Mayor-for-Life Marion S. Barry Jr. returned from his latest retreat last weekend—which he insists on calling an “advance…this mayor doesn’t retreat”—promising that from now on he would be on time.
“And he was here first this morning,” D.C. public health Commissioner Harvey Sloane, proclaimed to the crowd gathered on the Anacostia Museum grounds on Monday morning. (Sloane was one of 54 administration officials who “advanced” with Barry to a West Virginia resort over the weekend.)
But just 90 minutes later, Barry was already hedging on his “advance” commitment to correct his legendary lack of punctuality.
“Mostly on time,” the mayor said at the end of a live interview on radio station WDCU with talk-show host Ernest White. “If I get there 10 or 15 minutes late, that’s revolutionary. Eventually, we’re going to get to it.”
It didn’t take Hizzoner long to retreat from his “advance.”
The ever-changing terminology of Barry’s fourth administration is beginning to sound like a clunky remake of Star Trek starring Ronald Reagan.
Barry to Sloane: Advance me up, Harvey, I’ve got a job to finish.
Sloane: Are you sure you want to go out there, my captain? The control board members are still lurking around.
Barry: Well, I’ve got news for them, Harvey. I am an avatar of advancement, a transforming dynamo who yields the mantra of change to no one. So advance me up.
And just in case the nomenclature of advancement and transformation doesn’t do the trick, Barry has begun slinging more football metaphors than Joe Gibbs. If you haven’t yet heard Barry’s “I Am the Gipper” football analogy, you will. He was using it ad nauseam at the beginning of this week.
If LL can borrow the mayor’s pigskin motif for a moment, the constantly shifting terminology represents a “Hail Mary” pass from Barry, who is struggling to prove he still matters in a government he once controlled with an iron hand. But the power center has shifted from the mayor’s office to the control board over the past year, and Barry has been left trying to block the control board rather than leading the city.
Just 18 months ago, Barry portrayed himself as “the transformer,” the only politician in town who could turn the District government into a workable, efficient institution that would still serve as the main jobs provider for D.C. residents. However, his transformation plan exists mostly on paper, while the control board and Chief Financial Officer Anthony Williams have moved forward with their own reforms.
This past spring, after he left town unexpectedly to seek “spiritual rejuvenation,” the mayor returned preaching holistic healing for the city and his administration. He sounded as if he was presiding over a wellness seminar rather than a big city government. But almost immediately Barry’s new mental and spiritual calm was shattered by the control board’s decision to fire Health and Human Services Director Vernon Hawkins for gross mismanagement. Barry at first pledged to stand up for his longtime ally but was quickly forced to back down. (The control board has been trying to find out whether Hawkins is still bellied up to the trough even though he got a pink slip last May. The mayor has refused to provide that information to control board Chairman Andrew Brimmer.)
Now, fresh from another retreat—oops, advance—Barry is once again seeking to rebuild his image, this time as “the advancer.” This week he actually sounded like the old political advance man who sweeps into town and whips up the crowd before the really important person arrives. Except that Barry is doing his own advance work and leading his own cheers for the only rip he acknowledges—himself.
As he returned this week from yet another sojourn aimed at restoring his diminishing role in local affairs, Barry seemed to be in retreat on a number of fronts, aside from his newfound commitment to punctuality.
Barry said Monday he would bow to the control board’s demands and sign legislation abolishing the D.C. lottery board. Just before he “advanced” to Berkeley Springs last week, Barry was waging an intense, behind-the-scenes battle to maintain his grip on the lottery agency and the jobs and contracts under its control.
But upon his return the mayor said he agreed with the control board’s decision that the lottery board be disbanded and the agency placed under the tightfisted control of Williams. Barry claims his administration had that same step under study for the past several months but had not yet acted.
Now, he promises, “this government is going to talk less and do more.”
But his actions in recent weeks belie his words.
While his administration was supposedly considering an end to the lottery board’s reign over the lucrative agency, which poured $75 million into city coffers last year, Barry met with lottery board Executive Director Frederick “Rick” King in mid-August in an effort to prevent the firing of the mayor’s allies within the agency. When King refused to bow to his demands, Barry convinced his three allies on the lottery board to fire King. After being turned aside in very public fashion by the control board, Barry staged a strategic retreat. (Although he did fire off one last volley in the process, alleging that King had fudged his résumé.)
Last Monday’s event in Anacostia had all the Barry trappings: the Ballou Senior High School Marching Knights marching band, high-school cheerleaders, reporters wondering why they had come expecting news, senior citizens and public-housing residents applauding his every word, and members of his administration uttering flattering platitudes on his behalf.
Barry was in a fine mood, even sharing the podium with David Gilmore, the federally appointed public-housing receiver, to demonstrate his sudden commitment to work with people running parts of the government he once zealously controlled. “For David and I to come together should be no surprise,” Barry insisted.
After all, he even invited his chief nemesis, Williams, to “advance” with him and his cabinet last weekend. Gilmore went along as well.
The purpose of the Monday event was to show the media 25 new community health workers hired by the city. The deployment of these workers launches the city’s new Department of Health, which will be headed by Sloane. Although the control board has not approved the department, the Barry administration is pushing ahead to demonstrate that at least part of the mayor’s ballyhooed “transformation” plan is becoming reality.
Control board spokesman Mark Goldstein said board members last March asked for details on how the new department would be structured and staffed but only started receiving the information last week, as Barry and his cabinet headed to West Virginia.
While his administration dithered on complying with control board requests, Barry this week blasted labor leaders for waiting until “the 11th hour” to negotiate new contracts for city workers. Those contracts expired this week, and Barry said his administration sought to kick off collective bargaining back in May.
“The unions wouldn’t come to the table until the last minute, and we’re not going to do that,” Barry said on Monday. “The labor leaders are at fault. These workers deserve better.”
And of course, Barry the advancer took the time to baste his favorite target—the media. “You all in the media think this is loony-toon stuff,” Barry said of his “advance.” “But everyone needs to get away and reassess where they are and what they’ve been doing for the past four or five months. Corporations do this all the time.”
“People have a new respect and a new attitude already,” he boasted.
Regrettably, LL has heard that one many, many times before.
Now that D.C. Green Party organizers Jenefer Ellingston and Angela Perry have succeeded in getting Ralph Nader’s name on the presidential ballot here, they hope to convince 7,500 District voters to back their candidate in November. That’s the number of votes Nader will need to collect in D.C. for the Green Party to gain legal party status in District politics.
Ellingston is hoping that D.C. Democrats will be charitable enough to vote Green just to help her party gain official status. After all, the only suspense in D.C.’s presidential vote is how far over 80 percent Bill Clinton will go. “That [7,500 votes] would not make him lose the election here,” Ellingston said.
If the Greens become an official party, they will run candidates for local office in 1998, including mayor. “Anything less would be a dereliction of duty,” Ellingston said this week…
Controversial Unity Nation leader Malik Shabazz is a member of the “legal defense team” for Ward 7 school board member Terry Hairston, who went on trial in D.C. Superior Court this week on charges of assaulting a D.C. police officer. Shabazz, who gained notoriety for his inflammatory statements against Jews while a student at Howard University Law School, planned to run for the D.C. Council this year but decided to begin practicing law after he passed the Maryland bar “on the first try.”…
D.C. congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton may have reservations about the D.C. control board, but her congressional colleagues don’t seem to share her misgivings. Congress last week voted to bypass the mayor, the council, and the hapless school board by giving $12 million directly to the control board to repair city schools. Now the five-member board will be in the business of soliciting bids and awarding construction contracts, another enhancement of its ever-increasing role in local government.
LL hopes the board has better luck with school repairs than it has had with the school lunch program. Since yanking the school lunch contract awarded by Superintendent Franklin Smith in July, the control board has been unable to find a single firm willing to bid on handling this business, estimated to be worth around $20 million annually…
LL continues to get calls from motorists enraged over the parking-ticket immunity of former council Chairman Sterling Tucker. Tucker’s car was recently spotted again in a space reserved for diplomatic and government vehicles outside the Stouffer Mayflower Hotel.
According to one passer-by, a D.C. parking attendant was busy writing out a ticket and requesting a tow for the car parked illegally behind Tucker’s but waltzed right past his vehicle. When the passer-by asked why, the parking attendant reportedly replied, “Well, that’s a government vehicle.”
Tucker’s car bears the vanity plate, “D.C.’s First Elected Council Chairman.”
According to the passer-by, the ticket writer also didn’t care much about Tucker’s inspection sticker, which expired last January. CP
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