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What many D.C. residentsmay remembermost about the first 120 days of the return of Mayor-for-Life Marion S. Barry Jr. is that now we all have to lug our milk jugs, Coke bottles, beer cans, and newspapers to some far-off collection point—like Hizzoner’s recently renovated house in Ward 8. Others may recall how our well-dressed mayor seemed to have a different African-style suit to fit every occasion, and still hasn’t returned to the traditional Western necktie. And still others may sum up Barry’s first four months back in office by claiming he’s done for the city what he did for Ward 8 when he represented it on the D.C. Council: absolutely nothing.
LL feels compelled to rush to Hizzoner’s defense. We believe that his term has gotten off to a remarkable Barrylike beginning that deserves more than passing notice.
First of all, Barry masterfully ushered in the financial control board—which U.S. Shadow Senator/D.C. statehood lobbyist Jesse Jackson (remember him?) dubbed “the patrol board.” The mayor feinted, making residents believe he’d resist the board. But privately, he was sending strong signals that he wanted the board to take the heat for cutting city government down to size.
With the control board getting ready to take charge, Barry no longer needs to worry about keeping last year’s pesky campaign promises. Among other things, he pledged to improve city services, clean alleys and streets, provide jobs, “change the course of corrections” (whatever that meant), move 800 to 1,000 prisoners out of the Lorton prison system and into drug treatment, and deploy D.C. Jail inmates to fix up vacant public housing. Now, if a constituent asks about those matters, Barry has a ready answer: “I wanted to, but the control board wouldn’t let me do it.”
So well did Barry pretend to oppose the board that many of his supporters blame D.C. Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton for Hizzoner’s apparent complacency about the board’s creation. They argue that Norton undercut Barry’s planned resistance by pushing hard and early for the board. Norton, of course, views the matter differently; she says she was only trying to make the inevitable more palatable for D.C. residents, and that Barry privately cooperated throughout the drafting of the control-board bill.
Barry’s revelation of the true size of the District’s deficit—a staggering $722 million by his count—amounted to nothing less than pure political genius. That bombshell, you may recall, was the first major achievement of this administration. In one stroke, Barry won praise from Republicans in Congress, including House Speaker NewtGingrich; he also created the sympathetic public impression that a debt of that size is too large for one man, or even one city, to handle. Never mind Barry’s loopy contention that the shortfall was created by one woman, Sharon Pratt Kelly. And never mind that many Kelly administration officials claimed that Barry and company “cooked” the figures to portray a larger crisis than really exists.
Barry has racked up other accomplishments as well. Although public outcry prevented former Mayor Kelly from granting office space to her businessman husband, Barry has snugly settled his wife, Cora Masters Lady MacBarry, into an office next to his—and with nary a citizen complaint.
During last year’s campaign, Barry poked fun at the size of Kelly’s security detail, implying that she surrounded herself with police officers because she was afraid to venture into certain parts of the city. Barry boasted that he could go anywhere in the District without protection. But now his security detail has grown to 17, compared to the 24 officers Kelly maintained.
But Barry has shown that he doesn’t need a security detail to protect him from constituents. He needs the officers to knock aside pesky Washington Post reporters attempting to question his wife about money-laundering. He also needs the officers to offer jobs and other gratuities to buy silence, to intimidate those who might talk to the media about unsavory matters, to break into the D.C. Board of Elections after hours, and to guard the honeymoon suite at the Mayflower Hotel while he and Lady MacBarry occupy it. In other words, he needs his bodyguards to do whatever it takes, by any means necessary, to keep Hizzoner out of another scandal.
Last but certainly not least, Barry headed off on a 10-day trip to Africa last weekend after less than four months in office. During his first year as mayor in 1979, he waited a long nine months before traveling to Africa. Who says Barry hasn’t changed his ways?
A WUSA-TV Channel 9 film crew waited outside Precinct 117 at Turner Elementary School, at Alabama Avenue and Stanton Road SE, for a quarter of an hour this past Tuesday morning without encountering a Ward 8 voter going to the polls. So the crew left in search of more activity elsewhere. Perhaps Channel 9 would have gotten the truer picture if the crew stayed: At many precincts, the special election to fill Marion Barry’s unexpired council term attracted fewer voters than candidates and their volunteers.
“We’re ordering out for bandages—to keep our eyes open,” quipped a D.C. Board of Elections worker at Precinct 134.
More visible than many of the 21 candidates Tuesday was the peripatetic JohnCapozzi, newly elected U.S. shadow representative/D.C. statehood lobbyist. Never-say-die Capozzi was seeking new statehood supporters, bravely ignoring that the new financial control board augurs the death of his cause….
Speaking of that board, longtime Ward 6 political figure Danny Butler is leading the charge to draft former House Speaker Tom Foley as one of the board’s five members. But wait, you say: Isn’t Foley from Spokane, Wash., way on the other side of the country?
Well, he was—at least until he lost his congressional seat last fall. But like most defeated congressmen, Foley apparently believes that you can’t go home again. Especially after tasting life on the Potomac.
According to Butler, the Foleys are fixing up their home in Southeast, a few blocks from the Potomac Gardens public-housing project, and the former speaker plans to practice law and do some lobbying.
“He’s now making improvements on his home,” Butler says. “He rides his bicycle around the community. These other [potential appointees to the board], they can’t relate to seeing people in the Safeway from Potomac Gardens. They can’t relate to living next to the jail.”
“It’s his actions more than what he’s said that makes him qualified,” Butler added.
So far, all that the former speaker has said on the subject is that, if asked, he would consider the job. But his name is not among those said to be on President Clinton’s short list….
When Marion Barry returned to the mayor’s office in January, he was handed the opportunity to pick a new boss for the D.C Democratic Party: President Clinton nominated then-Party Chairman Eric Washington to D.C. Superior Court. Given that Barry had previously sought to control intraparty politics, the chance seemed one that he’d savor.
But not this time. Hizzoner did not field a candidate for the chairmanship of the D.C. Democratic State Committee—an indication that he no longer considers the organization to have significant impact on local politics. In this judgment, Barry is not alone. The only Democrat who sought the post was Bob Artisst, who for 20 years has tried unsuccessfully to win the Ward 5 council seat.
The stop-Artisst movement couldn’t even field a candidate until former D.C. Teachers Union President Bill Simons was finally persuaded to run. The election was set for this Thursday, May 4. At press time, Simons was expected to win.