City Paper Widget

Friday, October 31, 2014

Cheater's Guide to Dream City -- Part 23 (Afterword)

This is the twenty-third 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.

Afterword (one of four)

The first edition of this book ends in 1994. For the 2014 issues, the authors wrote a long afterword, speeding through the last 20 years of DC politics. During that period, there were four mayors: Marion Barry, Anthony Williams, Adrian Fenty, and Vincent Grey. This installment of the summary covers the final term of Marion Barry.

"As the 1994 race for mayor of the District of Columbia unfolded, the nation was aghast that the city was on the verge of electing Marion Barry once again" (Kindle location 5840).

"The city remained segregated by race and class.... Ambulances didn't show up when called. School buildings still were falling apart, and classrooms were failing to educated their children. Young thugs with guns fighting over drug turf controlled the streets in Shaw, Trinidad, Congress Heights, and scores of other neighborhoods.... In that tense and unsettled landscape, Marion Barry recognized familiary political terrain. He was 58, fit, and had reassembled his political team" (l. 5854).

Opposition to Barry was split between unpopular incumbent Sharon Pratt Kelly and buttoned-down at-large city councilmember John Ray.

"It didn't take polling or deep political insight for Barry to realize that he could rack up more votes than either Kelly or Ray: They would split the opposition... Barry's core constituency of African American voters east of the Anacostia River believed he had been run out of office by federal prosecutors in 1990. On the campaign trail, he portrayed himself as a flawed individual who had overcome his problems and was ready to lead the city once again" (l. 5889).

"In the September primary, Barry trounced his competitors. He won with 66,777 votes, 47 percent of the total. John Ray came in second with 37 percent. Sharon Pratt Kelly got just 13 percent of the vote, a measly show for an incumbent in
any election nationwide" (l. 5900).

"...[H]is victory was split along sharp racial lines. In largely white Ward Three, only 586 of the 17,333 votes went to Barry. In Ward Eight, where Barry punched up registration, 10,497 of the 12,791 ballots were cast for him" (l. 5901).

In the general election, Barry beat city councilmember Carol Schwartz with 58 percent of the vote.

"In the early months of [Barry's] term, congressmen read banner headlines projecting a $722-million deficit in the District's $3.2-billion budget, most of which he had inherited from Kelly. The Congressional Budget Office in February declared the District 'technically insolvent' " (l. 5926).

Congress "establish the Financial Responsibility and Management Assistance Authority. Under the law, a five-member board had the authority to regulate DC spending, disapprove labor contracts, and delve deeply into agencies to reform the government. It reduced Barry's influence and rendered the 13-member council essentially powerless" (l. 5939).

Barry had the authority to appoint a chief financial officer for the city. On the advice of Jeffrey Earl Thompson, Barry appointed Anthony Williams.

"...Tony Williams seemed to be the perfect choice for Barry's purposes. Williams came across as shy and mild-mannered to a fault. He had few local connections.... A California native, Williams had a gold-plated resume: undergraduate degree from Yale, law degree from Harvard, master of public policy from the John F. Kennedy School of Government, and a stint in the Air Force.... His only flirtation with politics had been his election as an alderman in New Haven when he was at Yale. Tony Williams seemed meek, wore bow ties, often spoke in a mumble" (l. 5950).

"Marion Barry complained when Tony Williams got the authority to hire and fire, but the mayor was powerless to intercede. Williams drastically reduced the city work force that Barry had padded in his three terms" (l. 5975).

"Marion Barry was no longer having fun. On May 22, 1998, the 'Mayor for Life' summoned reporters and supporters to the DC council chambers to call it quits" (l. 5985).

The career politicians who declared themselves candidates for mayor did not inspire. A genuine grass-roots "draft Williams" campaign emerged. Williams resisted, then succumbed.

Williams won 50 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary against three opponents, and easily outpolled Carol Schwartz in the general election.

"In conversations on the streets and in barber shops, African Americans still wondered if Williams was 'black enough' to represent their interests.... But the majority of voters where interested in a mayor who could manage a city ready to emerge from federal control...." (l. 6023).

Cheater's Guide to Dream City continues

Further installments will appear on successive Fridays. All posts are 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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