If you believe the account of Mayor-for-Life Marion S. Barry Jr., he innocently parked deep in the shadows of Buzzard Point waiting for an appointment last Thursday night. That’s when the U.S. Park Police received a report of a suspicious vehicle in the area and pulled up to Barry’s Jaguar. An officer reported that Barry swallowed something as he approached and that the ex-mayor had a powdery substance under his nose. Barry was allowed to leave after he consented to a search of his vehicle.
The Washington Post Metro story alleging drug residues detected in Barry’s car appeared three days later.
In an interview with LL, Barry said that the U.S. Park Police had leaked the story to the newspaper just to “embarrass” and “discredit” him. Barry supporters are already organizing protests to denounce the “attacks” of the establishment on the four-term D.C. chief executive.
To test those theories, LL ventured to the 100 block of S Street SW around 10 p.m. Monday evening. LL idled for a half-hour on the desolate block, next to Super Salvage Inc. and across the street from the U.S. Coast Guard headquarters parking lot. While waiting for the U.S. Park Police to arrive and search our recently sanitized and vacuumed vehicle, LL thought of a couple of reasons why Barry chose the remote location to spend his Thursday night:
* He was scouting a potential baseball stadium site.
* In pursuit of At-Large Councilmember Phil Mendelson’s tree-hugging vote, he had gotten lost finding Southwest’s Matthew Henson Earth Conservation Center.
* He had just stopped in for a change of clothes—an excuse he used in a similar bind in 1996.
Any of those explanations would have worked just as well as the one Barry actually scraped together—namely, that he was there to meet with a female political associate in personal turmoil. With that story, Barry injected a bit of late-’80s drama into a local political scene starved for juicy stories. The whole Buzzard Point saga, in fact, contains the same plot progression as any one of his vintage run-ins: First Barry is caught in a compromising situation, then he constructs some improbable alibi, and then he claims conspiracy. And the last step is pure stonewalling.
“I’m not discussing it,” Barry repeated four times, after LL pressed for details about the evening.
Using those PR skills, the former mayor has already made one political comeback, following his misdemeanor conviction for crack-cocaine possession at the former Vista Hotel in 1990. Proclaiming that he was sober and drug-free, Barry ran for D.C. Council in 1992 and reclaimed his post as the city’s chief executive in 1994. He decided against seeking re-election in 1998.
Earlier this month, Barry began his second political comeback, announcing his plans to run for an at-large seat on the D.C. Council.
Initially, the Buzzard Point episode had little effect on Barry’s nascent campaign. Last Saturday, two days after the incident, Barry campaigned among the electorate with gusto. He even appeared as a panelist for the D.C. Democratic State Committee conference’s workshop “How to Run and How to Win.” Gliding through the doorway, cell phone affixed to his ear, Barry waved to the well-wishers who had packed into the Hine Junior High School classroom as tightly as peanuts in a Planters can. Barry proved that he still knows how to turn out his supporters.
“There are people here who are supporting candidates running against me,” quipped Barry, who had formally announced his intentions to seek the at-large seat only a few weeks earlier. “I’m not about to tell them all my secrets.”
Barry displayed all the charisma and political juju that has scared D.C. voters west of the park and the Post editorial board for years. At the end of his remarks-cum-stump-speech, Hizzoner reached into his suit pocket. As members of the Barry brigade raised their hands to laud the esteemed panelist, Barry dialed up his cell phone. Even moderator Anita Bonds—a once-upon-a-time top Barry political aide—expressed surprise at her former boss’s brazenness.
Barry looked up at the crowd of approximately 60 staring directly at him a minute or so later. “I’m just taking care of ordering my brochures,” he coolly explained, as he completed the transaction. At another point in the 45-minute session, Barry smiled and flashed a check that had just been passed through the crowd to him, one of several handed over that afternoon. He then folded the check and placed it in his breast pocket.
“We need a voice of dissension,” Ward 7 resident Helen Higginbotham told Barry. “Thank you for running.”
Barry insists that he didn’t strut foolishly that day. The former mayor dismissed Buzzard Point as a political liability until the Post called to get his comment on the incident late Saturday.
“I didn’t think there was a story,” Barry told LL.
According to a sampling of Barry confidants, the former mayor did not tell them about his run-in with the Park Police. All those interviewed by LL say they were surprised when they opened the newspaper Sunday morning.
Barry had underestimated the bureaucratic paper trail. A Criminal Incident Record released by the U.S. Park Police on Monday offered documentation of the events that occurred the evening of March 21: “DRUGS/Crack Cocaine no arrest” appeared near the top of the one-page report.
“Barry was questioned in the 100 block of S Street SW in reference to narcotics activity,” notes the report’s narrative. After calling in drug-sniffing canines, the officers determined that the car contained “trace” amounts of marijuana and crack cocaine.
The report cleared up any residual confusion about the trace, citing $5 worth of crack cocaine in the Jaguar.
True to their affiliation, Barry supporters don’t attach much cred to federal agents. “There’s no reason why Marion Barry would be given the benefit of the doubt with any law enforcement when it comes to drugs,” says Barry booster Lawrence Guyot. “If drugs were in that car, Marion Barry would have been arrested.”
With his political base tilted against his foes, the issue comes down to money. Barry has said that he wants to raise $100,000 in the exploratory period. Associates say that Barry wants to wait and see how the story will affect his fundraising efforts.
The assessment will last as long as Barry can drag it out. If nothing else, the Buzzard Point incident satisfies the former mayor’s craving for public attention.
Back in January, the D.C. Office of Planning held its first public meeting to discuss prospects for the D.C. General Hospital campus, now referred to as Reservation 13. Planning officials encouraged community members to think creatively about the adjacent property: Some dreamed of housing, others of urban-village-style retail. The conspiracy theorists among the group wondered about much-rumored plans for Olympic stadium facilities.
Very few in attendance thought of St. Coletta of Greater Washington, a school in Alexandria for developmentally challenged youngsters that serves a good number of D.C.’s special-education students.
But about a month later, at a Feb. 20 meeting about Reservation 13 at the D.C. Armory, Office of Planning officials confirmed that St. Coletta would occupy about 4 acres of the 67-acre site, near the corner of 19th Street and Independence Avenue SE. With escalating special-education and transportation costs driving the D.C. Public Schools budget to the moon, it’s no surprise that D.C. officials would jump at the chance to put a special-education facility in the District.
St. Coletta has other fans, as well: The school received $2 million in the 2002 D.C. appropriations bill to expand its campus into the District.
The land that contains the D.C. General campus is owned by the U.S. government, but the feds plan on transferring jurisdiction over the plot to D.C. As Ward 6 Councilmember Sharon Ambrose explained at an early March Reservation 13 planning session, the prospective inclusion of St. Coletta into the area helped bring about the transfer.
“I wanted something on that property other than a correctional facility,” says Ambrose. “I had an enormous fear that we were going to re-create Lorton on the banks of the Anacostia.”
According to sources, House Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management staffer Susan Brita wants to make sure that St. Coletta will come out with its share: Brita told Office of Planning Director Andrew Altman that she has already drawn up legislation to transfer the necessary land just to St. Coletta if things get bumpy with the other 63 acres.
That’ll leave plenty of room for village-style retail.
* World Bank/IMF protest rabble-rouser Adam Eidinger hopes to bring his firebrand style to the restrained halls of Capitol Hill this fall. Last week, the 28-year-old Adams Morgan resident announced his intention to seek the D.C. Statehood Green Party nomination for D.C. shadow representative.
“If I am elected, I’m going to squat in [D.C. Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton’s] office,” Eidinger promises. “That would be my office—not hers.” Eidinger’s office-appropriation platform stems from his belief that Norton is a patsy for the anti-D.C. Congress.
Eidinger has other ideas to boost D.C. statehood, including an annual one-day general strike by D.C. residents to protest the city’s lack of voting representation. “I’m proposing that as a holiday,” he notes.
* D.C. Board of Education President Peggy Cooper Cafritz has finally come up with a creative antidote to infighting on the hybrid elected/appointed board: Declare the schools’ governing body in “executive session.”
By doing so, Cafritz places the board’s internecine squabbling out of public view. On March 20, the board began its meeting by debating a motion put on the floor by appointed member Roger Wilkins to have all committee appointments made by Cafritz subject to a majority vote of the board—a proposal that the authoritarian chair opposes with all her snarling might.
The board debated the resolution for 40 uneventful minutes. And when it came time to do some yelling and arm-twisting, Cafritz abruptly called an executive session. The board remained behind closed doors for nearly an hour. When board members returned to public view, Wilkins tabled the resolution.
“It was a hearty discussion,” says District 2 Board of Education Representative Dwight Singleton of the surreptitious talks.
* Perhaps slowed down by constituents and angry Palm Sunday parishioners along the route, Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans completed the D.C. Marathon with a final time of 4 hours, 46 minutes, and 53 seconds. Constituent-obsessed Ward 4 Councilmember Adrian Fenty, who brags that he jogs around his upper Northwest turf spotting problems, crossed the finish line at 4 hours, 23 minutes, and 2 seconds. But both politicos got beat by the Taxation Without Representation D.C. flag-tag team, which completed the race in 4 hours, 22 minutes, and 30 seconds. CP
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