City Paper Widget

Friday, October 17, 2014

Cheater's Guide to Dream City -- Part 21 (Resurrection)

This is the twenty-first 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 16: Resurrection (three of three)

Marion Barry was released from a Pennsylvania jail on April 23, 1992.

Hundreds of people, including his mother, escorted him back to DC on buses. “The five buses pulled up to the Union Temple Church in Anacostia at 8:00 p.m. and hundreds of screaming, chanting supporters exploded in ’Barry’s back, Barry’s back, Barry’s back’ “ (Kindle location 5536).

“A few weeks later, Marion Barry moved into a small apartment in Ward Eight to establish residency and start running for the council seat that would be filled by voters on September 15 -- four months down the line.... In Barry’s eyes, still guided by tremendous political instincts, it was a natural fit: the outlaw candidate for the outcast ward” (l. 5542).

“Ward Eight was the only place in the city that Barry could have hoped to start a political comeback. He's always tapped into the anger in the black community, and there's plenty there -- for good reason” (l. 5543).

“It is the city's poorest Ward. The median income is $16,000. According to city statistics, 15,000 people live in public housing and another 10,000 live in subsidized apartments, so that 35 percent of the population qualifies for government help. Forty-one percent didn't graduate from college. In the midst of a homelessness crisis, there are 5,000 vacant housing units, and at least 1,700 are boarded up. In comparison, there are five boarded-up units in Ward Three, where the whites dwell” (l. 5551).

“ ’This isn't a campaign,’ [Barry] preached in his kickoff speech, ’this is a crusade to bring power and dignity and services back to us here in Ward Eight’ “ (l. 5567).

“ ’I’ll tell you why Marion Barry’s running,’ said Absalom Jordan, a Ward Eight activist who was also running for the council seat. ’He wants to run for mayor again in two years. It's that simple’ “ (l. 5575).

“ ’His premise is that people have short memories,’ said Absalom Jordan, ’and he can keep playing the race game again and again. He says “look at what the white man did to me.” He wants people to forget that for years he was the white man, he was the law, he was in control of the city...’ “ (l. 5595).

“On September 15, a record number of Ward Eight voters elected Marion Barry over [opponent Wilhelmina] Rolark by a 3-1 margin. Victory was his, and it was sweet” (l. 5604).

“Many people were mystified that he'd won, but the reasons were clear. Neighborhoods with terrific views of the sparkling lights on the Mall and the national monuments were breeding grounds for violence and drug addiction. Why Barry? Because no one else had helped them. They had no better choices. At least he could bring some attention. He could bring some hope” (l. 5611).

1992 also brought Bill Clinton to the White House. “...Clinton’s greatest impact was to give hope to Washingtonians who wanted the District of Columbia to become the state of New Columbia. Statehood is the holy grail of Washington politics....Clinton was the first president who publicly supported the District’s becoming the fifty-first state; he'd even testified on its behalf early in 1992" (l. 5620).

“Unfortunately, Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly didn't do much to help the District’s case. Kelly used statehood as a political weapon, blaming Congress for the city’s problems and leading people to believe that all would be fine if Congress would grant statehood. It was pure demagoguery.... Kelly’s campaign only served to make enemies in Congress. As Kelly dangled statehood in front of the city, the prospect that Congress would appoint a federal financial oversight commission was much more likely” (l. 5643).

“On Inauguration Day, January 20, 1993, when the capital city was in the spotlight of the world for a swearing in of a new president, the mayor had her aides changing the locks to doors to keep council members away from choice seats to view the parade from the city's District Building” (l. 5656).

“The city council job was a cakewalk for [Marion Barry]. He'd already been a councilman for four years before he was mayor, and he knew the executive branch better than anyone in the city. He had virtually created it. In private working sessions and public committee meetings, Barry applied himself to the task of representing his ward. he was studious and conscientious, asked intelligent questions, and cooperated with the other twelve council members” (l. 5673).

“In fact, he could hardly get his mind off a total comeback. The next election would be in September 1994. He could run for mayor and not give up his council seat, so there would be no risk. He loved campaigning more than anything else and he could parlay the threat of running to gain favors from Kelly or other council members. Kelly appeared to be weak. If another candidate or two got into the race and split the vote, even Barry’s most vitriolic detractors had to admit that he had a real chance to win the Democratic primary” (l. 5696).

“Many felt another Barry campaign would be bad for him personally, bad for business, and bad for the city. It was time for other challenges. Barry should let go. They shared some of their feelings with him, but just as in his race for Ward Eight council seat, Marion Barry had his own sense of timing, his own vision” (l. 5707).

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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