Scene: The basement of the MacBarrys’ Southeast home. Time: Last weekend.
[Mayor-for-Life Marion S. MacBarry Jr. and his wife, Cora Masters Lady MacBarry, are sipping Cokes in front of the fireplace that businessman Yong Yun built for them as a gift. They are laughing heartily.]
Lady MacBarry: Ah, my cunning husband! How the people sing your praises again. The students adore you; the unions hail you; even the cold-hearted congressmen—those who only want to cut! cut! cut! ’til even the bone is whittled away—hosanna your transformation plan.
MacBarry: Yes, they do, my effulgent wench! When I told [Rep.] Tom Davis about my plan last week, he looked so gladsome that I feared that he would descend from his dais and kiss me. He scarce mentioned my bold deeds of the night before, when I had prodded and prepped the UDC students who blocked Connecticut Avenue. Davis must not have known what I did, for if he had, he surely would have flayed me.
Lady MacBarry [nodding]: And it was fortunate too that dull-witted Dave Clarke was there to bear Davis’ slings and arrows. When the council chairman—a man unmanned—admitted that he had joined the protest, I thought Davis would order him hanged from the Capitol gibbet.
MacBarry: The tongues wag and say that [UDC President] Tilden LeMelle and I schemed the whole thing, that we play the students as pawns in our power game. But what can they prove?
Lady MacBarry: That’s right, my lord. LeMelle may be a fool, but he’s a fool we can count on. He’ll keep his mouth shut. He needed that demonstration more than you. It keeps the spotlight off him and distracts everyone from the mess he’s made of our university.
MacBarry: Tho’ I wish he would act a bit more humble. He thinks he’s King of Van Ness, but he’s a mere pretender. He overspends the budget we give him and won’t even return my staff’s phone calls.
Lady MacBarry: But LeMelle is a pesky gnat compared to villainous [Chief Financial Officer] Anthony Williams. Beware of that cream-faced loon!
MacBarry: I know, my lady. I know. But I have tricked our tricky Williams. I have all the world believing that Williams wanted to cut UDC’s budget another 10 percent. But few people listened when he explained the truth: that he was only withholding 10 percent of the budget to make certain LeMelle didn’t overspend again.
Lady MacBarry: How masterful you are, my puissant lord! You could teach Diabolus himself a deceit or two. You cleverly tricked Williams into signing that letter saying UDC was not going to be cut. No one understands that the students were protesting cuts that weren’t going to happen. Everyone believes Williams backed down.
MacBarry: He tests me so much more than Kathy Patterson, the punching bag of Ward 3. She was practically speechless when I vetoed her bill to make it easier to lay off union members and senior employees from my government. Yes, those reforms would protect my younger and better workers, but I want the unions on my side. And my veto doesn’t matter anyway. Those reforms were included in the 1996 budget. When Congress passes our appropriations bill, I will receive the very powers I vetoed. And then the unions will blame Congress, not me.
Lady MacBarry: Patterson doesn’t get it. Her name was on the bill. She doesn’t fathom that we can never lose when we cross the Ward 3 councilmember.
MacBarry: You’re right, my honeyed asp. Patterson is another Carol Schwartz: Whatever she proposes, some of her colleagues will oppose it automatically because they think she has criticized them too much.
Lady MacBarry: How slyly you treat her, my husband. When you spoke in Ward 3 the other night, I thought you might name her name as you have in other wards. But you were silent.
MacBarry: A harsh word would have been ungracious. And unwise, my lady.
One more gem sparkles in our week, sweet Cora. The foolish-conned Congress. Halfway through our fiscal year, Congress is still fighting over our budget: Even my critics blame the Republicans, and I have escaped scot-free.
Lady MacBarry: And you have mastered such a clever reply to your critics. Whenever anyone attacks spending cuts, you can answer—as you did two weeks ago—“The control board did that, and I disagreed with it.”
MacBarry: [Control Board Chairman] Andrew Brimmer has revealed himself as a bowl of jelly; when I push him, he gives way. Even he now says D.C. needs $100 million more in federal money to survive.
Lady MacBarry: Let Brimmer sink in the quicksand of budget details. Let him decide whether to pay for the presidential primary, to fund the Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, to cut here, to add there. The control board is as snarled in detail as the council. And you are the philosopher king.
MacBarry [sighing]: It has been a good week, my helpmate. But enough self-congratulation. It’s time for me to transform myself—to bed. [He exits.]
Lady MacBarry [to herself]: Watch how he walks: He is so pleased with himself. But let him not be too satisfied—lest he want another term. Four years as first lady—that’s enough for even the bravest woman.
[To be continued.]
While millions of Americans were watching the Academy Awards on Monday night, Barry was giving an Oscarworthy performance of his own at D.C.’s Lincoln Theatre.
More than 1,000 admirers packed the opulent U Street NW venue to watch Hizzoner deliver his “State of the District” address. It was a show-stopper, an oration worthy of Anthony Hopkins.
Just moments after he strode to center stage, Hizzoner turned to the D.C. Councilmembers seated behind him and said, “Thank you for your leadership.” But there were few kind words to come. Within a few minutes, Barry was attacking “some members of the city council” for wanting to eliminate his $10-million summer jobs program and turn the University of the District of Columbia into a community college.
Barry’s fiery speech aroused the packed house. Whenever he referred to “some members” of the council opposing his pet programs, loyalists in the audience shouted back: “Who are they? Give us their names!” But Hizzoner didn’t toss Kathy Patterson or Ward 6 Councilmember Harold Brazil to the crowd; this was a night for rhetorical punishment only.
Barry devoted much of the first half of his speech to demolishing straw men, much to the delight of the crowd. Besides the council, he picked on:
•The media—especially the city’s “morning newspaper”—for its “District-bashing”;
•Those who wanted to close the city’s Office of Aging (This was never an actual possibility, but Barry still takes full credit for the office remaining open.);
•Congress—for not passing the budget, not releasing the last $220 million of the federal payment, and not allowing the District to borrow;
•Former Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly—although Barry didn’t utter her name—for leaving him a $335-million deficit.
Barry’s speech borrowed liberally from politicians on the left and right. Defiantly upbeat, he rhymed like Jesse Jackson (“Education, not incarceration,” the mayor proclaimed); used gimmicks like Ronald Reagan (Hizzoner mentioned individual citizens by name); pontificated like House Speaker Newt Gingrich (Barry preached the virtues of individual responsibility); and philosophized like John Kennedy (“Ask not what your District government can do for you, or your city can do for you. Ask what you can do for your city,” the mayor said).
He also stole a page or dozens from the books of President Clinton and Fidel Castro. Barry’s speech clocked in at 70 minutes.
The first half of the State of the District set up the second half, in which Barry delivered the bitter pill. The friendly crowd swallowed it without complaint. Transformation, he said, will slice 10,000 workers from the payroll. It will force citizens to assume some of the duties of government. Washingtonians must do their part to improve the schools, keep streets and sidewalks clean, and prevent crime.
Barry, considered soft on crime by some critics, offered to get tougher. He proposed life without parole for convicted murderers, and suggested abolishing pretrial bail for those caught with handguns. The mayor implored D.C. residents to testify when they witness crimes. “We cannot wink at criminal behavior,” he said.
Hizzoner also thanked the control board for its support. That rare praise prompted a spontaneous laugh from board Vice Chairman Stephen Harlan, the only board member on stage.
“I am grateful that the control board has pledged to become a partner in this endeavor,” Barry said, citing the board’s “enthusiasm” for his transformation plan.
The mayor pointedly offered no such praise to Chief Financial Officer Williams, even though he is singularly responsible for many of the accomplishments that Barry touts as his own. Williams looked uncomfortable sitting on the stage behind Barry.
If you missed the State of the District live, don’t worry. City cable Channel 16 is sure to rebroadcast it ad nauseam during the next few weeks. Even on videotape, Barry’s smashing performance sure beats those dreary council reruns.CP