This is the tenth 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 9: White Power
On February 23, 1985, Marion Barry attended the swearing-in of the new US Attorney-General, Edwin Meese III. "The new attorney general was trying to blunt his image as a rightwing ideologue who was insensitive to blacks. For his part, Barry thought that it enhanced his power to be seen with the nation's new chief law enforcement official. But Barry had an ulterior motive. He hoped that his mere presense ... might have some influence on the Justice Department investigation that was closing in on his closest political adviser and friend -- Ivanhoe Donaldson" (l. 2796).
Donaldson was appointed deputy mayor for economic development. "Donaldson used [the job] to wring cash from the government" (l. 2802). He forged signatures on checks. He directed city contracts to friends in return for cash. He produced doctored paperwork and got bank loans through the influence of developers who did business with the city. He continued to embezzle DC funds even after he got a job in private industry.
This same period saw the rise of Joseph E. DiGenova, then-US attorney for DC. His first successful prosecution, in 1984, was of Marion Barry's ex-wife Mary Treadwell, who got a three-year prison sentence, a $50,000 fine, and five years' probation for conspiracy in a case involving misappropriation of government funds.
Also in 1984, DiGenova's office indicted former Barry girlfriend Karen Johnson for selling cocaine. A previous boyfriend of Johnson told the FBI as part of the investigation that Johnson was selling cocaine to Barry. The boyfriend wore a wire, which recorded a conversation with Johnson "during which she discussed her cocaine sales to the mayor and other city officials" (l. 2869).
Eventually, Johnson pled guilty to drug-related charges and was sentenced to four months in prison. "As she walked out of the courtroom, prosecutors presented her with a subpoena ordering her to testify before the grand jury. DiGenova was still hoping that she would give up the mayor. His ultimatum: Testify or face a contempt charge and more prison time -- away from her infant son" (l. 2936). But Johnson refused to talk, and did the prison time.
DiGenova filed legal documents in the case that referred to "an individual" to whom Johnson sold cocaine to "on twenty or thirty occasions" (l. 2938). Unidentified sources told reporters that the individual was Barry. Barry denied the reports. Other reports of drug use by Barry surfaced, and were locked in the police department files of Barry-appointed officials.
Federal and DC officials continued to investigate Ivanhoe Donaldson, but he managed to get long-time friends and city government contacts to help cover up his embezzlement of city funds.
"Mayor Barry was campaigning in Minnesota for Walter Mondale and Geraldine Ferraro at the end of August  when The New York Times reported that the mayor was under investigation for perjury in connection with the Karen Johnson investigation" (l. 2976). Barry returned to DC and went on the offensive, charging that there was an offensive to discredit him because he was a successful black politician. He compared the charges against him to a lynching."
In January 1985, some of the friends who had been covering Ivanhoe Donaldson's tracks got cold feet and started to tell the truth. By December, Donaldson had pled guilty to stealing $190,000 in city funds, covering up the theft, and evading taxes. He was sentenced to seven years in jail and $127,500 in fines.
At a press conference, DiGenova said he was "very pleased" with the outcome.
" 'This is not an isolated case,' he declared. 'The system of controls in local government are not adequate....' " (l. 3021).
"The mayor said that he was 'shocked, surprised, and saddened' by Donaldson's guilt. He called the entire affair 'a tragedy'. He already had watched Karen Johnson go to prison in August 1984. A year later, Mary Treadwell exhausted her last appeal and left for her three-year term. Donaldson reported to the minimum-security prison in Petersburg, Virginia, a few weeks after his sentencing" (l. 3041).
Barry "had said privately a number of times that the only two people he could count on were [his then-wife] Effi and Ivanhoe. Now the mayor was almost alone" (l. 3043).
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.