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What has been remarkableabout the half-dozen cattle-call candidate forums held in the overcrowded Ward 8 council race is not the performance of any of the 21 contenders. Instead, LL has been struck by the near-total lack of praise for Mayor-for-Life Marion S. Barry Jr., hero of the downtrodden ward only a short time ago.
Nowadays, Ward 8 voters view Barry as a once-popular relative who has worn out his welcome. It’s not that he came and stayed too long, but that he didn’t stay long enough—and that he took the silverware and the TV when he left.
Just two years ago, fresh-out-of-prison Barry became a conquering hero to Ward 8, declaring himself the politician who would finally give the city’s poorest section the attention, respect, and “fair share” it deserved. His 1992 council race inspired an outpouring of new and young voters, and prompted a surge of energy and enthusiasm from citizens overwhelmed by crime, trash, run-down public housing, and poor city services. But after dramatically beating longtime incumbent Wilhelmina Rolark, Barry immediately used his council seat as a stepping stone back to the mayor’s office. He vacated the seat in midterm in January, leaving most of his 1992 promises unfulfilled.
None of the Ward 8 candidates this election seeks to don the Barry mantle as each aspires to serve the remainder of his term. His short occupation of the council seat left no legacy for successors to exploit or continue.
Even political newcomer Eydie Whittington, winner of the coveted Barry endorsement, avoids invoking his name these days. Barry’s all-out effort to get Whittington elected next Tuesday, May 2, has backfired among many voters. They decry the endorsement as Barry’s effort “to cram her down our throats” so that he can have a “puppet” on the council who, they fear, will look out for her political mentor better than she will look out for the ward. Whittington’s public appearances in the closing days of the campaign have been met with increasing hostility, boos, and catcalls.
While Barry isn’t mentioned by name at public forums, the rhetoric always acknowledges his tenure on the council. Nearly all of the 21 contenders speak of “failed elected leaders,” “broken promises,” and the need to elect a “home-grown” councilmember instead of a “carpetbagger.”
Other than Whittington, only rabble-rouser Malik Shabazz has included a photo and reference to Barry in his campaign literature. And Shabazz seems to mention Hizzoner more out of spite than political respect, since for the last six months, Barry has tried to shake any associations with the unrelenting Jew- and Korean-basher. The last big push by the Shabazz campaign will come this Thursday evening, April 27, when the candidate co-hosts a “black unity rally” with “the awesome” Dr. Khallid Abdul Muhammad at Ballou High School. Muhammad was removed from the Nation of Islam leadership last year after making anti-Semitic remarks.
Shabazz boasted at a forum this past Monday that his election would bring an avalanche of media attention to Ward 8—much more than any of his rivals can command.
He’s probably right. But Ward 8 voters seem not to want that kind of attention.
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Though Barry’s popularity in Ward 8 is waning, his clout remains substantial as he tries to hold together the political machinery that gained him big margins in the 1992 council race and last year’s mayoral contest. The Barry network has given neophyte Whittington tremendous advantages in organization and money. It should also help on election day, when getting out the vote in the expected low-turnout election will be key.
Barry and Cora Masters Lady MacBarry, Whittington’s campaign chair, are keeping a low profile in the closing days of the campaign. On election day, they won’t even be in town—or, for that matter, in the country. The Barrys head off to West Africa this weekend for a weeklong summit of African and African-American leaders. The trip evokes memories of 1979, Barry’s first year in the mayor’s office, when he and much of his administration embarked on an extended “roots” tour of Africa at taxpayer expense. Mayoral spokesperson Raymone Bain says no tax money will be spent on next week’s outing.
Although leaving town, the Barrys have not slackened their efforts to elect Whittington. Last weekend, after briefly stopping at the Anacostia River cleanup effort, Barry spent much of Earth Day in Ward 8, spearheading a wardwide cleanup drive that was meant to boost Whittington’s chances. The drive was organized by the Department of Public Works, but the Barrys and the Whittington campaign have tried to associate the candidate with the project. Some city workers and police officers resented what they viewed as pressure from City Administrator Michael Rogers and Police Chief Fred Thomas to participate in the cleanup.
Saturday afternoon, the Barrys hosted a reception for the ward’s new voters to meet Whittington. For the occasion, Barry donned a black cowboy outfit with white tassels, a brown felt hat, and brown boots. He looked like the Marlboro Man come to Ward 8, and Lady MacBarry looked equally stunning in a matching ensemble. They performed a mean Electric Slide to the delight of the crowd of 75 or so mingling on their front lawn.
The event was billed as “the roundup” of voters for Whittington. “That sounds like something that really should be sponsored by the U.S. Attorney’s office,” quipped a Ward 8 resident—apparently not a Whittington supporter.
Among those spotted at the event was former Deputy Mayor for Finance Alphonse Hill, indicted during Barry’s second term for accepting kickbacks on government contracts. Also present were employees of the Charles Scott Organization, an insurance sales firm that put hundreds of workers on the street for Barry in last year’s mayoral race.
Barry appears to be pulling out all the stops for Whittington because he, more than any of the 21 candidates, has much to lose on Tuesday.
BARNES IN WARD 8
When Lafayette Barnes entered the Ward 8 council race earlier this year, his main credential was that he was the son-in-law of former Councilmember Wilhelmina Rolark and the late Calvin Rolark, newspaper publisher and founder of the United Black Fund. But Barnes has emerged as a candidate in his own right in this short campaign to fill Barry’s unexpired term.
The 46-year-old Barnes has demonstrated an impressive grasp of the issues and complexities of Ward 8—a grasp that many of his rivals seem to lack. For the most part, he has shunned the usual Ward-8-is-the-greatest rhetoric at candidate forums to offer specific, thoughtful answers and positions. Even when peppered with hostile questions, as he was at last month’s forum hosted by gay and lesbian political organizations, Barnes has offered detailed responses that reveal awareness and understanding, and seem to win over his audience.
He has been one of the few candidates to focus on crime and public safety, and he has placed just as much emphasis on the plight of children and senior citizens. (Ward 8 is home to 38 percent of the city’s children.) He proposes strengthening community-based organizations and forming public/private partnerships to fill the gaps created by budget cuts and reductions in services.
Barnes sticks to his positions. At the Monday-night forum at Ballou High School, he adamantly defended the city’s tough gun-control law in the face of enthusiasm by the nearly 200 audience members for loosening the law and allowing D.C. residents to keep handguns in their homes.
A bit dull at the beginning of the campaign, Barnes has shown improvement in that area, too—enough to win him endorsement of the Greater Washington Board of Trade. He works as director of external relations at the University of Maryland’s School of Public Affairs, and previously worked for the Congressional Research Service. He currently serves as chairman of the local chapter of Concerned Black Men.
Although Barnes’ ties to the previous councilmember—who overstayed her usefulness—may trouble Ward 8 voters, his wife, Denise Rolark, is considered the jewel of the Rolark family.
Contender Sandy Allen carried the best résumé and most impressive credentials into the race. But her ample experience in Ward 8 affairs and as a D.C. Council staffer has not shone through. On the campaign trail, she has been surprisingly unimpressive and unimaginative. Yet she may have assembled the best campaign organization of all, and organizational skills certainly are an asset for public office.
Of these two contenders, however, Barnes offers the better choice.
The Washington Business PAC, you’ll remember, is the supposedly independent political action committee that got hit with stiff fines for not being truly independent of Barry’s 1994 mayoral campaign. The PAC has again occupied the hot seat since the Barrys’ former housekeeper, Barbara Mouring, alleged that a $2,000 PAC check was laundered into the pockets of first brother-in-law Walter Masters. Last week, the PAC sent letters to its 1994 donors soliciting money for its legal defense fund.
“The Washington Business PAC has conducted an extensive internal investigation and has determined that with respect to certain allegations by Ms. Mouring our records flatly contradict her story as presented by the Washington Post, and there is simply no knowledge of or evidence to support her other accusations,” PAC Chairman Michael Hodge stated in his rambling April 19 letter. “This, however, does not mean that we are not required to respond and present a defense before several government entities investigating this matter.”
“We realize that it will take a certain amount of courage to assist us at this time, however, I think there are many friends of our cause that will,” Hodge wrote. He then implored, “I ask that you be one of them….”
Ward 8 council candidate Rahim Jenkins urged those attending the Ward 8 candidate forum at Ballou High School on Monday to sign petitions supporting the appointment of outspoken radio station owner Cathy Hughes to the city’s new five-member financial control board. Jenkins carries the banner of the Umoja Party, formed last year by former University of the District of Columbia student activist and D.C. statehood advocate Mark Thompson. Thompson now works for radio station WOL-AM (1450), owned by Hughes, and is spearheading the petition drive to get his boss on the control board.
LL has to hand it to Hughes: She has a knack for publicity stunts.
When Jenkins asked the audience to sign his petitions, his request was greeted with several boos….
Another Ward 8 council candidate, JePhunneh Lawrence, apparently believes his unusual moniker deserves explanation. So in his campaign literature, he discloses “the origin of the name.”
“The literal meaning [is] giver of wise counsel,” his campaign brochure states, citing numerous passages from the Old Testament Books of Numbers and Joshua. “JePhunneh was the leader of one of the twelve tribes.”
Lawrence has emerged as the environmental candidate. His first priority on the council, he said, would be to restore the bulk-trash pickup service the District eliminated last fall….
Ward 8 council candidate Eydie Whittington, meanwhile, constantly touts “the energy I would bring to the council.” This prompted Ward 8 resident Robert Yeldell to comment, “If she has so much energy, then let her go down to the homes of some of these people who have had their heating turned off or their electricity turned off, and let them plug into her.”
Now Whittington knows what she can do if she loses the Ward 8 race on Tuesday.