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The tributes will come before the year’s end—either in a few days, in September, or by November. They’ll start with his humble beginnings, chronicle his resilience, and marvel at his grip on an ever-shrinking city. They’ll praise and condemn, condemn and praise.
None of the reminiscing, though, will move him like this spring’s ongoing tribute. While he “winds down” to a decision, we all wind up. We stay up a little later to catch the 11 o’clock news. We log on to the Web to check for an announcement. We rip the plastic sheath off our morning newspaper a little quicker. Every smoke signal is whiffed, every tea leaf examined.
We’re all suckers. We don’t understand what Barry knows all too well:
The Barry era ended on April 7, 1995, when Congress created the control board.
The Barry era ended again on May 31, 1996, when the control board fired mayoral crony Vernon Hawkins.
The Barry era ended again on Feb. 26, 1997, when the control board stripped mayoral jurisdiction over the police department.
The Barry era ended again on Aug. 5, 1997, when the control board took over nine city agencies.
Yet we’re tripping over ourselves to catch the epilogue, for Barry to acknowledge a reality that has been manifest for over three years. Why bother?—Erik Wemple
Nothing Up His Sleeve
By Jonetta Rose Barras
No more promises of a turkey on every holiday, a government job for every family, and a million-dollar contract for every friend. The days of entitlements in the District are as dead as statehood.
Unfortunately, word has not reached the inner sanctums of the poor, the communities where Marion Barry, like Jim Jones, once passed out gallon jugs of Kool-Aid to the thirsty and the blind. Some people believe that the man—who rode into town in 1965, organized a bus boycott, cussed out white folks to their faces, and wore a dashiki all the way to the mayor’s office—can still perform miracles. But he ain’t a magician.
An angry Republican Congress snatched his wand and hat, not to mention his ability to funnel jobs and contracts to those under his sway. If Barry thought he could repeat the best of his earlier performances, he was delusional and blinded by ego.
Over the last four years, some people—mostly poor and working-class—prayed for the good old days. They wanted the return of subsidies, jobs, and quick parole. Like faithful followers, they stood before Barry, waiting for the dazzle that never came. Instead, it was all pestilence and famine—an ugly shade of dark that sent them on their knees making novenas and looking for other miracle workers.
But the new cast of appointed saviors comes without chants and potions. They’re here to manage—to fix the streets, put criminals in jail, and make sure the schools educate. They will not ignite an unprecedented social movement or save the city from itself. Gone are the days of tenant assistance programs and a summer job for any kid who wants one. There will be no cookie jar of cash into which the poor can reach to bury their dead. People being evicted will watch as neighbors pick through their things; a District government van will not come to move their property to temporary storage. And community development corporations, led by FOBs, won’t be able to count on an unending stream of fat-city money regardless of what they did the last time they received it.
After Barry, it will become fashionable again for politicians to target the rich and wannabe-rich as potential constituencies. The only color that will excite is green, which most poor and working-class people will continue to lack. The mechanism of wealth redistribution in the District has been permanently dismantled. Barry, patron and godfather of the disenfranchised, has no juice left and no tricks up his sleeve.
And those who believe Barry to be a phenomenal man capable of a second political resurrection comparable to his 1994 achievement may find solace in the fact that even Jesus Christ only did it once. CP
By Michael Schaffer
Seinfeld mania may have swept the nation last week, but it seems to have passed over the Barry administration. How else to explain the decision to inaugurate the mayor’s Channel 16 talk show, City Talk: A Look at D.C. with Mayor Barry, opposite the NBC sitcom’s two-hour sendoff?
Alas, the two shows had little in common beyond their Thursday night time slot. The Seinfeld finale oozed spleen, reviving all of the various characters Jerry & Co. had wounded over the years. City Talk’s saccharine protagonist, meanwhile, seemed like the last man in the world who would steal a marble rye—or help run a city into the ground.
Instead of discussing nonissues at a diner, the star of City Talk took to the streets. He rode along Cops-style in an MPD cruiser. He took back the night with the Woodbridge Neighborhood Coalition Orange Hats. He chatted with ex-Interim Police Chief Sonya Proctor. He walked the beat with a Brookland police officer. And there was nary a whine to be heard: The mayor’s segments were interspersed with statistics touting D.C.’s tumbling murder, rape, and assault numbers.
Not that there wasn’t any drama. Those who chose to forgo one last chance to watch Kramer slide into apartment 5A instead saw a woman yell, “Cut that camera off, and all y’all outta my place!” as a befuddled mayor accompanied a couple of D.C.’s finest on a impromptu house call. Mostly, however, the extras were as sweet as the star. “Police services have improved. I feel less afraid,” said one man. “You’re doing a great job,” crowed a woman.
Might the mayor follow Seinfeld and cut his series off while he’s ahead? Or what about trying to take Jerry’s NBC slot? The money’s gotta be better when you jump from city cable to real TV: While Seinfeld ads went for 2 million bucks a pop, the Barry chronicles were broken up by public service announcements featuring such luminaries as Lou Rawls on adult abuse and President Clinton touting the Coalition for America’s Children.
But the two shows do ultimately have at least one other thing in common: For those who missed it, Barry’s show—like Seinfeld—will be in constant reruns. According to a press release, it’s set to run four times this coming Thursday alone. CP
What We Mean When We Say Barry
By David Carr
Marion Barry owns this town; we just live in it. Head out into a neighborhood with one of the senators who actually has control over the city, and people don’t look twice at some ol’ white dude in a big black car. But Barry, now there’s a guy who knows how to preoccupy space and conversation. He can still take an empty street corner in a deserted neighborhood and turn it into Old Home Week with a flick of the wrist. Hell, on every street except Pennsylvania Avenue, Barry outranks and has outlasted the lot of politicians who lay their heads here.
Peacock that he is, he struts around town savoring the focus that is his for the asking, especially lately. He’s lost a few feathers along the way, of course. The FBI took away his invulnerability, Congress plucked his relevance, and the media tore at his manhood. But no one has been able to take away his name.
The name Marion Barry carries with it its own set of privileges and prerogatives. The right to take over a room. The right to just not give a shit about what the Washington Post says. The right to bullshit when cornered and then laugh at the people who fall for the bullshit. And, most stunningly, the right to believe that the interests of the city and the interests of its mayor are one. No matter what.
Early in Barry’s fourth term, I sat under a grape arbor with one of Barry’s last, best true believers. He arrived late, drank his share of wine, and laughed heartily when it was suggested that his guy had lost the right to govern. “Who else,” he said, “Who else do you think the people of Washington will allow to run the city? Marion is still with us because the people of this city have no interest in anyone else.”
The polls back him up, of course. Judged in the context of the empty suits lining up for his job, Barry trumps. If he decides not to run, it won’t be because he doesn’t believe he can win. It’s not a sure thing, but the atavism and sheer visceral glee that accompany a Barry vote remain a powerful force in District politics. The rest of the nation can’t fathom why a city would staple itself to 200 pounds of condemned veal in plain sight of a punishing Congress, but they don’t understand that when you have no vote, a walking, talking middle finger provides some element of succor. He is our reprisal, our declaration of independence, and if they send us to the woodshed for the dirty pleasure of it, hell, we know the drill.
Symbolism notwithstanding, Barry has never been who he said he was or who we hoped he would be. And all the talk about dynasty is really just a nice way of describing a hijacking that has lasted 16 years. It’s time to free D.C. CP
Run, Barry, Run
By Ken Cummins
We all know that a group of faceless businessmen is trying to let D.C. voters off the hook this year by anteing up $2 million to bribe Mayor Marion Barry into quiet retirement. These civic leaders, who refuse to go public, don’t trust the city’s electorate any more than members of Congress do; otherwise, they wouldn’t be so eager to relieve D.C. voters of their awesome duty to usher in the post-Barry era.
District voters, schooled by leaders who advocate self-governance but eschew responsibility, are sitting by complacently and letting a few steal one of the last meaningful votes in District politics.
It’s difficult to decide who should be more insulted and outraged here: Barry, for being treated as someone who can—and must—be bribed into putting the city’s welfare above his own, or District voters, who are portrayed as untrustworthy and unable to determine the city’s future and pick a worthy mayor on their own.
The well-heeled citizens offering the mayor a bribe, in the form of an endowment at a local university, should put their bills back in their pockets. And Barry should end his silly and infuriating game of cat and mouse, and let the city know what he intends to do.
Mr. Mayor, you should run.
The city’s reluctant electorate should develop the maturity and muscle to handle tough choices at the ballot box. Congress shouldn’t be allowed to relieve voters of their decision-making role.
There is no better time for this coming of age than the 1998 mayoral election, which D.C. congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton has tagged as the most critical election for the city’s future since home rule. It will be all the more historic with the name Marion S. Barry on the ballot. Barry admirers can appreciate and acknowledge their hero’s achievements, while the rest of us deliver him the message at the ballot box that he must move aside for the benefit of the city.
Another four years of Barry could produce a total loss of local government that would last well into the next century. Voters must take that into account when sizing up Barry and his lesser-light rivals.
Sen. Lauch Faircloth (R-N.C.) sent that unmistakable message last month, when he won congressional approval of legislation removing the mayor’s last fingerhold on governance—his nominal oversight of the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD). Faircloth, chair of the Senate D.C. appropriations subcommittee, moved swiftly after Barry mused that he still legally held power over new MPD Chief Charles Ramsey.
It’s useless to whine that Faircloth’s meddling is unfair to the District. As long as Barry’s around to manipulate events to his political advantage, members of Congress won’t have much sympathy for the denuded rights of D.C. residents. And citizens, both within the city and without, are not going to rally to the defense of the District and its right to self-representation as long as Barry is attached.
Barry manages to transform every protest for home rule into a demonstration for Barry rule. Activists Mark Thompson, Timothy Cooper, and the rest will simply be wasting their time if they rush to North Carolina to work for Faircloth’s defeat in that state’s upcoming Senate race. Cooper & Co. would make better use of their time and energy by staying home and working to generate a decent turnout in this year’s District elections.
It’s time for D.C. voters to show up, grow up, and behave like adults. Run, Barry, run, and give them that chance. CP
Death of a Deuce
By Michael Dolan
And so the Age of Barry rattles into history like a clapped-out Deuce-and-a-Quarter being towed to Blue Plains—patently obsolete, garishly out of style, too bent for a frame-straightening, too worn to fix one more time, too expensive to keep around as a hobby, and nothing you’d really want to be seen in, anyway, unless you were desperate for a ride. Which you were, for entirely too long.
The Barrymobile wasn’t the top of the line, but neither was it the bottom. In its day it was a middling machine, possessed of a certain swagger and power, but a swagger and a power of a particular and circumscribed sort, drenched in self-delusion and the righteousness that goes with it.
D.C. is full of Deuces, double-parked and running red lights and creeping among the potholes and seat-belt checks. Their interiors look like Good Friday in the Mojave, spring ends showing through the duct tape on the seats, dashboards parched and gullied, headliners sagging like shrouds. Their vinyl roofs sport Chernobyl sunburns; they have red cellophane stuck across fractured taillights; their curb spiders droop from rocker panels long gone to oxide. There’ll be Deuces in D.C. forever.
Your Deuce, you see, was pitched to the car buyer who was unable to swing a Coupe de Ville but unwilling to acknowledge that limitation. Back in the ’60s, when a salesman with a voice as smooth as the plastic chrome on a factory-fresh radio knob crooned, “It’s a Cadillac in all but name!” what could a man do but sign on the line for that fine, big Buick Electra 225, long and wide and heavy as a broken heart, and when you hit the kick-down switch and the four-barrel opened to the max and those 421 cubic inches of Motor City mess went to work, you got your cheeks pushed back along your skull like an astronaut’s, and wasn’t every night Saturday night, and weren’t you the king of the hill?
At first it was a sweet, lush roll, quick as a lick on the straightaway and as tight on the curves as you could expect of Detroit-style semiluxury, paid for with hard-earned coin and driven with striver’s pride. But time passed in its infinite cruelty, and things started to fall apart. Rot ravaged the wheel wells. The weatherstripping went to dust, and the transmission erupted like a Kmart volcano. The engine stayed nominally solid, but your mileage went straight to hell, and the spot of street where you parked out front gleamed with 30-weight like a duck after an oil spill. Corner boys plucked out the hood medallion like an eyeball and, for evil measure, ripped off the aerial; now there’s a hanger in the hole, looks like the business end of Grandpa’s crystal set.
For a while, you took it back to the dealer for fixes, paying those genuine GM prices. But after years of dropping what you paid for the car and then some on repairs, you found a neighborhood guy with a wrench set and a rolling jack, good hands with the body dolly and a real artist with the Bondo. That beater Buick got you through tough times, and you swore you’d ride it until the wheels fell off.
Now go get another car, and don’t even think about something used. CP
By Harry Jaffe
So shoot me. I am an integrationist. Actually, I am a cultural integrationist. In my cultural cosmology, some blacks are disagreeable whiners. The great majority are decent people trying to live their lives in some neighborly fashion. A few are among my best friends, soul mates, brothers. Meanwhile, there are plenty of disagreeable white whiners out there, because there are more white people. I don’t judge on basis of race. Assholes come in all colors.
This doesn’t mean I believe that blacks and whites are supposed to be living together in some peaceable kingdom, in cute suburban enclaves, in matching checkerboard bungalows. That we have to listen to the same music, eat the same food, laugh at the same jokes. It simply means that we have a healthy sense of respect for our sameness and our differences. In my deluded integrationist mind, I have a sense that a healthy majority of people in this small city share that view.
This was true in 1978, the fateful year that Marion Barry squeaked by and won the Democratic primary by 1,500 votes in a three-way race. Barry ran a masterful campaign. Knowing that he couldn’t count on black Washingtonians—who thought he was a carpetbagging, radical ‘Bama—Barry created a truly biracial constituency. He played to the civil rights sensibilities of the liberal whites in Ward 3. For them he was the fresh-faced, dynamic black leader who would unite the races, educate the children, heal the wounds left from the 1968 riots. Make no mistake about it, Marion Barry became mayor in 1978 on a wave of support from white liberals—integrationists. Fools, just like me.
King Barry then proceeded to decimate the biracial coalition. Taking office in 1979, he purged most of the white leaders who had helped put him there. In his zeal to enfranchise blacks—a worthy cause—he turned his back on whites, except for hitting up the rich ones for cash every election cycle. In subsequent campaigns of 1982 and 1986, as he gradually succumbed to personal dissolution, he deliberately mined the fertile ground of Washington’s racial fears and insecurities. Barry set blacks against whites. At first he subtly demonized whites. Then he got mean.
A cornered Barry is a racist Barry. So in the summer of 1990, when he was on trial for the infamous drug rap at the Vista Hotel, it was natural for him to kiss up to Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan. There was Barry onstage at the Washington Convention Center, bowing and scraping before the black nationalist demagogue, who proceeded to berate the mayor for being so weak that the white man could snare him. Watching from the audience of 10,000, I almost felt sorry for poor Marion.
Bowed but not broken, Barry emerged from six months in the slammer and conned his way back to the D.C. Council in 1992 and then the mayor’s chair in 1994. How can we forget his admonition to the white folks? “Get over it,” as opposed to “Let’s get on with it, together.”
Washington was blessed with only one black politician who was a true integrationist: John Wilson heaped abuse equally on blacks and whites. He loved them equally as well. His death in 1993 killed the city’s best chance for a truce between the races.
Lord knows there’s fertile ground for racial tension in the District. The history of congressional domination by white supremacists is very real. The mean traditions of segregation were as well-honed in our small Southern town as they were in Memphis or Atlanta. Geography, economics, and education continue to divide blacks and whites.
So does Marion Barry. If he runs for mayor again, we get a tense summer, bloodshed perhaps. If he steps aside, we get a reprieve from outright racism. I even think there’s still an opportunity for racial harmony here—a government that’s multiracial, restaurants and bars where we can hang together. The vibe that hangs so easily over 14th and U on a Saturday night could spread of its own accord.
I’m still a believer, an integrationist. I could party with Marion. I like him.
As a man, not as a mayor. CP
By David Plotz
Since it’s rude to speak ill of the dead, the articles about Marion Barry’s retirement, if it comes to pass, will be full of lies. Chief among the lies will be this: Marion Barry was the last great civil rights mayor. Barry’s departure, it will be said, capped off the transfer of urban power from ’60s liberals to ’90s technocrats. According to this myth, Barry as civil rights champion believed in racial activism, social welfare, the power of government. These ideas were noble in their time, but now have been supplanted by the sensible, nonideological, nonracial policies of mayors like Dennis Archer of Detroit.
There are two problems with this story. The first is that Barry’s own place in the movement has been grossly overstated. Barry has never been shy about touting his credentials: first national chairman of SNCC, founder of Free D.C., etc. But Barry was more free-rider than Freedom Rider. Barry had a proud, fuck-you courage that fueled his activism, but he left the hard work of the movement to pack-horses like John Lewis. Of course, Barry was always around to take the credit for success. (See David Halberstam’s excellent new book The Children for details of Barry’s failings as an activist.)
The second problem is that Barry’s political genius bears no relation to the squishy politics of the movement. Barry’s departure signals the end not of civil rights politics, but of a different, much older, and much less respectable form of politics: the machine. Civil rights politics is built on justice: What is right? Barry’s politics have always been built on self-interest: What can I do for you? And what will you do for me?
Unlike his movement colleagues, he has never possessed anything that can be called principle. When he entered D.C. politics 30 years ago, he and his allies (notably Ivanhoe Donaldson) sought to imitate the Irish political machines of the first half of this century. Just as mayors like Boston’s James Michael Curley exploited ethnicity and patronage to cement their own power, Barry used black pride and patronage to cement his.
Barry was canny enough to claim that he was acting for social and racial justice, but from 1980 on, his career was aimed solely at locking in voters. His method: the purse. By the time Barry left the mayoralty in 1990, the D.C. government had nearly 50,000 employees—one for every 12 residents, far more per capita than any other city government in the nation. Every one of those employees was a voting-age adult. Barry didn’t stop there: He wooed future voters with D.C.’s summer jobs program, a hunk of pork that employed 10,000 kids every year. Barry ensured that social services were sent to every church, senior center, community center, and housing project, to every nook and cranny of the city. He built himself a power base unmatched in modern urban politics.
In 1994, when I was reporting a story about Barry’s comeback, I stopped 10 people randomly on the street in Ward 8. Of the 10, eight had either worked for the city under Barry, had a summer job from Barry, or worked at PRIDE for Barry, and all had received social services from his government. The people of Washington owed him.
Barry’s distribution of goodies not only ensured re-election, it also fed his ego. Barry loves doing favors, loves playing God. Anyone who’s ever seen him campaign knows there is nothing Barry enjoys more than promising to solve the problem—to find you the job or a contract, or cut you a government check.
Which may be why Barry ought to be leaving. The ’80s Barry had jobs to give and kids to hire and seniors to bribe with goodies. The control board and Congress have taken that fun away: There are fewer city workers than ever and a shell of a summer jobs program. What money there is belongs to Anthony Williams, not Barry. As much as Washingtonians may like Barry, they are no longer in his debt. And you can’t run a machine without oil to grease it. CP
By Mark E.P. Roberts
One sweat-soaked summer day in 1968, a platoon of green-clad young men with “PRIDE” on their shirts and pride on their faces descended upon my Southeast neighborhood. Armed with trash bags and sundry cleanup utensils, they proceeded to restore order to an unruly patch of weeds and forgotten refuse that had overtaken the place off Alabama Avenue we kids affectionately called “the Big Field.” By late that afternoon, as we enthusiastically prepared to play ball once again, a tall, dark-skinned man arrived to congratulate the workers. He wished all us kids a great summer; he said his name was Marion Barry.
He reminded me of a favorite uncle who never came to visit without something in his pockets for me. With the city still charred from the ruins of a riot nobody saw coming, Barry’s confident stride must have stirred the city’s power structure, as well. In an era marked by black anger and white guilt, Barry’s educated mind and country bravado provided the perfect compromise. He could do what the color-struck Negroes in the city’s posh Gold Coast could not—he could speak to the people. Calm them down. Share their fears. Bolster their ambitions, and still talk shop with the white guys downtown. No wonder the Washington Post endorsed his mayoral campaign three times.
Always a man more comfortable with symbols than substance, Barry became a big-picture guy in what has generally been a rather sleepy Southern town. He lived large, and folks applauded—at least for a time. Marion Barry was like a fresh batch of fried chicken at a neighborhood picnic—warm and greasy, seasoned and on time. He could eat watermelon and spit out seeds with the best of us.
Or he could don a suit and tie and mesmerize with his take on the budget or the District’s “half-slave, half-free” home rule charter.
In 1979, Barry said, “When you look back…there’ll still be people…who don’t have enough money to pay their rent, who don’t have adequate housing, who don’t have jobs, who don’t have a doctor during their pregnancy…but there’ll be less of those people…if I have anything to do with it.” The numbers may not support the fulfillment of Barry’s promise, but he was the first to really articulate it, to actually understand the parameters defining too many lives in America’s capital city, then and now.
While walking that slippery line, Barry no doubt fell, propelled in part by his own excesses, in part by a city and nation moving on. In the aftermath of the Reagan years, white guilt no longer remained in style. Neither did fried chicken. Now we shake and bake, or baste lightly in a wine sauce. We are a different people, and we need a fresh symbol—someone more corporate and, well, correct. In my old neighborhood, black anger has been replaced with fiscal pragmatism. Sooner or later, everyone has to pay the bills on time. Barry, like my uncle, will always have a place at the table, but his retro antics now clash with the decor. CP
The Zombie Mayor Lives
By Jack Shafer
Barry’s on his way out?
I thought he just got back.
I was drinking with some friends at Dan’s Cafe the night that the FBI set up and busted Barry at the Vista Hotel. A friend (I don’t remember who) phoned the bar and asked the proprietor, Dickie, for me. Dickie is a wonderful guy, but he hates playing operator for his patrons.
Dickie scowled and handed me the phone. I cheered when the caller told me the news and asked Dickie to change the channel from sitcom reruns. Dickie is a wonderful guy, but nobody tells him what station to play. Even so, he accommodated me by switching the channel to the EyewitnessActionITeamNewswatch report.
The bar crowd, many of them journalists, erupted into cheers at the blue glow of the TV news. City Paper Senior Editor Jon Cohen enlisted Barry’s premier portraitist, Darrow Montgomery, and the pair composed a fine feature on the unfolding spectacle (the bust, the arraignment, etc.), which we rushed into the next issue.
I don’t remember much else about that night other than the overwhelming relief that Boss Barry was finally finished and that honest and open government would soon be a birthright in D.C. But I was wrong. Barry served his time, rebuilt his political base, and slithered his way back to the top. Even after the federal government stripped him of all but his ceremonial powers, Barry remained boss. I always thought that I would outlast Barry, but he outlasted me. I left the city in 1995 for the West Coast and have since watched the city and Barry spiral down together.
I once thought that Barry’s political life paralleled that of Willie Stark, the protagonist of Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men. Stark, like Barry, is a reformer who wins the top office and, frustrated with the time-consuming demands of democracy, bends the rules into a tangle of spaghetti. He makes evil deals and pollutes the polity and manipulates the truth and uses people until one day an injured idealist shoots him. Stark dies and is consigned to a grave, which is where the parallel ends. Barry took his shot, died, and walks among us still. Ladies and gentlemen, bolt your doors. He’ll be back. CP
He Got Blame
By Tom Sherwood
Marion Barry is the worst mayor in the history of Western civilization. He is personally responsible for the death of every malnourished baby, drive-by shooting, bad school, and bad cop. He’s the reason black people get hooked on crack and why garbage is the most visible product on Washington’s dingy streets.
There, feel better?
I can do more. Potholes. Parking tickets. That homeless guy who’s always pissing in your alley. That and every municipal ill you can conceive of sticks to Barry, whether deserved or not.
The hysteria of blame around Barry has done at least three things: It’s cheapened some very real complaints about his shortcomings; it’s slandered the city on a global level; and it’s fueled a racial animus that few white people understand.
A lot of white people want black people to loathe Barry as much as they do, but the black people just won’t cooperate.While polls suggest that most D.C. African-Americans say that Barry’s time is up, they still resent the likes of North Carolina’s Sen. Lauch Faircloth going out of his way to humiliate Barry and the city he was elected to govern. Whites here may see the Hill as a source of reason, but blacks in the District grew up hearing barely veiled racial insults bandied around in the congressional committees with oversight on the District.
Black people in the city may be interested in fresh leadership, but they would like to see the mayor leave the stage with a shred of dignity, not kicked out of the way like some dog.
Sure, Barry has let the city down too often, but there is a psychotic need to render him a domestic version of Saddam Hussein. Here’s a bulletin for all of the bashers: Hard as it is to admit, Barry has not been all wrong all the time in his fourth term.
Barry has steadfastly stood for summer jobs in a city with desperately high unemployment among black kids. They sign up by the thousands, but too few businesses respond. For its part, the control board has cut $2 million from the program, and some wonder if its biggest crime is being identified with Barry.
Barry can never, ever do anything right in the eyes of his critics.When Clinton hatched a plan in 1997 to take over the District’s prisons, courts, and pensions, he was hailed as a visionary in the editorial pages. But it was Barry, two years earlier, who first made the proposal—and was promptly greeted with great hoots of derision.
The control board’s approach to reform has left little room for Barry to succeed. Up until the school disaster of last year, everything the control board did was for the good of the city, and everything Barry or the council did was carping or worse. Well-meaning but clueless reformers were good, and anybody connected to Barry’s city government was stupid or somehow evil.
With Barry leaving office—yes, he is—the trump card will be called. Without Barry, how long will it take Congress to conjure a new bogeyman? Without Barry, how quickly will suburban legislators find another excuse for the massive windfall D.C. workers bring home to the treasuries in Richmond and Annapolis? When Barry gives his “I’m-outta-here” speech, what rationale can possibly be given for keeping Washingtonians as second-class citizens in a country that reveres democracy—everywhere except in its capital city?
People are about to find out that bashing Barry is a lot easier than facing all that. CP