’t have to have a sign in the yard to be kind.”

Pushing past chairs, including one commemorating President Barack Obama’s 2009 visit to the store, Ms. Davis called out to a neighbor walking by.

“I’m coming out as a Republican,” she said after opening the door.

“Oh my gosh, welcome,” the woman said, before wrapping Ms. Davis into a hug.

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