Yesterday the Washington Post editorial board opined that Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry‘s proposal to limit cash welfare payments to five years was a “conversation worth continuing.” It’s not every day that the Post writes semi-nice things about Barry or one of his proposals—so it’s a bit of a head-scratcher that the day before the editorial ran, Barry fired off a pretty nasty letter to editorial writer Jo-Ann Armao, which he copied to fellow councilmembers and Post big wigs Don Graham, Katharine Weymouth, Raju Narisetti and Fred Hiatt. (Barry did not copy LL on the e-mail, in case you were wondering.)
“I must say that your known dislike and disdain for me personally and politically should not absolve you of your responsibility to be professional,” said Barry’s e-mail near the top. “Professionally you have a responsibility to come to a conclusion on issues after looking at facts, and then forming an opinion on behalf of the Washington Post. Therefore, I expect you to stop your past approach and be fair.”
From there, Barry goes on to try and make some tortured point that his welfare-limiting proposal wasn’t borne of “frustration,” but because he believes “the present system has failed; it keeps people enslaved in joblessness, poverty, and a dependency on the government, generation after generation, rather than lifting them up and giving them an opportunity for self sufficiency, through job training and/or employment.”
How those conditions aren’t frustrating is anybody’s guess. But Barry felt the need to go on the attack: “You should be ashamed of yourself for thinking I introduced this bill out of frustration. I don’t introduce bills out of frustration; I do it because there’s a need to change and a need to make life better for the residents of the District of Columbia, and you know that.”
And. You. Know. That. Jo. Ann.
LL is not sure what Barry’s goal was in sending that e-mail, but maybe it’s worth noting (though probably not) that Armao did not use the word “frustrated” in the editorial.
Want to be confused some more?
Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells says that Barry said he wouldn’t vote for his own proposal. And in his letter to Armao and Co., Barry reminds her that “legislation very rarely ends up the same way that it starts.”
But, Barry then also sounds like he would vote for his own proposal:
“However, I’m firmly committed to a five-year limitation.”
Okay, fine. But in the very next sentence, Barry says: “The enemies of the people who suggest that I would be so callous as to advocate the removal of some 8,000 recipients from the [Temporary Assistance for Needy Families] rolls, individuals who have been there form [sic] more than eight years, ought to stop spreading fear among the TANF recipients.”
What!? Make up your mind, MB.
Barry concludes by saying that if everyone commits themselves to launching “massive job training and career development programs,” then the city can create job opportunities for 15,000 District residents looking for work. Good luck with that.
LL tried reaching out to Armao for comment, and will update if she has a response.
Update: Armao’s response: “Thanks for asking but no comment other than what I write is always informed by my reporting.”
Photo by Darrow Montgomery