WHEN United States Rep. John Lewis (D) visits with his constituents, the concerns they voice are as diverse as the area and people that make up his congressional district, Georgia's Fifth. They run from protecting the environment of wealthy suburbs to finding housing for urban Atlanta's homeless.
In the suburbs, Mr. Lewis listens as members of the North Buckhead Civic Association, a group of constituents from one of Altanta's oldest and most prestigious suburbs, tell him that they oppose the proposed Georgia Highway 400. The project would connect Atlanta with its northern suburbs. ``It will destroy some of Atlanta's most beautiful neighborhoods,'' if it is built, says one member.
The group urges Lewis, a longtime activist and former civil rights leader, to push for further studies on the environmental impact of the proposed highway.
Lewis and two other local congressmen are scheduled to meet soon with the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce to discuss the possibility of increasing Amtrak service here and of building a transportation terminal that could accommodate bus, rail, and air passengers in Atlanta.
Lewis, a member of the House Committee on Transportation and Public Works, is a strong proponent of rail service and mass transit.
When asked how the increased railway service would be funded, he says, ``The government has the resources to build bombers, they must help share the expense ... it's in the national interest.''
Though Lewis's district includes some of the most affluent neighborhoods in the country, as well as some northside suburbs sometimes called ``the golden ghetto,'' it also includes a large number of homeless shelters and about 45 public-housing projects.
More than 60 percent of Lewis's constituents are black, and many live in poverty.
While constituents in the northern suburbs are preoccupied with environmental issues and commercial development, constituents in the inner city are concerned about the increasing crime rate and with what Lewis's staff calls ``bread and butter'' issues.
Many constituents still see Lewis, now in his second term, as the champion of the civil rights movement of the '60s and of the Atlanta City Council, where he served from 1981-86. They come to him for emergency assistance when they are threatened by drug dealing in the projects, eviction, unemployment, or loss of electricity or gas. And since most city shelters close in the spring and summer, they come to him when they are homeless.
The coordinator of one of the few family shelters that stays open all year asks him how to get more federal money for the children's programs.
And representatives from Save the Children, an advocacy group, urge Lewis to use his influence to get the Act for Better Child Care bill out of a Senate-House conference committee. They also want Lewis, who is a sponsor of the bill, to encourage President Bush to sign it.
A local doctor representing the Georgia State Medical Association, an organization of minority physicians, wants to know what can be done to make health care available to the poor and people who have recently lost their jobs.
Like Lewis, he says he is concerned about the number of people ``falling through the cracks.''
And a local investment banker, who also serves as the director of the Metropolitan Health Foundation, asks Lewis to get Atlanta's southside hospitals some kind of waiver so they can accept more Medicaid patients, particularly young mothers going through drug detoxification programs.
Along with neighborhood concerns and questions about child care and health care, Lewis has also heard about national issues and policies. Indeed, his staff has recently taken dozens of calls from the elderly opposed to any change in Social Security, as well as hundreds of calls supporting Lewis's position on the proposed flag-burning amendment. (Lewis is one of the two Georgia lawmakers who voted against the amendment.)
His staff says it has also received calls praising Lewis for supporting federal aid to Israel and other foreign countries.
Lewis tries to balance the concerns and issues of the young and the old along with those of the rich and poor.