City Paper is not for tourists
Marion Barry‘s new autobiography isn’t just about the effect of illicit drugs on the four-term mayor’s nether-regions. It’s also an occasion for some score-settling. Below, some of the most prominent targets of Barry’s slams in Mayor for Life.
“Chris Rock was among the worst comedians,” Barry writes of the late-night lampooning that followed his arrest for smoking crack cocaine. Barry doesn’t explain which Rock jokes that he didn’t like, but LL’s guessing that they went something like this.
The two eventually made up, although not immediately. “It took us almost three years to education him on Marion Barry,” Barry writes.
Barry even has some complaints about Gray, whose mayoral campaigns he backed in 2010 and 2014. Barry’s gripes about Gray center on his administration’s hiring decisions, which left the young Gray administration reeling him from a nepotism scandal that Barry describes as like “watching a snowball speeding down a hill.”
“Quite frankly, I’ve never seen anything like it in all my years in politics,” Barry writes. “Within the first ninety days, the wheels on the wagon flew completely off.”
Barry claims that Gray could have dodged the scandal if he had just asked—-you guessed it—-Marion Barry.
“This was really spinning out of control, and all of this could have been avoided, had Mayor Gray consulted with other mayors and me, especially on personnel decisions,” Barry writes.
Barry is also unhappy that Gray conducted national searches for cabinet positions, which resulted, according to Barry, in awkward racial dynamics.
“There’s nothing wrong with having white department heads, but blacks are very leery about having white department heads with ample black talent around from right here in the D.C. area,” Barry writes.
At a press conference today, Gray told reporters that he hadn’t read Barry’s book yet. That didn’t stop him from responding to Barry, though.
“I think this administration has done an extraordinary job, and that is really my only reaction to it,” Gray said.
For a book that introduces and then dispenses with its protagonist’s first wife in just one sentence, Mayor for Life spills a remarkable amount of ink on 2010 mayoral candidate and Gray campaign stalking horse Sulaimon Brown.
Most of Mayor for Life has the prose styling of an indifferently edited Wikipedia article, but the Brown section is actually fun. Here’s Barry on Brown’s surprise appearance at a Gray press conference in 2011:
Once the mayor concluded his press briefing, what should have been the end instead became the beginning of The Sulaimon Brown Show! I began to think to myself, what the hell kind of circus was this??!!
Barry’s opinion of Brown didn’t improve at Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh‘s hearing on Brown’s allegations. “Lord have mercy is all I have to say!!!!” writes Barry.
But of course, he does have more to say:
Sulaimon is a master at attracting media attention, and this was his moment to shine. I had already schooled council member Cheh to not feed into his antics, but Sulaimon sucked her in almost immediately. Sulaimon walked into the hearing wearing dark-tinted sunglasses, looking like a missing member of Men in Black. I could see the irritation on council member Cheh’s face, and I kept whispering to her,”Do not let him get to you.” Well, what was the first thing she did? She asked him to remove his sunglasses, which he refused to remove, justifying his behavior by saying that he had stayed up late preparing for his testimony and didn’t want the press to snap photos of his tired eyes.
Sulaimon isn’t content to just keep his sunglasses on, though. He has to tangle with Barry himself.
And then, he had the audacity to try me! I knew he was crazy then! No doubt in my mind! I still can’t believe that he brought up my arrest involving the Vista. That was over twenty years ago! I told him that he must have been out of his goddamn mind! He was just antagonizing us to no end, and we allowed ourselves to get sucked down the rabbit hole!
Barry didn’t mind Adrian Fenty‘s first mayoral bid in 2006. At worst, it meant a couple of free meals. “He wined me, dined me, impressed me,” Barry writes.
But things soon turned sour.
“The first two years I worked well with Adrian, but then he turned into a different person—-his actions,” Barry writes. “He became more arrogant and not as cooperative with the council as he had been. He lost a lot of his touch with the community.”
By 2010, Barry decided to help Gray oust Fenty. Some might have been reluctant to cross the mayor—-whom the book inexplicably describes as “fair-haired,” despite Fenty’s bald head—-but not Barry.
“Some were scared of Fenty’s backlash, should he have been re-elected,” Barry writes. “Of course, I’m not one for running scared. I’m the champion of the people. I will always work on behalf of the most vulnerable. Period.”
Tom Sherwood and Harry Jaffe
If Mayor for Life has a villain, it’s the media. Throughout the book, Barry warns the reader about the various tricks that the media, often conspiring with the white power structure in the government, will pull against their opponents. While Barry has kind words for television reporters Jim Vance and Bruce Johnson, the rest of the Wilson Building’s press corps doesn’t fare so well.
“The television reporters and journalists continued to make money off me, hand and fist,” Barry writes.
But no reporters are less on Barry’s good side in Mayor for Life than Washingtonian‘s Harry Jaffe and NBC4’s Tom Sherwood, who co-wrote Barry biography Dream City.
In this book, I was essentially blamed for everything that was wrong with Washington. I was fairly satisfied with Tom’s historical reporting of my public service in Washington, but not with Harry’s reporting of my current life. It was as if I had done nothing right in the city in my recent years. Of course, that was always the case for some white Americans. Any black man who dared to look out for the progress of his people became an immediate political enemy to some whites.
Besides unnamed Southern bigpts and former U.S. Attorney Joseph E. diGenova, no one gets it worse from Barry than ex-mayor Sharon Pratt.
Barry has a lengthy list of grudges against Pratt, but he seems most steamed that she took his name off the Reeves Center at 14th and U streets.
Moreover, I didn’t like when Mayor Kelly ordered (sic) to remove my name from the Frank D. Reeves Center at Fourteenth and U streets either. I felt it was a misdirection of energy and a shot at my legacy in Washington. You can’t remove a person’s name like that. There’s one argument to disagree with how a person ran the city, but it’s another argument to slight a city leader personally. I felt that taking my name down from a city project that I was totally responsible for developing was blatantly disrespectful.
Barry’s name reappeared on the building after he ousted Pratt in 1994.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery