This is the sixth installment of a series (see the first installment here) summarizing the 1994 book Dream City: Race, Power, and the Decline of Washington, D.C.by Harry Jaffe and Tom Sherwood. This book has recently been republished as an ebook and a paper book. HBO has plans to use material from the book to make a movie about the life of Marion Barry.
Chapter 5: Bombthrowers to Bureaucrats
The 1968 destroyed large parts of Washington, and little rebuilding took place immediately. In 1969, President Nixon promised assistance. Neighborhood groups squabbled over who should represent the neighborhood, and millions in federal funds went unused (l. 1475).
But there was also opportunity. Fourth-generation Maryland housebuilder Oliver Carr bought up downtown property cheap, starting with a building at the corner of 17th Street and Connecticut Avenue NW. "From that first bold move, Carr built an empire..." (l. 1482).
DC Mayor Walter Washington changed what had been a department of the federal government into the DC government, while also handling wave after wave of anti-Vietnam War protestors.
"...[W]hen one million peace protesters descended on the capital in May 1971, Richard Nixon called him from Camp David to say, 'You're in charge'" (l. 1487).
"In one of the least reported and documented developments in Washington local politics, the timing of the District's movement toward independence coincided with the continued ingathering of former student civil rights leaders. Many of the men and women who had stood on the front lines of the movement -- Ivanhoe Donaldson, John Wilson, Courtland Cox, Lawrence Guyot, Frank Smith, and others -- saw the city's unique black majority community as fertile soil to carry on a civil rights movement as it changed into a struggle for economic power. Eventually, nearly the entire leadership of the student civil rights movement found its way into the capital and joined the battle wrest power from Congress, the white power structure, and the native black elite" (l. 1489).
Meanwhile, Marion Barry became the bridge between the white power structure and the African-American community through his organization, Pride, Inc. "He wore a tie and jacket to disarm the businessmen; he wore a dashiki and an amulet with a bullet around his neck and armed himself with a .38 for his work at Pride, Inc" (l. 1495).
Pride, Inc., started as an alley cleaning operation and expanded into gas stations, real estate, and confections.
Barry was arrested in May 1969 after he and companions started a fight with a police officer over a parking ticket. He was hit with a blackjack and spent the night in the hospital. Staff on Pride, Inc.'s payroll demonstrated against Barry's arrest. A trial on the charge a year later ended in a hung jury.
A month after that, Barry and an ally stormed a meeting of First Lady Pat Nixon and Republican Senate wives to draw attention to the fact that cars double-parked outside the building were protected by police, while regular citizens would have gotten tickets. He got positive press attention.
Soon after, Barry helped negotiate an end to a threatened teacher's strike.
Pride, Inc., was the subject to near-constant legal scrutiny, including FBI (which had also infiltrated the organization) asking "Pride officials whether they had had any dealings with the Mafia, Red China, H. Rap Brown, or drug dealers" (l. 1543). FBI reports included information on Barry's love life and choice of clothes. The most damaging finding was $10,000 in phony payroll checks out of about $8.5 million in federal grants, an amount the authors call "minimal" (l. 1548).
"The FBI's surveillance continued into the early 1970s, when its reports noted in deadpan prose that the 'negro militants' were becoming elected officials" (l. 1560)
In 1971, Walter Fauntroy became DC's first delegate to Congress, defeating three other candidates with 44 percent of the vote. Appointed City Council President John Hechinger got the downtown business community behind Fauntroy "and establish[ed] an enduring pattern of white money behind black candidates" (l. 1586).
"If the first law of Washington politics was white money behind black candidates, the second was that Washington was a one-party town. The Republican party never organized in the capital and never attracted more than a tenth of the electorate, in part because it was run as a club for white conservatives" (l. 1604).
Barry ran for a seat on the DC school board against Anita Allen, a member of the city's light-skinned African-American elite. Handlers groomed him to act in a manner more acceptable to middle-class voters. "I'm a situationist," Barry told a Washington Post reporter at the time. "I do what is necessary for the situation" (l. 1633).
Barry won with 58 percent of the vote. 9.3 percent of the city's registered voters went to the polls. Other candidates, whom Barry had supported, elected him school board president.
In May 1973, Barry married Mary Treadwell, his second wife. Two months after that, he barely escaped arrest for an incident late at night in the apartment of a female colleague. "The story never became public, in part because the woman realized that if she exposed Barry it could hurt certain initiatives she was working on, including the home rule drive. She didn't want to give Congress another reason to keep the District from governing itself" (l 1719).
1973 saw another try at a home rule bill. Autonomy was chipped away as it progressed through committee. The right to a locally-elected district attorney was lost. Congressional representatives traded their support for home rule for a guarantee of no commuter tax. Federal properties would not be taxable. Instead Congress and the President would determine a yearly lump-sum payment. Congressman Gerald Ford led the opposition to the bill, but his attention went elsewhere when he was appointed Vice-President.
Barry found the problems of the city's schools intractable and wanted to move on. With the help of Ivanhoe Donaldson ("brilliant, articulate, courageous") and others, Barry considered running for city council president. But the city's political elite had other ideas. Barry was told to run for an At-large seat.
"Barry bristled, postured, argued -- then did as he was told. But he would never forget" (l. 1789).
Walter Washington won the first election for DC mayor. "Sterling Tucker was elected city council chairman and promptly made his first mistake by appointing Barry to head the powerful finance and revenue panel, which controlled taxation. For the next four years, Barry used his committee as a club against Tucker and Mayor Washington on one hand, while with the other he began to woo white business interests" (l. 1795).
Barry and staff also rejected Washington's tax-raising budgets and devised tax-cutting budgets of their own, although rich property interests got some special breaks.
He also kept his activist edge. He said DC tax money "flows out of the pockets of DC taxpayers and into the hands of predominantly white male, suburban-residing police officers" (l. 1810). He won the election, and also separated from his second wife.
Barry seemed to be cleaning up his act. He stopped smoking. He drank only white wine. But it was at this time, the authors say, "that Barry first came into contact with cocaine" (l. 1838).
Cheater's Guide to Dream City continues next week
Further installments will appear on successive Fridays. All posts will be cross-posted on the ad-hoc "Cheater's Guide to Dream City" blog.
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This is a great book and well worth reading in its entirety.