City Paper Widget

Friday, July 25, 2014

Cheater's Guide to "Dream City" -- Part 8 (Black Power: The Making of a Machine)

This is the eighth installment of a series (see the first installment here) summarizing the 1994 book Dream City: Race, Power, and the Decline of Washington, 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 7: Black Power: The Making of a Machine

Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American justice on the Supreme Court, swore Marion Barry in as mayor of Washington on January 2, 1979 at the District Building. His wife Effi stood by his side.

Barry and his team of aides redesigned the government, which had not changed greatly from its pre-home rule structure. They also changed the faces in city government. Barry made it clear that the city human rights office would investigation minority hiring practices of district firms and expected law firms, accountants, and retailers to hire more blacks and women.

In the city government, "...they moved swiftly to bring on more women and members of the gay and Latino community -- both to be fair and to pay political debts" (Kindle location 2173).

Barry's top aides were city administrator Elijah Rogers and "general assistant" Ivanhoe Donaldson.

They inherited a $100 million budget shortfall and $300 million in long-term debt from the previous administration.

In July 1979, Barry and "a small entourage" took a nineteen-day trip to Africa. He was greeted like a world leader. But while he was gone, Ivanhoe Donaldson was arrested for failing to pay a personal $2,700 debt to building contractor. But the debt was paid off and the bad publicity was minimal.

In October, the Washington Post ran a series of articles chronicling the theft and skimming of government money by Barry's previous wife and the organization they had run together. At the same time, the Washington Star newspaper reported that Barry had received a sweetheart deal on a home mortgage from an influential banker.

"Lillian Wiggins, a columnist for the Washington Afro-American, smelled a plot" (l. 2259). Wiggins labelled it the "Master Plan", eventually shortened it popular usage to "The Plan". Negative characterizations of black leadership were part of a plot to reinstall white leadership in the district. "In ominous shorthand it embodied the city's racial tensions; it also played into Barry's hand. A year into office, he'd become the lightning rod that was hot-wired directly into that most vulnerable and insecure part of the collective black psyche" (l. 2271).

"That kind of pressure led many black Washingtonians to circle their wagons around Barry to protect him" (l. 2275).

"The racial divisiveness made it easier for some whites -- who needed little from government except routine services -- to disengage themselves from it all" (l. 2276).

The Barry administration sent mixed signals to Capitol Hill. Barry met Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT). Leahy headed the Senate committee that controlled DC's budget. Barry said, "We want as much control as possible over our finances" (l. 2288). Congress seemed prepared to grant this wish, but then the Barry administration pulled back. Barry aide Ivanhoe Donaldson called a Leahy staffer later and said, "The budget autonomy is too risky. We like it the way it is now" (l. 2300).

The Barry administration was plagued by local problems (crime, rats) and national ones (recession, inflation).

Barry started seeing a woman named Karen Johnson, who kept a detailed diary of their relationship. The diary eventually came into the possession of a TV journalist and later the FBI. Johnson became pregnant and Barry ended the relationship.

Johnson's former boyfriend was a drug dealer. "Johnson's estranged boyfriend, Franklin Law, told police that he supplied Johnson, who shared it with Barry and eventually sold it to him on at least twenty or thirty occasions" (l. 2331).

Ivanhoe Donaldson was supposed to keep Barry in check, but he had problems of his own. He got in the habit of writing checks to friends from the unaudited Special Administrative Fund. The friends would then turn around and give the bulk of the fund back to Donaldson for his own personal expenses. "Ivanhoe Donaldson had embezzled $27,145 in five months from the emergency fund that became his personal slush fund" (l. 2352).

In March 1982, three women who worked in a strip club just south of Franklin Square told police Barry had come to the club for sex and drugs. An African-American police official reported this to the FBI and Justice Department, who did nothing. Eventually, the report was leaked to Barry and the police official was demoted.

In the 1982 election, Barry's main opponent was Patricia Roberts Harris, an African-American lawyer who had worked at the US delegation to the UN, and had been Ambassador to Luxembourg and Secretary for Housing and Urban Development.

Barry predicted he would beat Harris handily. "The mayor based his prediction on the three legs of his young political machine: campaign money from the business community, power and votes from the churches, and the loyalty that derives from political patronage" (l. 2420).

"He began by courting the city's powerful black ministers" (l. 2421), including the leaders of the Bible Way Church, the United House of Prayer for All People, and the Shiloh Baptist Church. He put city money at the disposal of various churches to provide much-needed programs like day-care and senior centers.

Also, "Barry dispensed carefully controlled constituent services, merging that office with his political apparatus under former campaign deputy Anita Bonds. She handled routine complaints on one hand, enforced political discipline with the other, and also bused adoring crowds to Barry's community meetings" (l. 2431). 

"Routine city services, such as trash collection and street cleaning, began showing up regularly in black neighborhoods unaccustomed to it. Barry also opened up new libraries and fire stations" (l. 2441).

Harris came off as aloof, Barry as a man of the people.

"'I have suffered a thousand wounds in trying to do right by the city', Barry told one candidate forum."

"'It's true, Mr. Mayor, that you have suffered a thousand wounds, responded council member Charlene Drew Jarvis.... 'Unfortunately, they're all self-inflicted'" (l. 2460).

Barry won the 1982 Democratic primary with nearly 60 percent of the vote. "The results marked the total shift of Barry's electoral support from an integrated base in 1978 to one that relied on the black middle class and poor. In 1978 the white vote put him over the top; in 1982 it alone couldn't defeat him. With the biracial coalition went the civil rights movement's liberal dream of social change, of helping the less fortunate, of bringing the races together. In its place, Boss Barry began to emerge" (l. 2470).

At this time, Barry's first group of advisors, including Elijah Rogers, left. Another advisor who left said: "The government became directed by greed" (l. 2491). 

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.

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