This is the seventh 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 6: A Man for All People
This chapter starts with a description of the 1973 murder of seven members of the Hanafi Muslim sect (including four children) by Black Muslims at a brick mansion at 7700 16th Street NW. The murderers were tried and sentenced to long prison terms, but the Hanafi Muslim group descended into paranoia, saying, for example, Jewish judges had been too lenient. They turned their 16th Street home into an armed camp.
On March 9, 1977, the Hanafi Muslims struck back. They stormed the offices of the B'nai B'rith and the Massachusetts Avenue mosque called the Islamic Center and took hostages.
Marion Barry heard about the incident on his way to the District Building for a committee hearing. "He was unaware that a smaller group of Hanafis at that moment was beginning to seize offices inside the District Building" (Kindle location 1873). He was shot as he stepped off an elevator. He suffered a minor flesh wound, but the pellet was lodged two inches above his heart.
Mary Treadwell, recently divorced from Barry, ran to his side at the hospital. There, she met Effi Cowell, then 33, who would become Barry's next wife. Advisers ensured that future visits did not occur at the same time.
From his hospital bed, Barry made the decision to run for mayor in 1978, against incumbent Walter Washington and City Council President Sterling Tucker in the Democratic primary. Initial polls showed him in third place. Barry and advisers felt Washington and Tucker would split the black vote. They formulated a strategy that would "allow Barry to slip into office by corralling white votes and picking off pockets of support from disaffected blacks and the emerging block of gay voters" (l. 1923). The existing black elite was not likely to vote for Barry, they felt.
Barry pursued white and black businesspeople who didn't like the other choices, including restauranteurs who had difficulty getting liquor licenses.
Barry was living with his girlfriend, Effi Cowell. Advisers felt a candidate for mayor could not be living with someone. In February 1978, they were married in a quiet ceremony. But she was a problem for the campaign, as she had a quiet manner that appeared aloof and was so light-skinned that many voters thought she was Caucasian.
Barry continued womanizing. He was seen out alone with other women. There were difficult-to-confirm accusations of sexual assault.
Candidates hustled for endorsements. Barry received the endorsement of the Fraternal Order of Police, in spite of his previous run-ins, because he proposed legislation to give them annual raises.
Barry also charmed the Washington Post editorial board. He received six separate editorials praising his campaign. He resisted pressure from the Tucker campaign to drop out. Barry won the primary by 1,400 votes out of 89,460 votes for the three major candidates, and buried the Republican candidate in November.
Barry reached out to those who had supported other candidates. President Jimmy Carter and members of Congress (including Senator Patrick Leahy, chair of the committee that oversaw the city's budget) met with Barry.
"The resulting political constellation presented a unique opportunity in American politics. In 1978, in the capital city, there was a chance to create a truly integrated body politic" (l. 2128).
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.
Full disclosure: I have a commercial relationship with Amazon. I will receive a very small portion of the money people spend after clicking on an Amazon link on this site.
This is a great book and well worth reading in its entirety.