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Seven years ago, Mayor-for-Life Marion S. Barry Jr. compared himself to Jesus Christ as a way of rationalizing his tendency to hang out with drug users, night owls, exotic women, and other disreputables.
Six years ago, he portrayed himself as the charismatic national spokesman for African-Americans, whom the white establishment had conspired to bring down in an FBI drug sting and arrest.
Four years ago, he was the repentant sinner and messenger from God, who was delivered from prison to lead the disheartened people of Ward 8 to the Promised Land.
Two years ago, he proclaimed himself the equivalent of South African leader Nelson Mandela, throwing off the shackles of political persecution to rise again to power.
Last year, he was the valiant defender of the status quo, resisting efforts to slash spending and lay off government workers, and vehemently denouncing claims that the D.C. government was too large for this rapidly shrinking city.
Last month, he lead the resistance to efforts by the financial control board and Congress to reduce the size of the government, claiming it was the right size for the “Herculean” job it has to do.
Two weeks ago, he was telling the control board it couldn’t cut any further, and must begin pumping new revenues into the financially starved city.
Last week, a man who looked amazingly like Hizzoner called two press conferences to discuss his four-year plan. But he certainly didn’t sound like Marion Barry. The Barry look-alike who showed up at the press conferences proceeded to suggest that 10,000 government jobs have to be cut, city agencies and schools have to be closed, school board salaries must be slashed, and numerous government services must be turned over to private firms by the year 2000.
Could that really have been Barry saying that the government was too large and must be “rightsized” [his administration’s preferred term for downsizing]? The man presenting the plan for “A Transformed Government for the People of Washington, D.C.” certainly had Barry’s ability to take over a room, but the words coming out of his mouth rang so un-Barrylike that it seemed the body snatchers—or Georgetown re-engineering consultants—must have gotten to him and carried off his soul.
One clue that it really was Barry putting forth this plan could be found in the details of the announced governmental transformation. Observers of the fine print noticed that the University of the District of Columbia [a favorite of First Lady Cora Masters Lady MacBarry] was spared, even though the D.C. School of Law was slated for execution. Another telling clue was his request for a $650-million loan to get through the next four years of deficits. Now that sounded like the old Barry.
Overall, though, it was a performance that had jaws dropping and tongues wagging throughout the District. Few of Barry’s supporters thought they would ever hear Hizzoner utter such truths as: “The D.C. government—as measured by any reasonable expectation of the residents—comes up short and is headed in the wrong direction.” This, after all, is the same government Barry created and defended so steadfastly for so long.
And the Barry who presented this plan was not into the blame game, choosing not to heap fault on the control board, Congress, and anyone else available, as is usually his wont. “Let there be no question about the leadership for this turning point in D.C. government,” he stated at his Feb. 16 news conference. “I am the architect of this transformation—programmatically and budgetarily.”
Barry certainly looked cool, reassured, and in command, almost credible, when he talked about lifting up the hood on District finances and actually trying to fix what was wrong. In fact, just five days after declaring that he no longer wanted to be known as “the financial wizard,” a title he bestowed upon himself in the 1994 campaign, Barry last week looked ready to reclaim that moniker.
Why didn’t he do this a year ago? A per- formance of this caliber early last year, rooted in pragmatic realities, might have headed off creation of the financial control board, and spared the city another layer of bureaucracy.
But before anyone gets too excited, or concerned, about what Barry proposed last week, LL suggests waiting until next week to see which Barry shows up.
MASTERS FOR PRESIDENT
In among the wannabes and has-beens that make up the Republican field, Isabell Masters stands out. For one thing, she actually seems to have a clear agenda, and for another, she is the mother of Cora Masters Lady MacBarry, wife of prominent Democrat and frequent Republican pincushion Marion Barry. Despite being a Democrat, D.C.’s first lady has no problem with her mother’s candidacy.
“It’s my mother,” Lady MacBarry said recently. “I’ll support my mother 100 percent. Most people I know at that age are in nursing homes, or gone. I’m so proud that she’s able to get around at her age, and write papers, and think clearly, and campaign.”
How old is her mother? “She’s 83 or 84,” says Lady MacBarry. “She’s always waffling on that issue.”
Not so, says the candidate. It’s just that her birth certificate got the date wrong, as well as her name, and confusion has reigned ever since. “I really don’t know how old I am,” Masters says. She also isn’t sure exactly how many times she has run for president. It’s either three or four, depending on how you count. In 1984, she “tested the waters” by running as an independent write-in candidate. That year, she also attended the national convention for alternative candidates in New York City. But she has run under the Republican banner in the last three presidential elections. In 1988, she was an also-ran among the also-rans. In 1992, she received 339 votes from Republican primary voters, according to Federal Elections Commission records, but then backed independent presidential candidate Ross Perot.
The third bid for the Republican nod in the presidential race by the mayor’s mother-in-law has gotten off to a slow start. She missed last week’s Iowa caucuses and this week’s New Hampshire primary because she pulled a muscle in her side while reaching for a pair of shoes, and has been recuperating in Florida. But she had already decided to skip the Iowa caucuses because she has the same complaint with the Des Moines Register that her son-in-law has with the Washington Post.
“I decided that since the Des Moines Register was kind of prejudiced—they wouldn’t cover me too much—I was not going to campaign there,” Masters said in a recent phone interview from Florida. “I went down there and told them off.”
But now she’s gearing up for the March 12 Super Tuesday primaries, when she’ll be on the ballot in Oklahoma, one of two states she calls home, and also plans to campaign in Arkansas and Florida. Although a Democrat much of her life, Masters switched to the Republican Party to run for president because the Democrats were always feuding, and because “I’m an anti-abortion person.” As president, she wouldn’t even permit abortion for rape or incest. “That’s still murder,” she says.
If she falters in the primaries, perhaps Masters can become Pat Buchanan’s running mate; a white East Coast race-baiter and a black Midwestern octogenarian sounds like a powerful combination to LL.
Lady MacBarry says she and her husband never discuss abortion or politics with her mother. “We have so many other things to talk about. I would never choose abortion for myself or my children, but I believe in a woman’s right to choose. I don’t agree with her, but I don’t try to change her mind.”
“Her basic focus is lack of morality in government,” Lady MacBarry says of her mother, “and she doesn’t think much of the Democratic Party. She found the Republican Party dealt more with her principles, which are self-help and people doing for themselves.
“My mother is a very unusual woman. She raised six kids by herself, sent us all through college, then went back and got her master’s in California, and then her Ph.D. from the University of Oklahoma at age 68.”
Masters said she decided to run for president after receiving “a divine revelation to reach out and touch someone” while traveling on a Greyhound bus from D.C. to Oklahoma in 1981. How did she know this was a divine revelation and not a message from Ma Bell? “When things are revealed to you by the Holy Spirit, you can’t explain them,” she replies. “I was born with a gift, born laughing, they call it.”
This time, her campaign strategy calls for encouraging Democrats to cross over on Super Tuesday. “I’m going to buy ads to tell people who are Democrats to change over so they can vote for me. Then they can change back.”
“If I can reach one person, that satisfies my ambition,” she says.
But she’s not counting on much help from her Democratic relatives in D.C. “Everybody has their own agenda,” she says. “To tell you the truth, [Barry] probably didn’t even know I was going to run.”
When the mayor holds a news conference, the upper echelons of the D.C. government go into crisis mode, reacting as if there was an unscheduled visit from control board Chairman Andrew Brimmer, another record snowfall, or an invasion of vendors demanding to be paid. Meetings are canceled, and the mayor’s staff and cabinet are placed on standby, in case they need to rush to Hizzoner’s informational rescue, or pack the conference room in a show of solidarity.
During these full alerts, much of 1 Judiciary Square comes to a standstill. Perhaps the mayor’s “transformation” plan for a smoother-functioning government should include an end to the standstill every time the mayor deigns to speak….
The D.C. Democratic State Committee finally resolved its leadership crisis earlier this month when, after months of trying, it got a majority of members to come out and vote for the election of Bill Simons as party chairman. But questions still linger over the decision by the previous chairman, Eric Washington, to honor singer Stevie Wonder during the Democratic Party’s October 1994 annual dinner.
Wonder showed up in person to accept the honor, and entertained the crowd with an a cappella version of a work in progress. But he later stuck the state committee with a $6,000 bill for his appearance, even though his agents had said he only wanted his expenses paid. According to Democratic State Committee officials, Wonder’s agent said the bill supposedly covers the copyright fees on Wonder’s recorded songs that the state committee played during the dinner. You’d think that Washington, now a D.C. Superior Court judge, would have known his way around the copyright issue. He was a member of the Hogan & Hartson law firm at the time, which sources say handles Wonder’s legal business….
The old five-member Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Board is scheduled to go out of business and be replaced by a new seven-member board. But so far, Barry has appointed only four members to the new board. Departing members Mary Eva Candon and Jim O’Dea, the old board’s most controversial figures, want to serve until all seven new members have been nominated and confirmed by the D.C. Council. But At-Large Councilmember John Ray, sponsor of the law creating the new board, wants O’Dea and Candon to depart as soon as Barry’s latest appointments are confirmed, which would give the new board a four-member quorum. The council is slated to act on three of those appointments March 5; the fourth, Dennis Bass, was confirmed last year.
At the rate Barry makes appointments, if they manage to hang around on the ABC board until Barry finds three more appointees, Candon and O’Dea could have lifetime tenure. CP