When Marion S. Barry Jr. was Mayor-for-Life the first time around, he would host what he referred toas—only half-jokingly—“don’t come, don’t call” fundraisers: If a lobbyist or constituent didn’t attend and dig deep in his pockets for a donation, then he needn’t bother to ask the mayor for any favors later. LL found this to be a refreshing admission of the obvious link between campaign contributions and government actions.
Now, Barry—or rather, his wife, Cora Masters Lady MacBarry—is trying to make the same link between access to the mayor and cash support for Eydie Whittington, the Barrys’ choice to take over Hizzoner’s unexpired Ward 8 council term. Lady MacBarry, Whittington’s campaign chair, has let it be known that anyone who expects to do business with her husband in the future had better come to the table for Whittington now. And Barry has geared up his vaunted campaign finance machine to bring in the big bucks for Whittington before the May 2 special election.
Barry supporters—from Whitman Walker Clinic Director Jim Graham to perennial D.C. Council candidate Charles Moreland, who is still dodging collection efforts by a vendor he stiffed in his fall campaign—have been lining up to raise money for Whittington. Graham will host a fundraiser for the Ward 8 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner next week, and Moreland rounded up donors and donations for the March 29 fundraiser at the Watergate, lorded over by none other than Hizzoner.
Barry is hosting another fundraiser this weekend at his Ward 8 home—yes, the same house that Korean businessman Yong Yun had paid to remodel, before he conveniently forgot how well he knew the Barrys. This Saturday’s event seeks to rally the ward’s new voters to Whittington’s cause. An earlier event for Whittington at the Barry home drew only a handful of Ward 8 residents, according to those familiar with that fundraiser. But the streets were lined with cars bearing low tag numbers from other parts of the city. Low tag numbers are a perk handed out by the mayor; those numbers usually indicate a longtime Barry supporter or a D.C. government worker—usually a manager or higher-up, not a drone.
“We do see a lot of government workers in [Whittington’s] campaign,” said James Bunn, president of the Ward 8 Democrats and among the 21 candidates seeking Barry’s council seat. “If she had to go out on her own, there’s no way she could win this race.”
What has been surprising about the Ward 8 council race is how hard the mayor has been working—and is willing to work—to get Whittington elected. Apparently Barry wants to dispel the perception that his political popularity is not transferable to others: His candidate for Ward 8 school board last year, William Lockridge, went down in defeat, as did Barry’s endorsed choice, Charlene Drew Jarvis, in the 1993 council chair election.
When Barry held his news conference last week—the one he walked out of to avoid questions about his wife’s alleged laundering of campaign money—Whittington was among the entourage standing around him. Barry and Lady MacBarry have taken pains to make sure Whittington turns up at high-profile events—sometimes with mixed results.
At the March 30 reception for D.C. Cherry Blossom Festival Princess Sheila Bunn, James Bunn’s 23-year-old daughter, Lady MacBarry didn’t show to perform her scheduled hostess duties, but Whittington attended. And when Whittington spoke to the crowd in the lobby of 1 Judiciary Square, she reminded everyone that she was running against the princess’ father.
“Everybody thought that was pretty tacky because that was not what that was all about,” James Bunn said later. “It was not a political event at all. But these are the type of things that Marion and Cora do. They make sure that [Whittington] is at all the events.”
“To me, it shows a sign that they believe their candidate is in trouble,” he added. “That’s the impression that everybody gets in the ward.”
In another telling episode last month, the D.C. Department of Employment Services sponsored a jobs fair on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE, which attracted a huge crowd. Barry tried to credit Whittington, not the bureaucrats, for the event. And Whittington was willing to accept the credit.
Now the mayor is trying to make sure Whittington receives a share of the credit for the cleanup drive that the D.C. Department of Public Works is organizing in Ward 8 this weekend. Some of Whittington’s rivals find this instance of glory-grabbing particularly amusing, noting that Whittington hasn’t removed the mound of trash right behind her house in the 1900 block of Savannah Terrace SE.
“She’s having cleanup days all over this ward, and yet she can’t even clean up her own back yard,” observes the outspoken Don Folden, the street vendor who holds the enviable position of being number one on the ballot.
Before Barry conducted his Ward 8 town meeting at Ballou Senior High School on April 11, he was warned that if he used the occasion to tout Whittington, a sizable portion of the crowd planned to walk out in protest. Numerous supporters of Whittington’s rivals had turned out for the event, hoping that Barry wouldn’t heed the warning. But Barry, wise to the ways of politics, gave all candidates present equal billing that evening.
The most interesting aspect of that evening was the contrast between Barry and his wife. Barry was cool, calm, and collected, and looked as though he didn’t have a concern in the world, and couldn’t care less about his wife’s problems. Lady MacBarry, on the other hand, appeared nervous and couldn’t sit still, choosing instead to roam the high school auditorium. This was the evening when Lady MacBarry chose to parry media questions about her alleged laundering of a $2,000 PAC donation to her brother with the ridiculous retort: “Who does your hair?”
Reporter: “Mrs. Barry, do you have any comment about the new fireplace Yong Yun paid to have installed in your house?”
Lady MacBarry: “Who does your hair?”
Reporter: “Mrs. Barry, do you have a new fireplace?”
Lady MacBarry: “Who does your hair?”
Reporter: “Mrs. Barry, do you have a house?”
Lady MacBarry: “Who does your hair?”
She doth act like the pressure is getting to be too much.
Last week was clearly not a good one for the Whittington campaign. Campaign Chair Lady MacBarry has come under a cloud because of the money-laundering scandal. Campaign Treasurer Phinis Jones saw the dimming of his chances to head a panel overseeing construction of a new convention center after being linked publicly to Yun. And Whittington’s campaign manager, Karen Jones Herbert, who also chairs the D.C. Taxicab Commission, is accused of abusing her position and spending too much city time on campaign business.
Oh, yes. Walter Masters, Whittington’s field operations director and the brother of Lady MacBarry, has reportedly returned to Florida. Masters is a central figure in the money-laundering scandal.
At the April 13 candidate forum at the Ridgecrest Heights apartment complex, few candidates showed up to address the very few voters who turned out. When the candidates were asked to comment on Lady MacBarry’s problems and their impact on the ward, long shot Gordon White gave the most intriguing answer.
“I’d have a hard time being a woman of Mr. Barry’s,” White told the approximately 20 residents gathered in the rec center. “Mr. Barry seems to have a unique way of stepping away from the women he is associated with.”
Unable to hold back his mirth, White went on to remind the audience that Barry’s second wife and a former mistress had both been carted off to jail in prior scandals, while Barry emerged unscathed.
Lockridge was the only first-tier candidate who turned out, and he probably was sorry he did. He and Ward 8 gadfly Cardell Shelton tangled after Shelton accused Lockridge of being “one of the cuckoo birds” who OK’d the $17.6-million drug treatment center being built by Yun on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE for lease to the city. Shelton also implied that Yun paid off Lockridge.
An angry Lockridge fired back: “Mr. Shelton is pissed because he didn’t get a contract on that project.” Lockridge said he was told the new building would house the D.C. Board of Parole instead of a drug-treatment center.
Shelton, a building contractor, stole the show with quips and frontal assaults on fellow candidates. When asked about his education, Shelton replied, without missing a beat, “I got a degree in hard knocks and street smarts…and that’s what I’ll bring to the council.”
Neither Whittington nor her main rival, Sandy Allen, attended the gathering, which lasted well over three hours. They missed the longest and most chaotic of the forums to date.
In these open discussions, none of the candidates has focused on crime and safety. Apparently, raising this issue is seen as heaping more abuse on an already downtrodden ward. But according to polling by former Council Chairman Arrington Dixon and his consulting firm, crime remains the overwhelming concern of Ward 8 residents, with jobs and trash running a distant second and third. Economic development, the issue that dominates the forums, hardly registers.
Dixon’s polling also showed that 70 percent of the ward’s voters have not yet settled on a candidate. But of those few who have, Whittington is the front-runner, followed by Allen, Lockridge and, surprisingly,retired city unemployment official O.V. Johnson. At the time the poll was taken, Whittington was the only candidate who had done a wardwide mailing.
If this seat can be won solely with money, then Whittington and the Barrys appear in good shape for election day.But the big question right now is whether Whittington will appear at the final forum next Monday, April 24, at Ballou Senior High.
The forums have been Whittington’s downfall in the campaign, and the smart money is betting she won’t show.
FRANK SMITH REBUFFED
When Ward 1 Councilmember Frank Smith tried to honor one of his constituents, Marie Drissel, with a ceremonial resolution, Drissel went ballistic. The notorious government watchdog and anti-tax advocate was incensed that Smith would let his staff spend time and taxpayer money drawing up a meaningless resolution with her name on it. The D.C. Council summarily passes hundreds—and sometimes well over a thousand—of these ceremonial resolutions each year, often with the intent of currying favor with citizens and civic groups.
This time, it didn’t work.
Faced with the ferocity of Drissel’s resistance, Smith relented, and moved at the April 4 council meeting to withdraw the resolution. The action raised a few eyebrows, since no one could recall a similar retraction. But the vote was unanimous, thereby securing Drissel’s reputation as the most-hated person around city hall.
The subject of Smith came up again last week at the Ward 8 candidate forum in Ridgecrest Heights. Candidates were asked by a public-housing resident whether they considered Smith “a fool,” and what they intended to “do about that fool” if they’re elected to the council. Smith chairs the council committee that oversees public housing, and is obviously unpopular with public-housing residents.
Much to LL’s surprise, not one of the 10 candidates on hand for the April 13 forum spoke up to say Smith was not “a fool.” The characterization was unanimously accepted, like the withdrawal of the Drissel resolution. Contender Ab Jordan said that if he wins the May 2 election, he will wangle a spot on Smith’s committee so he can look out for Ward 8’s public-housing residents.
That was the kindest thing said on this subject.