City Paper Widget

Friday, August 29, 2014

Cheater's Guide to Dream City -- Part 14 (The Smell of Death)

This is the fourteenth 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 13: The Smell of Death

Late 1989: "The corner of 14th and Rhode Island, ten blocks from the White House on the northern edge of the central business district, was safe enough by day but dicey after dark. Crack dealers peddled their wares hand-to-hand on 14th Street, and the Ramada was getting a reputation for drug busts and overdoses" (Kindle location 4019).

Marion Barry often met Charles Lewis, the black-sheep scion of a prominent US Virgin Island family, at the Ramada near 14th and Rhode Island to smoke crack cocaine. After Lewis attempted to entice a maid in his room with the promise of drugs, police moved in for an arrest.

"The hotel manager was having lunch in a dining room facing the foyer when Mayor Barry strolled by and waved. He didn't want the mayor mixed up with the drug bust, quickly radioed to the detectives, and aborted the undercover operation. Barry continued to room 902, smoked crack, and left with a few rocks" (l. 4045).

"The [Washington] Post, still scrambling for details, carried a low-key story the next morning on the Metro page. The lead flatly stated that police had abruptly cancelled a drug bust at the hotel. In the third paragraph, it mentioned that Barry had been visiting the guest in that same room" (l. 4058).

Barry called Post reporters into his office to tell the reporters that he was liable to be set up by drug dealers. He also attempted to contact police officers who were questioning Lewis. The officers refused to take Barry's calls.

On December 29, US Attorney for the District of Columbia "Jay Stephens announced that he had ordered a full grand jury probe of the Ramada Inn incident" (l. 4127), and "asked the mayor to testify before the grand jury on January 5 [, 1990]" (l. 4168).

Barry hired some good lawyers and the testimony went smoothly. In a one-on-one meeting, he swore to the editor of the Post that he did not do drugs. The business community made statements that indicated they still supported Barry.

On March 3, the FBI arrested Charles Lewis in the Virgin Islands for attempting to sell twenty-five rocks of crack to an undercover agent. He was held on $200,000 bond.

"The mayor carried on his antidrug crusade and held a rally that week at Potomac Gardens, a notorious public housing project plauged with drugs and violence just twelve blocks from the Capitol. As Barry walked through the project parking lot, someone hung a banner from a top-floor window: 'Mayor Barry, try some of our crack' " (l. 4263).

Barry's staff and friends, plus members of the City Council, tried to convince Barry not to run for another term -- unsuccessfully.

Meanwhile, two DC police officers, Al Arrington and Jim Pawlik, led the local investigation against Barry. They started to pressure businessmen and contacts on the fringes and worked their way in. Charles Lewis was indicted on cocaine possession charges and perjury. He was eventually jailed. The trail also led to Barry's lover Rasheeda Moore, who perjured herself during testimony about Barry's drug use, then moved to Los Angeles.

The drumbeat of drugs-and-sex stories gave Congressional opponents of District free rein to cut back local autonomy at every turn. "DC Delegate Walter Fountroy... was widely considered to be ineffectual and even at times damaging to the city cause" (l. 4395).

"In effect, home rule, the city, and Marion Barry were inextricably tied, a sad irony in that Barry had had very little to do with passage of the home-rule charter in 1973. Now he was dangerously close to giving Congress an excuse to take it away" (l. 4398).

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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