This is the eleventh 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 10: Boss Barry
With the sentencing of his long-time aide and friend Ivanhoe Donaldson to seven years in jail in December 1985, Marion Barry lost "the last person who could rein him in" (Kindle location 3045).
Meanwhile, problems mounted on all sides. A prominent homeless activist mounted a hunger strike. A Deputy Mayor resigned while under investigation for kickbacks. Prisons were overflowing. Massive protests about schools and jail were frequent.
"The government's mounting crises could have chastened Barry; instead he celebrated his fiftieth birthday as if he were a gangster. At one of two parties a stripper dressed as a policewoman popped out of a cake, handcuffed the mayor, and performed for the guests. 'Free at last,' Barry said as 'Officer Goodbody' removed the cuffs..." (l. 3066).
The unenviable task of restoring order fell to new chief of staff Carol Thompson. She did what she could: arranging aides and chaperones to accompany Barry, planting allies at public appearances, replacing alcoholic drinks with ginger ale. "Thompson realized within a few weeks that on many levels, starting with his schedule, Barry was controllable" (l. 3076).
In Barry's heart, the authors say, he yearned for the approval of both the white power structure and the city's black elite, but he believed this would never come. "The strut, the late entrances -- even the women and the drugs -- were an expression of that essential conflict between what Barry needed and what he knew he could never have" (l. 3090).
Around this time, Barry met Hazel Diane "Rasheeda" Moore, a failed model and businessperson. "It was the beginning of a relationship that mixed sex and drugs" (l. 3112).
In 1986, Barry was easily re-elected. "The Republican party was powerless, in part because white conservatives shut out blacks. The local Democratic organization was an inept, petty debating society because Barry purged critics in 1979 and packed it with sycophants" (l. 3129).
"In other cities, politics was a way for ethnic minoirites to stake their claim to economic and political power, but Washington never developed a true local political class.... In Washington, congressional domination, disenfranchisement, and racism stunted the growth of homegrown politics. By the time an elective political ladder became available in the 1970s, ambitious black men and women who might have been interested in city government could command prestigious, well-paying job in the legal community, in the federal government, or in business. Municipal politics was a backwater" (l. 3141).
"The 1986 campaign turned into a besotted, drug-laden lark. Places in Barry's inner circle were taken by a fresh set of friends. The new crowd tolerated or encouraged the mayor recreational use of cocaine" (l. 3172).
But Barry was able to get big campaign contributions from Wall Street firms looking for a piece of DC's newly-established municiple-bond program. Since the campaign itself required little money, "Barry's campaign hired hundreds of low-level 'paid' volunteers to put on the semblance of a campaign. It was a private version of his summer jobs program" (l. 3181).
"Barry was doing so much cocaine during the campaign that he started having trouble coping with his daily schedule. It was at this time that he started taking Valium to bring him down from the cocaine. When the Valium proved too weak, he switched to Xanax, a stronger tranquilizer" (l. 3186).
Barry's opponent in the general election was Republican Carol Schwartz. Schwartz received no help from the national party. Barry got 61 percent of the vote, Schwartz 33. She lost everywhere but largely white Ward 3. White voters backed Schwartz over Barry, 76 percent to 15 percent.
January 1987 brought two blizzards totaling 26 inches of snow. Barry vacationed in California and watched the Super Bowl while the city failed to dig itself out.
"...[T]he city didn't actually know how many people were on the payroll. The 1988 census and an independent commission on budget and financial priorities put the count at 48,000 -- one worker for every 13 residents -- more government workers per capita than any other city or state government..." (l. 3240).
"...[T]he high cost and large number of workers didn't translate to high-quality service. Delivering a welfare check in the District consistently cost twice the national average, for example" (l. 3244). The book goes on to list many, many more instances of poor city services, including foster care, ambulance and fire, neonatal care, public housing and schools, with the poorest citizens often bearing the brunt of the city's ineptitude.
However, "[t]he African-American poor- and middle-class communities credited Barry with improving basic city services that most people take for granted: accurate water billing, street repair, garbage collection. These services didn't work totally efficiently, but they worked better than they had before" (l. 3294).
"From the African-American point of view, Barry had dramatically improved city services for the elderly and provided thousands of summer jobs for young people.... A typical black family might have one or two extended family members working for the city government, an elderly person in a city-subsidized home, a child in a summer jobs program, or a relative working either for the government or for a company that held city contracts" (l. 3307).
"...Barry's political machine was fueled by the fear in the black community that whites would take it all away if they could" (l. 3309).
In May 1987, a top Barry official named Larry Rivers was arrested in a 17-month-long sting operation. The arrest led to FBI raids on many friends and colleagues of Barry's, including a former girlfriend, Karen Johnson. After the raids, a TV reporter "obtained Johnson's private diary and disclosed the early 1980s sex and drugs spree that she had so carefully documented" (l. 3375).
Johnson had served "eight months in jail on contempt charges for not talking about the mayor's cocaine use with her in the early 1980s" (l. 3374).
Now, "Karen Johnson seemed to be a different person. With guidance from her attorney, G. Allen Dale, she told law enforcement authorities that she had received much as $25,000 from Barry's close associates.... The two businessmen first denied and then acknowledged giving money to Johnson..." (l. 3380).
Johnson resisted the blandishments of media heavyweights Katie Couric, Mike Wallace and Bob Woodward. She would not give interviews.
"Enough facts leaked from the Johnson affairs to paint a convincing picture for most Washingtonians that Barry used cocaine and tried to silence a potential witness. But for all the leaked details, graphic news accounts, and innuendo, [US Attorney Joseph DiGenova couldn't bring charges."
Barry marshalled allies for a counter-attack, including Cathy Hughes, owner and on-air personality of radio station WOL-AM. But he was soon fighting on another front as his then-wife, Effi, after a long period of avoiding the news media, gave a TV interview in which she criticized her husband's "indiscretions".
Despite promises to friends and supporters to change his ways, Barry took a vacation to the Bahamas in the company of women other than his wife. He was followed by a Washington Post reporter, who published details.
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.