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Whenever Mayor-for-Life Marion S. Barry Jr. gets caught with people a big-city mayor shouldn’t be hanging out with, D.C.’s glib leader always has a line at his command. In most other cities, a mayor caught at the home of a businessman with a criminal record who is the target of a federal fraud investigation would be in big trouble. And he would be laughed right out of office if he used Barry’s explanation for his visits—namely, that he only drops by occasionally for a sandwich and a quick change of clothes.
Actually, LL found Barry’s explanation very revealing. We figured Hizzoner had tired of twisting around in the back seat of his limo whenever he wanted to change out of his African garb and into a business suit—like when he goes from, say, an appearance in Anacostia to CNN’s Larry King Live. And now we know he used the home/church/nightclub of Roweshea Burruss at 1402 12th St. NW—conveniently situated between East and West—to make his quick political/sartorial changes.
“I am a very gregarious person,’’ Barry told Larry King during a June 14 appearance when King asked about Burruss. The mayor described Burruss as “an associate,’’ but King, proving again that he’s no Ted Koppel, neglected to press further on the mayor’s ties to Burruss.
Barry’s history of unbelievable creativity in the invention of excuses/ explanations seems to have left city residents ready to fall for anything. His “gregarious’’ line was at least more humble than his explanation during his third term as to why he was constantly found with questionable characters in the wee hours of the morning:
“Like Jesus, I like to walk among all the people,’’ Barry said on New Year’s Day 1990.
It seems like a great time to review the Barry Alibi Hall of Fame:
Who can forget that just before Christmas 1981 Barry went to the long-gone-but-not-forgotten This Is It strip joint at 14th and I Streets NW, reportedly for some sex and cocaine. News of his visit to the club leaked out months later, following a quashed police investigation. Barry successfully explained it away by saying he had gone to the joint after midnight to pick up a campaign donation from a sleazy peddler who would soon be headed to jail. No problem there, right?
Barry’s alibi factory cranked up again in 1984, when he was called before a grand jury investigating allegations that he used drugs. When asked about the charges that he had shared drugs with city employee Karen Johnson, Barry told reporters that he “vaguely’’ knew her—only because he had gotten her a job in the city’s energy office. Her diaries later suggested that he knew every inch of her quite well, may have fathered her child, and shared drugs with her frequently.
In March 1987, Barry turned up in the afternoon at the Capitol Hill apartment of model and exotic dancer Grace Shell. A scene ensued when the landlady ordered him to leave. Barry told reporters he had gone there to meet Shell’s 3-year-old child.
During that same year, Barry frequently showed up at the Capitol Hill apartment of Bettye Smith, who worked for the city’s bond firm, and the two partied well into the night. Barry later would claim that “Aunt Bettye’’ was a friend of his son, Christopher, and he was just stopping in to check on her. His concern for his son’s friend was so sincere that he took “Aunt Bettye” with him on a trip to the Bahamas in November 1987.
In December 1989, a police raid was called off after Barry was discovered in the Ramada Inn Central hotel room of drug dealer Chuck Lewis. Barry claimed he had only stopped by to deliver Lewis a copy of the “Indices,’’ the official statistical inventory of the District government.
When you view it in the sweep of history, Barry’s recent clothes-changing canard isn’t nearly so laughable as some of the whoppers he’s told in the past. And it fits nicely with his theme of constant transformation.
FEEDING THE WATCHDOG?
Ward 1 activist and D.C. Council watchdog Dorothy Brizill is busy putting together D.C. Watch, a “good government” group that will monitor the city’s elected and appointed officials. But at least one of the group’s supporters is also one of its potential targets. Last July, Ward 6 Councilmember Harold Brazil’s political action committee gave $250 to D.C. Watch.
Perhaps the councilmember was grateful to Brizill for her help last year in defeating the nomination of Mel Doxie to head the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance (OCF). The July 13 donation from the “Ward 6 Political Committee’’ came three months after Brizill testified against Doxie’s nomination before the council’s government operations committee, which Brazil chairs. Last November, Brazil’s committee killed Doxie’s nomination before it appeared before the council.
“I think you will find my concern about OCF goes back four or five years,’’ Brizill said this week. “I don’t think a contribution from Harold Brazil, or anyone, would compromise the organization.’’
“People in District government may say a lot of things about me, but no one will say that Dorothy Brizill can be bought,’’ Brizill said.
One of the goals of D.C. Watch, Brizill said, is to make sure that OCF gets a tough director free of political loyalties (Brizill and others claimed that Doxie was beholden to Barry). For obvious reasons, councilmembers and the mayor have never wanted a strong-willed person in that post. And you won’t hear them complaining this year, an election year, that the District government has yet to fill the 2-year vacancy in the director’s office.
Brizill hopes to get D.C. Watch off the ground by fall.
The Rev. Willie Wilson’s campaign against the D.C. “out-of-control’’ board died quietly and quickly last week, just three days after the defiant minister led a demonstration outside the home of control board Chairman Andrew Brimmer. Wilson, pastor of Anacostia’s Union Temple Baptist Church, had promised to disrupt the control board’s June 13 meeting at the Martin Luther King Memorial Library.
But Wilson was wandering around the library during last week’s meeting like a forlorn general in search of his defeated troops. The fire of Wilson’s protest was doused when his friend and parishioner, Barry, reached agreement with the control board and the council on a budget for next year.
Suddenly, the antagonists in this never-ending drama were all smiles and pats-on-the-back again.
One of the reasons for creating the control board last year was to give the city’s weak-kneed elected officials a scapegoat to blame for painful decisions. So far, the control board doesn’t seem to mind playing that role…
The Thomas family doesn’t take defeat lightly. Friends and supporters of lovable ol’ Ward 5 Councilmember Harry Thomas Sr. are protesting the June 6 elections for chairman and vice chairman of the D.C. Democratic State Committee after son Harry Thomas Jr. lost elections for both posts.
Thomas ally Beverlye C. Neal on June 10 filed a protest with the Democratic National Committee asking that the election be overturned because of irregularities in voting and in the way the meeting was conducted. Norm Nixon, another Thomas ally on the state committee, complained that his ballot was not counted until the next day, after he discovered the omission. Two other ballots were disqualified in the voting for chairman.
Even with Nixon’s vote, Thomas Jr. lost that election by three votes to Amanda Hatcher-Lyon, the first woman ever elected head of the local party. Then he lost the subsequent election for vice chair by six votes to sardonic Ward 6 Democrat Richard Rausch.
Councilmember Thomas has been trying for years to find a niche for his son in the local power structure. Thomas Jr. lost a 1990 bid for one of the District’s shadow senator seats…
Some Dupont Circle residents claim chic presidential adviser George Stephanopolous got more than he paid for when he bought the building at 1511 Connecticut Avenue NW three years ago. They complain that Mr. Steph, who lives on the upper floors, is parking his car on city-owned space in back of his building without paying the city for its use and without getting ticketed by the city’s notorious parking enforcement vultures.
“As far as I know, I own it,’’ Stephan-opolous said when asked why he had not applied for a permit to use the space. “That’s what I was told when I bought it.” His next-door neighbor, Kramerbooks & Afterwords, has to obtain annual permits and pay rent to the city to use a similar space between its back door and the sidewalk on 19th Street for an outdoor cafe.
Giorgio Furioso, the building’s manager, claims the space belongs to Stephan-opolous. He said it was included in the deed of purchase, as well as the lease agreement with Eye Gotcha, which operates on the first floor. “They leased that space from him to park there during business hours,” said Furioso.
But one resident who has researched the matter claims the property line stops at the back-door step, and the city owns the rest of the space, easily large enough to park two cars…
Former at-large Republican Councilmember Carol Schwartz, the only real Republican ever elected to office in this city, created some excitement Monday when she tossed her hat into the ring for the council seat she gave up voluntarily eight years ago. Schwartz’s declaration raised hopes that the city might get a councilmember who would stand up and speak out, rather than duck, when the tough issues come along.
But Schwartz wasn’t sounding so independent and outspoken in her campaign kickoff on Monday. Even though she ran against Barry in the 1994 mayoral race, Schwartz refused to comment on the mayor’s performance this term. She similarly sidestepped a performance evaluation of council Chairman Dave Clarke but said he had become “more realistic.” Schwartz predicted that Clarke would put his newfound grasp of reality on display by awarding her a committee chairmanship if she wins the election. Schwartz says that Clarke recognizes she was right in sounding the alarm about the city’s bleak finances in the 1980s.
Schwartz also ducked when asked whether the control board had helped or hurt the city.
She seems to be playing it low-key because this election is hers to lose. Since one of the two at-large council seats up for grabs this year is reserved by the home rule charter for non-Democrats, the only threat Schwartz faces is from some big-name Democrat who suddenly switches voter registration to independent to run for the seat.
By sounding like all the rest, Schwartz may be hoping to head off pseudo-independent challengers this year. And ducking all the tough ones is certainly salient training for serving on the current council. CP
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