There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
Cora Barry’s tennis center raises some interesting possibilities.
When the D.C. Council voted last week to appropriate $4.7 million from the city’s capital budget for a youth tennis center proposed by Cora Masters Barry’s Recreation Wish List Committee, councilmembers said they were just doing it for the kids. After all, no one wants to oppose helping underprivileged young people—especially when friendly councilmembers might get to be in on the photo op when they break ground on the 67,000-square-foot complex, slated to include six outdoor and four indoor tennis courts as well as a computer lab and other recreational goodies.
At the council vote last week, only two councilmembers resisted the appeal. At-Large Republican Carol Schwartz and Ward 3 Democrat Kathy Patterson pointed out that Barry’s committee had raised just $400,000 for the estimated $5.1 million center—and some of that had come from public money, too. But the kids won the day: After all, the logic went, a plucky community nonprofit can’t really be expected to pay for a world-class tennis facility entirely with donations.
Not if that nonprofit is being run by Cora Barry, at any rate. Lost in the debate about whether a tennis center represents a good economic-development investment and whether the Southeast Tennis and Learning Center has jumped through the appropriate procedural hoops is the trifling matter of whether the city should be hopping into bed with the politically influential former first lady at all.
In its five-year existence, few people have entrusted Barry’s Wish List with their money. Wish List tax records from 1996—the most recent the group would provide—and a 1998 Washington Post report indicate that up through early last year, the group has rarely had more than about $200,000 in the bank. When the Post’s Philip L. Graham fund or Bell Atlantic wanted to help fix up a D.C. rec center targeted by the Wish List, they usually gave the money right to the rec department or other nonprofit programs, according to Larry Brown, a spokesman from the recreation department. “Wish List got the credit,” explains Brown.
Of course, it’s no surprise that folks who’ve amassed their own money want to keep their distance. A couple of bullet points on her track record suggest that every now and then when Barry is in charge of big projects or city affairs, trouble seems to follow.
Last October, for instance, she organized an MCI Arena farewell gala for her husband as he finished his final mayoral term. Cora Barry had promised that the event would be paid for with private money. But a few months after the gala, the Washington Post reported former Inspector General E. Barrett Prettyman burst into the D.C. Office of Cable Television to investigate allegations that a staffer had shredded documents to cover up the office’s diversion of funds to pay for the farewell gala. A criminal probe ensued, although no charges have been filed.
And there was the affair back in the early 1980s. Long before her marriage to Marion Barry, then-D.C. boxing commissioner Cora Wilds, as she was known, was jetting around the globe on first-class tickets to places like Thailand, Aruba, and Italy on a mission to promote boxing safety. Some of those boxing trips were paid for by private organizations, but the future Mrs. Barry billed the city for them anyway. She later ended up pleading guilty to a federal misdemeanor charge for second-degree theft.
Not to worry, though. City officials claim that no money will go directly to Cora Barry’s nonprofit. The Wish List will merely pass along invoices from contractors that she’s chosen to work on the project, and the city will pay the contractors directly. Of course, with Barry at the helm, there’s no shortage of old cohorts she can choose from as contractors. How about, say, Ulysses Walltower,
the former member of the former mayor’s security detail?
Walltower left the police department under a cloud after allegations that he had tried to silence the mayor’s disgruntled housekeeper, Barbara Mouring, who had accused Cora Barry of illegally funneling money from a campaign fund to her brother Walter Masters. (Barry denied wrongdoing, and no charges were ever filed in that case.) Walltower’s advice would be crucial for young tennis players seeking help at maintaining a stiff arm for their forehand shots.
Then there’s Yong Yun—the city contractor who helped fix up the Barrys’ little love shack on Raleigh Street SE. Flush with cash from his $17.6 million city lease on an empty building, Yun allegedly paid for some of the work on the mayoral house, according to the Washington Post. He pleaded guilty in 1997 to lying on a bank loan application. Given his experience in overseeing construction, Yun could be the tennis center’s grounds manager.
A good candidate for pro-shop supervisor might be Cora Barry’s cousin Janice Rankins. Rankins would no doubt be a champ at restringing rackets and sewing buttons onto tennis shirts. According to a Washington City Paper report in 1997, she got a plum job as a $40,000-a-year part-time sewing instructor in the D.C. Recreation and Parks Department, marred only by a—ahem—spotty attendance record.
The year before that, Rankins had turned up with a job making flag props for the 1996 summer Olympic soccer games at RFK Stadium—for which she was paid $500. The D.C. Auditor later revealed that the money had been diverted inappropriately from the D.C. Office of Tourism in a convoluted scheme to get around city procurement laws.
Of course, as long as we’re fielding a team for Barry’s tennis center, there’s always that brother of hers—Walter Masters, who seems to perpetually turn up in search of a job. Walter worked on Marion Barry’s mayoral comeback campaign in 1994, driving busloads of Barry diehards to the polls, before playing an even more crucial role in the special election to fill
the mayor’s old Ward 8 council seat a year later. Eydie Whittington, the mayor’s hand-picked successor, won by one vote—which might
be attributed to Masters, who voted in the
election even though lawyers for loser Sandy Allen proved that his legal residence may have been in Florida at the time.
Given his experience shuttling voters to the polls, maybe Masters could be the tennis center’s bus driver. Of course, he’d have to get a D.C. driver’s license first.
And let’s not forget the most disadvantaged of Cora Barry’s acquaintances—the former mayor himself. Obviously, he’s a tennis lover. Back in 1997, Nightline captured him racing the wrong way down a one-way street with red lights flashing in order to make a tennis game at Hains Point. Lost in the netherworld of the washed-up elder statesman, Hizzonor would make a perfect candidate for tennis pro. CP