I am writing to commend Elissa Silverman on her coverage of the Marion S. Barry bid for the Ward 8 council seat (Loose Lips, 6/4, 6/11, 6/18, 7/2). She is one of the few, if not only, local writers to have reported on Barry’s desperate and tragic political charade without stereotyping and denigrating the constituents of the ward. According to most of the other writers, we are simple-minded people who can easily be worked up into a political frenzy by Barry’s resuscitation of old alibis, old issues, and old rhetoric. Barry has displayed an equally low estimation of the level of common sense in this community, by attempting to present himself as a recovered substance abuser and by allowing one of his supporters to make public testimony, as reported in the Washington Post, that Barry recently gave him $60 to “go get a drink” to ease his grieving for his deceased mother. Although Alcoholics Anonymous has a policy of being nonpolitical, I do hope that the recovering community will come forth to speak out against Barry’s misrepresentation of the organization’s principles.
I also hope that others will take note of the public shame that tends to befall those Barry makes, even uninvited, affiliations with. Dion Jordan is a good example. As a resident in the advisory neighborhood commission that Jordan serves as commissioner for, I can attest that he has enjoyed a good reputation in the past. I can’t believe that any faltering of the Barry campaign is due to a lack of effort by Jordan. He had been very active and persistent in his approach to attempting to engage the people in this area in the Barry camp.
Apparently, I was not the only one who went into a fit of cursing and spitting at the very idea of Barry’s re-emergence in Ward 8 politics. The “mainstream” media acknowledged that there is a growing group of young professionals in the ward who are not receptive to Barry’s message. Having lived in the ward for 15 years, I can attest to the fact that the older professionals in the ward are equally appalled by what he represents. We, after all, had to live through the horrors of his previous political reigns.
Silverman’s insinuation that Barry’s current interest in public service might be primarily motivated by hoped for personal gain is validated by my experience as a political activist and community leader in the ward. Having been an officer in the Ward 8 Democrats, I can testify that Barry has not been active in the local party for some years, even though the party has faltered and been in desperate need of strong leadership. I never even heard his name mentioned in any of the meetings I was involved in. I am not aware of any civic projects he bas made a significant “sweat contribution” to, either. His apparent highest-office-or-none attitude suggests that the only vision he has for Ward 8 is for it to be a vehicle for his personal aggrandizement.
Barry initially described himself as “a fighter” and immediately provoked the current councilmember to describe herself as “a boxer,” mongrelizing the contest through the use of antiquated metaphors that convey a lack of understanding about the current state and needs of this community. Ward 8 is at a turning point and does not need any sort of pugilist. Ward 8 needs an “architect”—a bridge-builder who can utilize the formidable land and housing resources to create a new multicultural setting that is congruent with the rest of the capital-area community. Ward 8 needs a leader who has a formula for giving people a reason to cross the bridge.
Politicians who engage in combatant posturing do have a certain emotional appeal to the black community. First of all, the suggestion that there is a common enemy offers us some distraction from the shame we currently feel as we regard our own community. We are, after all, now more likely to be shot dead by some adolescent we give a wrong look than by a group of marauding, hooded white men. Of course, we do sometimes long for the old days, when the imminent threats came from outside of the community. Second, we continue to be an “at-risk” community. The D.C. Office of Economic Development and Office of Planning do a poor job of even pretending to include east-of-the-river communities in D.C.’s newfound prosperity. The leadership in those offices appears to have adopted a caste-system prototype as a guide for the city’s overall development. They make very convenient material for the development of common-enemy mentality and mythology. Even the middle-class people in the ward are enraged by their ongoing development of multi-billion-dollar projects that end at our front door. If boxer Barry’s promoters could arrange a “Thriller in Manila”–type match with these guys, he might actually capture the middle-class vote. More realistically, our hopes for a better future do not lie in the refurbishing of old images but in the development of new models that are appropriate for the new millennium. The socioeconomically-and-culturally-diverse-community model is the only one that is viable for the future. We must follow whoever has the dream and a viable plan.