Do you have a plan to vote?
Let us tell you the information you need to register and cast a ballot in D.C.
Malik Zulu Shabazz is standing on the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue and Sumner Road SE, doing what he does best: bellowing at a crowd.
“Our enemy is upset today because the black man is coming together, is that right?” Shabazz thunders into a bullhorn.
Shabazz fires his exhortation at about 50 young, black men, the participants in an all-male, anti-violence march called “Cease Fire: Don’t Smoke the Brothers.” They roar approval of Shabazz’s question. Dozens yell back. “That’s right!”
The marchers are enthralled by Shabazz, and it’s easy to see why. The Ward 8 D.C. Council candidate, Howard University law student, and full-time rabble-rouser towers above them at 6 feet 6 inches tall. He is wearing a black, quasi-military uniform. Red cloth epaulets, garnished with green crescents and stars, decorate his shoulders. In his right hand he grasps the bullhorn. In his left he brandishes a 6-foot, painted wooden staff with the head of an African prince carved on its knob.
“We are going to make this neighborhood a paradise, is that right?” Shabazz continues.
The crowd cheers again: “Absolutely, Brother Malik!”
“We are going to protect ourselves!” Shabazz raises his swagger stick aloft. The demonstrators whoop and applaud.
“We are going to protect the ‘hood!
“We are going to protect our women and children!”
“All the time, brother!” a man shouts back.
Shabazz is a protégé of the Nation of Islam’s (NOI) Louis Farrakhan, and it shows. The 28-year-old student activist postures and preaches like a graduate of some finishing school for demagogues. At the end of each sentence, he puffs his chest slightly and stares solemnly into the crowd. A sidekick-cum-bodyguard—dressed in a green bow tie, long black leather coat, and, of course, sunglasses—stands at attention by his side. The sidekick, a kind of black nationalist Tonto, remains impassive, except to bark responses to Shabazz’s diatribe.
“The Contract on America is the contract on black America!” Shabazz announces. He points the staff, its gold-green crown glistening in the sun, across the Anacostia River toward the distant dome of the Capitol.
“They are going to punish Washington, D.C.,” he declares. “They are punishing black men. They are trying to increase crime and violence here so that they can either put us in prison or, some believe,”—here Shabazz pauses, and gazes icily at the demonstrators—“eventually put us all in concentration camps.”
The demonstrators holler. Tonto shouts, “Tell it, Shabazz!” The candidate lowers his staff and hands off the bullhorn. The march starts again, winding its way up Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue into the heart of Ward 8, Malik Shabazz’s promised land.
It is here, in the poorest and most troubled community of the city, that Shabazz is trying to launch a political career as D.C. councilmember. In 1992, Marion Barry resurrected himself in Ward 8, storming back from prison to rout incumbent Councilmember Wilhelmina Rolark. Barry has since abandoned the Wilson/District Building (and the ward) for the mayor’s office, and on May 2, Ward 8’s voters go to the polls to elect his replacement. The impending federal financial control board promises to all-but-annihilate the new councilmember’s powers, and the victor will serve only the 18 months remaining in Barry’s term. Even so, an astonishing 21 candidates are running for the post.
And Shabazz, an independent, is the strangest and most controversial of them all. The self-styled “warrior for the liberation of black people” earned a nationwide reputation by leading an anti-Semitic chant during a 1994 Howard rally. Now he’s making the leap from hate speech to stump speeches. Espousing a potent philosophy of black self-help and resistance to white hegemony, Shabazz is attempting to recruit voters—especially young, black voters—into his revolutionary crusade.
“I believe there has never been a candidate like me,” he says, “and if I win this election, there will never be a councilman like me.”
You can say that again.
Most elected officials at least pretend to care about politics and their future constituents before they run. Not Shabazz. He has never voted in D.C.—even though he’s lived here for more than a decade. He didn’t even register to vote until March 1994. In addition, Shabazz only bothered to move to Ward 8 nine months ago, and admits that the only reason he did was to run for the council seat.
Other politicians lobby and negotiate, but Shabazz looks forward to putting the “bully” back in the “bully pulpit.” Besides harboring a fondness for martial regalia, Shabazz advocates “going to war with Congress” to block the control board, proposes to “intimidat[e]” city and federal officials into cleaning up the ward, and has made a boycott of Asian-owned businesses the centerpiece of his campaign. He also warns fellow pols that “if a leader intentionally “sells out’ the aims of the people, that leader should pay with his or her life.”
Even so, the angry young man is a serious—you might say deadly serious—candidate. He has blanketed the ward with “Malik Shabazz: No Sellout!” posters, built an impressive campaign organization, and launched a house-to-house drive to enlist votes. Some longtime ward residents believe—and many fear—that Shabazz may eke out a victory next month.
“Can you imagine if he won? Can you imagine?” asks Philip Pannell, executive director of the Anacostia Coordinating Council (ACC) and former president of the Ward 8 Democrats. Pannell breaks into horrified laughter. “I’m sure that Councilmember Shabazz would work just fabulously with Newt Gingrich.”
If there is any place in Washington where Shabazz could win an election, it’s Ward 8, D.C.’s “last frontier.” Many ward residents, especially many of the nearly 95 percent who are black, are frightened, alienated, and angry. Shabazz’s message of black empowerment and rebellion seems tailor-made to galvanize them.
Until a generation ago, whites dominated this southern tip of the city. They built brick houses in Fort Stanton and Congress Heights and opened their windows onto spectacular panoramas of downtown. But between the ’40s and ’60s, urban renewal—more commonly known as “Negro removal”—drove out the inhabitants of old Southwest and Georgetown. Thousands of blacks, many of them poor, migrated across the Anacostia River into Ward 8.
By the mid-’80s, the neglected ward had become a model of urban blight. Almost all of its middle-class whites and many of its middle-class blacks fled, usually heading east into Prince George’s County, now referred to as D.C.’s “Ward 9.” The city scattered public-housing projects throughout the community, then allowed them to fall into disrepair. The shopping strips on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue and South Capitol Street deteriorated. Winos took up residence outside liquor stores. Drug dealers brazenly plied their trade on street corners. Politicians downtown, even the beloved Barry, ignored the area’s decline and focused their attention on neighborhoods with more votes and more money. The local economy, such as it is, reached the verge of collapse. Though blacks comprise the vast majority of the population, they run only a handful of the shops that do exist. The ward possesses no movie theaters and a single, small supermarket.
Barry’s 1992 return sparked a hope that the ward could finally shake off its 30-year depression. The fallen mayor inspired thousands of apathetic voters with his rhetoric of redemption, his promise to raise up “the last, the lost, and the least.” Barry told them that they too could overcome poverty and recover from addiction. The prodigal son vowed to bring jobs, economic development, and loving attention to the forgotten ward. Together, Barry promised, he and his people would build a “Ward 8: Second to None.”
He was elected. The glorious rhetoric subsided. He quit the council and ascended to the mayoralty. And still the ward suffers as it did before. Eight continues to rank rock-bottom in any measurement of economic and social well-being. Though plenty of middle- and working-class families remain, the ward claims the highest percentage of poor residents, highest percentage of residents in public housing, highest unemployment rate, and lowest percentage of intact families in the city. Crime terrorizes its residents: Senior citizens and schoolchildren dare not walk its streets at night. AIDS and drug addiction have devastated it; federal welfare reform and looming city budget cuts promise to crush it even more. Entitlement reductions will punish the thousands who rely on public benefits, while D.C. government layoffs will send hundreds of others to the unemployment line.
And in a community where only 13 percent of homes are owner-occupied (the city average is 35 percent), residents are haunted by the specter of gentrification. The ward has earned its nickname. Decrepit or boarded-up housing projects occupy hundreds of juicy acres in the last frontier. Countless other parcels offering glorious views and easy access to I-295 also sit empty. Many residents, uprooted once to make way for the new Southwest, are scared that speculators will swoop in from across the river, grab the undervalued land near the Anacostia Metro Station and in the hills, build snazzy town houses and upscale stores, and exile current inhabitants to the ‘burbs.
“All of us fear gentrification,” says Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Mary Cuthbert. “We’ve seen the city change in Georgetown and Southwest….We don’t want them to move us out into Ward 9.”
Shabazz’s opponents seem woefully ill-equipped to mobilize these anxious voters. The other 20 candidates—each less qualified than the next—are scrapping for the job with all the grace and intelligence of pigeons squabbling over a stale hunk of bread. (But the council post is quite a hunk of bread: It pays more than $70,000 per year.)
“It is all pretty sad,” says the ACC’s Pannell of the mediocre field. “People feel Ward 8 is open territory for political opportunists. Many of them don’t have any experience or background or knowledge about the ward. It’s really quite insulting.”
Several candidates have followed Shabazz’s example and moved into the ward to run. At least two more, Michael Sanders and Greg McCartan, have done Shabazz one better. They don’t live in the ward at all. (Sanders purportedly has a home in Eight, but letters mailed to it have bounced back, stamped “Return to Sender.”)
Others are running on their experience—at losing elections. Absalom Jordan—fondly dubbed “the Harold Stassen of Southeast”—has already whiffed twice in previous Ward 8 council elections. Barring a May 2 miracle, he’s going to strike out. JePhunneh Lawrence, Chuck Dixon, Richard Miller, and W. Cardell Shelton all got trounced in the 1992 council race. Don Folden competed in the 1994 Democratic mayoral primary and garnered 189 votes, a mere 21 of them in Ward 8. But he, too, has thrown his battered fedora into the ring.
(It’s pretty easy to figure out why these guys lost before. Shelton is wooing voters with catchy, crowd-pleasing statements like: “We have a community of functional idiots.” Miller campaigned in 1992 to establish a school for self-esteem, but he’s simplifying the message on this go-around: “It’s Miller time.” And Folden insists he’s going to win, not because of his platform—he doesn’t have one—but because his is the first name listed on the ballot. “People aren’t going to read all the way down,” he proclaims with a grin.)
Even the better-known, better-qualified contenders—notably Sandy Allen, William Lockridge, Eydie Whittington, and Lafayette Barnes—have scarcely dazzled voters. These front-runners trade platitudes: At one recent forum, three different candidates bravely stated that “I believe the children are our future.” They propose ideas that are either painfully banal (all favor more economic development—does anyone favor less?); utterly hopeless (most oppose any city budget cuts, and claim they’ll garner more money for AIDS, education, and bus service); or simply bizarre (Whittington’s big scheme for closing the $722-million budget gap? Forcing all rental cars driven in D.C. to pay District registration fees).
It’s no wonder ward residents show the same enthusiasm for election day that they would for a root canal. According to a recent poll by former Council Chairman and Ward 8 businessman Arrington Dixon, three-quarters of voters surveyed have not settled on a candidate. Three years ago, Barry triumphed with more than 14,000 votes. Ward leaders estimate glumly that this year’s winner will collect only 2,000 votes, or even fewer.
Malik Shabazz, revolutionary, is playing the part of Malik Shabazz, politician. For the moment, he’s giving a pretty decent performance.
Shabazz perches on a too-small metal chair in the too-small back room of his Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue campaign office. He sits ramrod-straight. His hands are jammed between his knees and he is nervously twisting a huge ring, decorated with a glittering star-and-crescent, around his pinkie. Seated in the tiny chair in the tiny room, Shabazz looks somewhat like an overgrown schoolboy—an impression magnified by the large zit erupting beneath his right nostril.
The candidate left his black Unity Nation outfit in the closet today. He has opted for a more traditional political uniform, a double-breasted gray suit and a black-and-white tie. A small Shabazz pin is affixed to his lapel. Like Barry, who has undergone more wardrobe changes than Princess Di, Shabazz skillfully alternates pin stripes and kente cloth to match his audience.
(As usual, the sidekick is prowling in the background. Tonto is toting a huge stack of “No Sellout!” posters into the next room. He’s clad much less formally. He wears a bright, yellow jacket decorated with pictures of Malcolm X, black pants with a huge “X” monogram, and the ubiquitous sunglasses.)
Shabazz’s cramped office looks like any campaign headquarters. Shabazz looks like any aspiring politician. And he even tries to sound like all the other guys.
“I believe that God has blessed me and guided me to be an instrument, a part of the liberation of black people,” Shabazz begins, leaning forward in his chair. The room is warm and stuffy. Droplets of sweat bead on his light mustache.
“My history as a black activist and a nationalist and my refusal to waver from these principles has given me, I believe, the character to enter politics,” he continues.
Shabazz outlines his program like a seasoned politician. There’s no faux-liberalism in these ideas—he’s a fervent, unapologetic believer in black nationalism—but he offers a careful, calm, and intelligent presentation. The ward, he asserts, is in trouble. It desperately needs black-owned businesses. As councilmember, Shabazz says, he would encourage black churches to pool their resources and open “laundromats, theaters, and carryouts.” Such stores will revive the economy, employ locals, and keep money circulating within the community.
Yes, he says, he does favor a nonblack-businesses boycott, but not because he’s anti-Asian. He simply wants black people—oppressed for so long—to pull themselves out of poverty, to build their own strong community. His buy-black scheme, Shabazz asserts, is the same as the insular business practice of Jewish and Chinese Americans.
Shabazz’s other ideas are controversial, but hardly inflammatory. He endorses an Afrocentric school curriculum. If he can’t legislate that, he promises to “bring scholars and historians from across the nation here into Ward 8 to teach black youth about themselves.” The ‘hood should protect itself, he says, by relying more on home-grown security forces, such as the NOI’s patrols. He opposes all city budget cuts, and indicts the control board as the “Contract on America boys’ ” attempt to punish black people. He supports prayer in school. The aspiring buppie—he wants to practice international business law after he graduates this spring—also rails against gentrification, damning it as a plot to take back the ward for whites. And Shabazz preaches the need for new blood on the council, beseeching the ward to “give the young man a chance.”
Shabazz markets himself as the candidate of Malcolm X, as well as the candidate of Generation X. He is a kind of black nationalist dittohead, claiming to embody the best elements of the great African-American leaders. Elect Brother Malik, he hints, and you elect Marcus and Malcolm, Marion and Stokely, Huey and the Honorable Minister Louis.
Marcus Garvey paraded through Harlem in a spectacular Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) livery; Shabazz marches through D.C. in his Unity Nation ensemble. Malcolm X said “by any means necessary”; Shabazz repeats the phrase like a mantra. Malcolm called himself El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz. The man born Paris Lewis calls himself Malik Shabazz.
Stokely Carmichael and Charles Hamilton explained the tenets of black power, writing (in Black Power) that: “Before a group can enter the open society, it must first close ranks.” A generation later, Shabazz sounds like their echo: “It’s a philosophy of self first, then others.”
Shabazz links himself to Marion Barry, his former political mentor. Despite last year’s brushoff by Barry (more on that later), Shabazz runs a photo of the mayor in his campaign flier and brags that he is “closer to the energy and spirit of Marion Barry” than any other candidate. He has also borrowed liberally from Hizzoner’s political playbook, adopting Barry’s door-to-door, poster-on-every-signpost, motorcade-every-Saturday, 24-7 campaign style.
Most of all, Shabazz presents himself as Louis Farrakhan’s golden boy. Shabazz does not belong to the Nation of Islam. He claims that it’s easier for him to work for the NOI’s “ultimate objective”—whatever that is—outside the organization. But he says he’s met Farrakhan several times, “received advice and counsel from him,” and studied him constantly on videotape. Shabazz also travels with former NOI national spokesman Khallid Abdul Muhammad. And he worked for 18 months as an assistant to local NOI power Dr. Abdul Alim Muhammad, touting the doctor’s alleged AIDS cure Chemron, a treatment that is dismissed as quackery by most of the medical establishment. The young revolutionary often sports the Farrakhan-issue bow tie, and he’s lifted much of his nationalist ideology from the NOI chief. Farrakhan, Shabazz says proudly, “has given me his blessings and approvals for the activities I am doing in the community.”
Neither Farrakhan nor Abdul Alim Muhammad returned telephone calls inquiring about Shabazz.
Candidate Shabazz has not only proven his skill at imitating more successful leaders. But he has also mastered the most essential political quality of all—shamelessness.
Shabazz is pushing the Asian-owned-business boycott as the main plank of his platform. But guess what? He rents campaign offices in a building owned by Fourteen Twenty Six Inc. According to D.C. government corporation records, Fourteen Twenty Six Inc.’s proprietors are Siu Ping Cheung, Ching Chan, and Siu Ling Cheung.
Shabazz’s political role model Barry has been up for election seven times since Shabazz came to Washington—in 1986 (twice), 1990, 1992 (twice), and 1994 (twice). But the would-be councilmember has not bothered to cast a ballot for Barry even once. Some might call that inexcusable. Shabazz doesn’t. “I have always been against politics. I never saw a political leader that would stand for our people,” he says. With a remarkable bit of spin, he adds, “I could have voted [for Barry in 1994], but I was so busy helping him and getting people out to vote…that I just never made it to the polls.”
And some might say that moving into Ward 8 in order to run for council is carpetbagging. Shabazz wouldn’t.
“I am an activist,” he states solemnly, as if he were announcing his own divinity. “I go wherever the struggle takes me.”
Underneath candidate Shabazz lurks the real Shabazz—the bomb thrower. Shabazz compares himself to Barry, uses Barry’s campaign tricks, and is running for Barry’s former seat, but, let me assure you, Malik Shabazz is no Marion Barry. Barry is loose, warm, and down-to-earth. Shabazz is stern and messianic. Barry understands that politics is a game of alliances, conciliation, and arm-twisting. It’s impossible to imagine Shabazz allying with or conciliating anyone.
For Shabazz, politics is war by other means.
During an interview, Shabazz ridicules the idea that he promotes violence. But then he proposes “a war to save our youth,” a “fight” to win public services, “a war against our oppressors on Capitol Hill,” a “struggle to elevate housing…by whatever means necessary.” He wants to “break the colonial shackles,” and “overthrow one world and bring in a new one.” And Shabazz distributes a flier depicting a malevolent Korean merchant glowering at a black customer. It is as racist as a World War II anti-Japanese propaganda poster.
Shabazz also loves whipping crowds into a froth over alleged—and possibly invented—conspiracies. He asserts that Neiman-Marcus is buying up the troubled neighborhood of Barry Farms, plans to drive out its poor black residents, and erect a luxury department store. (When pressed for evidence of this takeover, he says, “I have asked my source to provide me with documentation. I am still waiting for it.”) He tells audiences that D.C. power brokers are fomenting chaos and crime so they can depress Ward 8 property values, purchase land, and build upscale housing for whites. He believes that the AIDS virus was created by the U.S. government to “destroy the darker peoples of the earth.” (He does produce “evidence” for this plot: In 1969, a U.S. general told a Senate subcommittee that America should develop biological weapons targeting the immune system.)
This powerful combination of policy and conspiracy is winning Shabazz admirers, at least among the ward’s youth. A posse of young men and women root for him at candidate forums. Others listen intently as Shabazz does his Mussolini act, sermonizing at passers-by from his headquarters’ balcony. He claims that “more than 200” ward residents have signed on as campaign volunteers. And about 700 people attended his mass meeting last month, “The Conspiracy to Destroy the Black Community in Washington, D.C.”
“We’ve been denied everything by everyone, so why shouldn’t we try to do something for ourselves?” asks a young man at a Shabazz rally. “Brothers like Malik are speaking out against the injustice done to us….He’s the only one of the candidates who will support the people.”
Most politicians build careers on years of diligent activism, public service, and hard work in the community they want to represent. Malik Shabazz has done some of that, but that’s not why he’s a contender. If Shabazz wins next month, he will owe his victory to a February 23, 1994, speech at Howard University.
Shabazz and Howard go back a long way. Paris Lewis, who was raised in Los Angeles, enrolled there as an undergraduate 11 years ago. College radicalized Lewis immediately. He was fascinated by the writings of Marcus Garvey and Malcolm X, and entranced by the teachings of the NOI’s Farrakhan and Elijah Muhammad. (Shabazz/Lewis was following a family tradition: His grandfather, a real estate developer, had been an NOI follower since the ’50s.) Lewis changed his name to Malik Zulu Shabazz. In 1988, he founded a student group, now called Unity Nation, to promote Farrakhan’s teachings and black nationalism. Shabazz graduated from Howard in 1989, re-enrolling as a law student in 1990.
Unity Nation’s membership numbers about 100 students (according to Shabazz) or 10-20 (according to newspaper reports), but either way, the group and its leader became a force in Howard life. When Republican strategist Lee Atwater was appointed to the university board in early 1989, Shabazz led the protest, orchestrating a four-day takeover of the administration building. And during the late ’80s and early ’90s, Unity Nation invited Farrakhan and Khallid Abdul Muhammad to speak at several campus events.
Then, last winter, Shabazz leapt at the opportunity to thrust Unity Nation and himself into the national spotlight. In December 1993, Khallid Muhammad made an anti-Semitic, anti-gay, and anti-Catholic speech at New Jersey’s Kean College. Muhammad, among other things, called the Pope a “cracker” and said Jews were “sucking [blacks’] blood.” The speech provoked a tidal wave of condemnation, and in early February, Farrakhan responded to the pressure by stripping Muhammad of his title. If nothing else, Shabazz has a nose for controversy, and before you could say “film at 11!,” he invited the demoted spokesman to Howard. On Feb. 23, a crowd of more than 1,000 people, most of them students, overflowed the university’s Blackburn Center to watch Muhammad’s fireworks.
Muhammad gave—for him—an unremarkable performance. He shot a few rockets at the media, but mostly avoided the subjects that had gotten him in trouble.
Shabazz avoided nothing, and stole the show with a blistering introduction.
According to media accounts, Shabazz told the crowd: “I don’t care what the FBI thinks about it, what the ADL [Anti-Defamation League] says about it, or what any other cracker thinks about it, or any other handkerchief-head Negro thinks about it. I am with Khallid Muhammad. What about you?”
Then the law student—clearly practiced at the Socratic method—segued into his favorite technique: the call-and-response. “Who caught and killed Nat Turner?” he asked the audience.
Some spectators shouted back, “Jews.”
Shabazz threw out a second question: “Who was it that controls the Federal Reserve? Who?”
The quiz continued. Shabazz asked: “Who controls the media and Hollywood?”; “Who has our entertainers, our athletes, in a vise grip?”; “Who is spying on black leaders and Martin Luther King and set up his death?” Each time, the audience shouted back, “Jews.”
Until he warmed up the crowd that evening, Shabazz was a complete unknown outside the Howard campus. The anonymity didn’t last. As news of the rally spread, denunciation after denunciation rained down on him. Howard President Franklyn Jenifer, without mentioning Shabazz by name, deplored the vilification of Jews as “hateful, hurtful, and insensitive.” The chairmen of the Afro-American studies and history departments criticized “the bigoted statements which have no place in a college community” and condemned “self-appointed racial “messiahs.’ ”
Newspaper columnists wrote much more fiercely. In the Washington Times, Eric Breindel compared Shabazz to Nazi propagandist Julius Streicher. Shabazz also found himself pilloried by the Washington Post‘s Richard Cohen, who described the event as a “mini-Nuremberg rally” and called Shabazz “a man we can only hope was born too late for his real calling: a pogrom.”
Shabazz claims that everything he stated—with the possible exception of the claim that Jews killed Nat Turner—is true, and that what he said was solely for “the defense and uplifting of the black nation.”
“My motivation for such comments were because I love Louis Farrakhan and I love Dr. Khallid Muhammad, and I believe that attacks on those two men were part of an attack on a larger community,” he says. “It was members of the Jewish community and major Jewish organizations that were attacking Farrakhan and Khallid Muhammad….[Jewish organizations] conspired to break up the unity of the black community.”
Shabazz offers a slight conciliation: “I would like to say to the Jewish community that I do not hate Jews….I am not a hater,” he says, noting in a remarkably unfortunate choice of phrase that “I am much bigger than this Jewish question.”
Shabazz reveled in the attacks. “All of the nationalist leaders, from Marcus Garvey to Elijah Muhammad to Malcolm X to Huey Newton, have never received good press or fair treatment in the media,” Shabazz says. He adds, with typical bombast, “I have never wavered. I have never capitulated.”
Shabazz not only didn’t capitulate, he stretched his 15 minutes of infamy into 15 months. He all but declared his own martyrdom. He says, almost boastfully, that he received death threats and expulsion warnings. (Howard spokesman Alan Hermesch says he does not know of any university warning issued to Shabazz.)
He kept pouring gasoline on the fire he’d ignited. Shabazz challenged Cohen to a debate. “He called and said, “I am calling you out, Richard Cohen.’ It was like High Noon,” the columnist says. Cohen refused the invitation—“There was nothing to debate,” he says. Now Shabazz gleefully tars Cohen as a “coward.”
Shabazz grandstanded for every media outlet he could find. In March 1994, CBS’s Eye to Eye With Connie Chung interviewed him. Shabazz denied being an anti-Semite, but happily repeated his allegations about Jewish hegemony for the network’s cameras. In April, Shabazz fanned the flames in a Washington Post profile. During that article, Shabazz told Jews to “stop pushing your Holocaust down my throat when the Black Holocaust is the worst holocaust humanity has ever seen.”
He invited Khallid Muhammad back to campus twice, in April and September 1994. The April rally—dubbed “Hate Night” by Cohen—won Shabazz yet more bad press. He warned the audience, “Brothers, don’t ever let us catch you out there with a white woman,” a comment that provoked ascathing indictment by the Post‘s editorial page.
The aspiring demagogue even injected himself into the 1994 mayoral campaign. He served as Barry’s bodyguard during the 1992 council race and relentlessly organized for him in 1994. When the mayor-for-life won the September primary, Shabazz stood behind him on the dais during the victory speech.
But Shabazz’s presence backfired on the nominee. Cohen spotted Shabazz, and a couple of days later published a column titled “Barry: Keeping Bad Company.” The Postie wrote that “Marion Barry is back—and so are some very bad people.” Barry quickly distanced himself from the young firebrand, saying, “There is a young man hanging on to my camp, Malik Shabazz, I’ve been trying to get out of the way for a long time.”
Barry’s rebuff didn’t bother Shabazz at all. In fact, it vindicated his belief that the white establishment bullies black politicians to do its bidding. The mayor’s snub, he proclaims, was a purely political gesture to “ease the fears of white and Jewish voters.” Shabazz says that he and Barry remain friends. The mayor did not respond to an inquiry about Shabazz.
Now Shabazz has taken the next natural step for a publicity-hungry revolutionary. Shabazz began circulating “Draft Shabazz for Ward 8” leaflets at Barry’s November victory celebration. He’s since formed a campaign committee, collected 1,400 signatures on his ballot-qualifying petitions, and poured more than $5,000 of his own money—mostly funds raised at Unity Nation rallies, he says—into the campaign.
But the ward’s middle-aged homeowners, parents, and senior citizens—the folks who will cast most of the May 2 ballots—wish Shabazz would spend that money somewhere else. The ward’s regular voters want to elect a councilmember, not a demagogue.
“All he talks about is war. War, war, war,” says longtime Ward 8 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Robert Yeldell. “You are going to have young people that appeals to, but the rest of the ward doesn’t go for it.”
According to Shabazz’s March 10 finance report (the most recent), for example, he has collected a grand total of $100 in campaign donations, not a penny of which came from Ward 8 residents. He touts his connections to the Muslim community, yet Imam Ghayth Nur Kashif of the Masjidush-Shura, the mosque next door to his headquarters, denounces Shabazz’s “inflammatory language.” Rahim Jenkins, another council candidate and a Muslim, also condemns Shabazz’s religious claims: “He presents himself as a Muslim, but bigotry and hatred and racism are not Islam,” Jenkins says.
Other candidates rebuke Shabazz even more vehemently. At a forum last week, Don Folden censured the “candidate who is trying to incite a riot among our young people by talking about the enemy.”
And in Players Lounge, Ward 8’s political watering hole, longtime residents and organizers scornfully dissect Shabazz’s campaign. They slam him as a carpetbagger, mock his regalia, ridicule his boycott, and, most of all, dismiss him as a young hothead.
“He showed up at my forum,” says ward activist Sandra Seegars. “He had his staff in his hand and said, essentially, “I’m not coming to your forum. I have work to do that is important, among the people.’ ”
“He acted like he was Moses,” Seegars adds, laughing.
“Does he really think that Ballou High School students will stop going to the [Korean-owned] carryouts to buy their mambo chicken?” chimes in Pannell. “He’s kidding himself. Where else are they going to go?”
“What Shabazz does not seem to understand,” sighs Evans Moore, director of the Frederick Douglass Community Center, “is that we played that same revolutionary game 30 years ago….His campaign is all very childish.”
It’s March 28. Almost 150 Ward 8 residents, most of them middle-aged, have packed the basement of Bethlehem Baptist Church for a candidate forum, and at the beginning of the evening, it looks like Shabazz is going to dazzle them all.
David Rusk, an urban development expert, opens the forum with a short presentation detailing Eight’s economic crisis. Rusk, who is white, warns that the ward will recover only if some of its poor move out to prosperous suburbs and middle-class people move in. A few audience members start to jeer Rusk. Shabazz grins sarcastically and raises his hands, palms outward, to silence them. The gesture is pure Shabazz, theatrical and grandiose. It says, “Don’t worry about this clown Rusk. I’ll take care of him.”
And as soon as his turn comes, Shabazz strikes. He shoves his chair back from the table, stands up, grabs one of his campaign posters, and rips it in half. The crowd watches, mesmerized. Shabazz shouts: “I am not here as a candidate. I am at war with David Rusk and those who think like him!”
The audience explodes into cheers. Shabazz’s sidekick, who is holding a “No Sellout!” poster at the back of the hall, yells, “Tell it, brother.”
But this is a forum, not a march, and these voters expect to hear more than slogans. Shabazz, having grabbed everyone’s attention, quickly boots it away. When the applause from his opening salvo dies down, he continues. “I mean to tell you, excuse my language, but this plan and these statistics are bullshit.”
Shabazz’s flunky and the youngest spectators again hoot their approval, but the older men and women—the community’s churchgoers—shake their heads and mutter at the profanity.
“You don’t come into a church and trash it like that,” protests Pannell later.
Shabazz never recovers. His opponents listen intently to their fellow candidates, applaud smart comments, and smile at the audience. Shabazz, all scowls as usual, frowns when other candidates speak, taps his feet impatiently, and applauds nothing—not even to thank the moderator at the end of the debate. He especially annoys the audience with his squirmy behavior. He constantly shrugs his shoulders, yanks at his lapels, and fiddles with the inside button of his double-breasted jacket. “Can’t he find himself a suit that fits?” grumbles one woman.
And Shabazz fields questions clumsily. When a woman asks him about whether he lives in the ward, he seems briefly stumped. When he’s queried about what he has done for children, he brags, irrelevantly, that he is “one of the most successful student activists in the nation.”
Near the forum’s end, Shabazz makes his final pitch for support. He describes the heart of his campaign, the boycott. “Koreans are making millions of dollars in this community,” he says. “We have to stop shopping with the Koreans until we can buy these businesses back ourselves.”
Shabazz takes his seat and stares into the audience. Tonto bellows out the required exclamation: “Speak hard, Shabazz!” A few other twentysomethings, most of them toting Shabazz posters, cheer the candidate. The others in the crowd—the regular voters of Ward 8—sit in silence.
Art accompanying story in the printed newspaper is not available in this archive: Guion Wyler.