Barack Obama left the US presidency just days ago, but already his smiling face is gone from a mural on the wall of an iconic eatery in the US capital.
Also painted over is the face of Bill Cosby, the groundbreaking comedy legend now reviled as a suspected serial sexual predator.
Passersby who were used to seeing those two faces on the colourful mural are doing a double-take. In its place are written the words “new year, new mural” and the address of the restaurant’s website.
“I’m shocked that they actually took it down,” said Shadarryl Brown, a 43-year-old African American.
To boot, also gone are the faces of funk guitarist and band leader Chuck Brown and a local radio DJ named Donnie Simpson.
There is nothing political about the removal, the restaurant insists. It is letting people vote on which faces go up now.
Nor is the eatery trying to dissociate itself from Cosby, who will go on trial in June, said owner Virginia Ali.
Vote for next mural
As for Obama, his departure from the White House last Friday is just a coincidence, she insisted.
“We removed the mural because it’s been there five years. It needs to be done again. And we decided that for the new year, we should do a new mural. For the next five years,” said Ali.
“I had no idea my little wall was so important,” Ali said with a smile.
The decision to give the wall a makeover was made last spring.
The new one will go up around April, and the idea is to let people vote on who they want to see -- even Obama again, maybe, this time with wife Michelle.
Brown said it was good that people can express their preference.
People can choose from some 60 candidates, most of them black. Washington is a mainly black city, and the U Street area also used to be mainly African-American until it underwent gentrification.
Starting Thursday, people can now weigh in on the future mural and suggest up to six candidates.
Voting will be open until late February but already thousands of people have cast their ballot, said Kamal Ali, son of the owner.
“So far Michelle and Barack Obama are leading,” he said. “They are leading overwhelmingly.”