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Marion Barry: The Politics of Race.

Marion Barry: The Politics of Race. Jonathan I. Z. Agronsky. British American Publishing, $21.95. While this book is not a clunker (and it easily could have been, considering how quickly it was written), it succeeds only in the modest goal of recounting Barry's rise and fall-a swell, if overly familiar, story. The shy son of a Mississippi maid abandons his chemistry career to join the civil rights movement, perfects the mau-mauing of whites, exchanges his dashiki for a pin-striped suit, and then scratches backs (and stabs them) to become one of America's most powerful mayors. Now tell me something I don't know. Tell me what made Barry run.

When it comes to Barry the man, Agronsky-like the rest of us-is at a loss to explain fully the power, the charisma, the fundamental detachment. Nevertheless, he does accumulate a remarkable catalog of Barry's callousness toward the public he was elected to serve. Some highlights: * Hazel "Rasheeda" Moore, the paramour used to lure Barry into the Vista sting, submitted a proposal for a $47,000 city contract months late yet had it approved within days. * Barry once threatened to cut funding of the contract unless Moore gave him a blow job. * Restaurateur Hassan Mohammadi and attorney Lloyd Moore, both of whom owned businesses that received city contracts, supplied Barry with cocaine. * Cocaine dealer Lydia Pearson handed Barry cocaine and a job application at the same instant.

Toss in the earlier legal wrangles involving Barry's ex-wife Mary Treadwell and former deputy mayors Alphonse Hill and Ivanhoe Donaldson -all of whom were sentenced to prison for their abuse of the public trust-and a few exhalations of crack seem like nothing. Yet when it came down to it, crack-not corruption or incompetence-was what it took to bring down the mayor.

Though I think the sting stank and the trial was a morality play-two points I wish Agronsky had unambiguously weighed in on-I am glad that Barry is no longer my mayor. A straightforward telling of his actions, which this book provides, certifies that by the end of his reign, Barry's role as mayor-once to protect the poor and disenfranchised of this city-had radically narrowed. Protecting himself and his friends had become a full-time job.

-Jon Cohen
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Author:Cohen, Jon
Publication:Washington Monthly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jul 1, 1991
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