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A dream deferred; a black mayor betrays the faith.


Whenever, I think of some of America's black mayors I am reminded of my trip to Nairobi, Kenya in 1971. In the clutter of shacks and rubble in a run-down tract on the edge of the city an old man told me that soon after the British relinquished control of the government to Kenya's black majority in the 1960s, the government appointed Nairobi's first black policemen. Nairobi's poor blacks were elated. The venal white police with their truncheons, British accents, and racist arrogance were leaving. They had treated Kenya's blacks like dirt, beaten them and stolen their money and dignity. The arrival of black policement, their ebony skin in the pressed beauty of caps and uniforms previously reserved only for whites, brought home to poor ghetto blacks the reality of their nation's independence. The old man said he had cried with joy and the young people danced in the streets.

Unfortunately, the old man said, pointing to thick raised scars across his arms and chest, the black policemen proved far more vicious than the whites. More whips and sticks than ever flew against blacks in the hands of black policemen. The black policemen viewed their new power as a license to threaten black men, rape black women, and take bribes from criminals and rich whites who controlled the black ghetto more brazenly than ever before. All restraint was gone with these new police, the old man explained, because poor blacks could find no audience for complaints about the black policemen. Poor blacks had been demanding black policemen for years. Black policemen were a symbol of national pride--no one in power, white or black, wanted to hear that the black policemen were mean, crooked bastards.

Black mayors of American cities are not, of course, inflicting the kind of physical abuse on the public those Kenyan policeman did. But I cannot help but think that some blacks in the United States have been similarly betrayed. Several black mayors have used their new positions to make deals for their friends and keep themselves comfortable, but have failed to improve the lives of black people--or any other needy group--in their cities. And no one, black or white, really wants to admit this abuse of trust exists.

Just as blacks became policemen when Kenya won its independence, black American mayors came to power in the aftermath of another revolution: the big city riots. Black Americans had set fire to the cities where they lived in poverty and segregated isolation. They were invisible in the downtown office buildings where the cities were run by white businessmen and politicians. (Prior to 1967, no major city had a black mayor). Following the example of the civil rights protests in the blatantly segregated South, urban blacks in the North aimed their fire at the all white mayors and police chiefs. They asked, "Why can't blacks run cities where blacks live?'

White businessmen saw the cities burning and their business markets shaken by social disorder. At the same time, white flight was changing the mathematics of urban electoral politics. Detroit's population in 1980 was 63 percent black; it was 29 percent black in 1960. Washington's black population jumped from 54 percent to 70 percent during the same period, and Newark's from 34 percent to 58 percent. The ground was fertile for the current crop of big city black mayors. They could finally get financial support for campaigns from white businessmen anxious to placate blacks, and higher black voter registration provided an electoral base.

From 1965 to 1985, Washington, Detroit, Philadelphia, Gary, Chicago, Los Angeles, Newark, New Orleans, Birmingham, Atlanta, and more than 200 smaller cities all elected black mayors for the first time. On television, the black mayors were popular figures, seen in the three-piece suits that had long been the uniform of white political dominance. They were the pride of black America, replacing the often arrogant whites who had paid little attention to the black areas of town.

But like the blacks in Nairobi, too many American blacks have found their dream betrayed as some black mayors have proved to be as corrupt, uncaring and abusive as the old white mayors. White mayors may have allowed racist police to violate black citizens' rights, but none ever bombed a black neighborhood as did Philadelphia's Wilson Goode. The first black mayor elected in a major northeastern city, Kenneth Gibson of Newark, ruled for 15 years, gaining reelection--one year while under indictment--even though he did little to try to lower Newark's poverty, infant mortality, unemployment and crime rates, all among the highest in the nation.

Most tragic of all is that blacks in this country have rallied around the worst of the black mayors. Wilson Goode is still supported by close to 70 percent of blacks in his city. [See "Goode: Bad and Indifferent,' p. 27.] There seems to be too much pride in having placed a man with a black face in city hall to kick him out, no matter how poorly he is serving the interests of blacks and the city as a whole.

Nowhere is this tragedy more evidence than in Washington, D.C., where Marion Barry's administration has compiled a record of corruption as disheartening as any in recent years. Sadder still, his preoccupied administration has squandered a great opportunity to offer strong, compassionate black political power and elevate the status of poor blacks. And yet even he has retained the affection of the black community.

Mau mauing to the mayoralty

When the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was formed in April 1960, it represented the best of young black America. This movement of college students arose at a time when the civil rights movement's older black leaders were adrift, uncertain how to face massive white resistance to the Supreme Court's 1954 order to desegregate public schools. Impatient with the slower, non-confrontational ways of their elders, the students took the movement to the streets, staging sit-ins, taking seats in the front of buses, and registering poor blacks throughout the South where blacks could be killed for registering. They energized the civil rights movement, put it back on the front pages. When Martin Luther King Jr. and NAACP-types tried to take control of the student movement, the students said no. SNCC was to be a student-run group under no central figure. They set up a rotating chairmanship, and to demonstrate that SNCC was not going to be controlled by the Ivy League black "saviors,' who came from the North to tell their less-schooled southern brethren how to run a movement, they chose as the first leader a little known student from tiny Itta Bena, Mississippi--Marion Barry.

The student activists put their necks on the line to win rights for black Americans. Many of the blacks who later joined the Barry administration in D.C. had been in SNCC: Ivanhoe Donaldson became Barry's most trusted advisor as deputy mayor; Courtland Cox, a Barry advisor; John Wilson, a city councilman. SNCC volunteers went to horrible southern jails guarded by openly racist sheriffs. They worked for no money, slept in church basements, cotton fields or on some old lady's couch after putting in 16-hour days. They risked their safety and their futures, accepting jail rcords and earning the animosity of the whites who had jobs to offer. Throughout SNCC's trying early years, Marion Barry was among the most committed and self-sacrificing. He was a leader, for example, of the bold 1960 luncheonette sit-ins in Memphis.

SNCC sent Barry to Washington in 1965 to raise money and organize blacks in the capital. While there, his interest drifted away from SNCC and toward the city's "home rule' movement. At the time, the District had no local government-- the president and the Congress ran the city. Only Congress could raise taxes, and commissioners appointed by the president had to plead with conservative southern congressmen for money to provide basic services. Barry called it "political slavery.' He said the white congressmen on the district committees and the white businessmen who lorded over the city's black majority were "misery merchants.'

After Congress increased District bus fares in 1966, hitting hard the system's mostly black riders, Barry used his SNCC training to organize a bus boycott. He then demanded that District stores display orange and black "Free D.C.' stickers in their windows and give money to the home rule drive or else he would organize pickets and boycott against their stores. He was accused of trying to extort money, and backed down. But Barry was making waves and William Raspberry, a columnist for The Washington Post, wrote in 1966 that Barry was "fast becoming the leading catalyst for change in Washington.'

By 1967, Barry had quit SNCC and started working with a federally-funded jobs program called Pride Inc. that put thousands of youths to work cleaning streets, painting buildings, landscaping, and operating gas stations. Barry quickly became a militant voice in D.C. politics. After the city's 1968 riots, for example, he warned that he had been given "the word that if the city is rebuilt the way it was, it will be burned down again.'

The home rule movement's first achievement was to win the right to hold school board elections. In 1971, Barry, frequently dressed in the uniform of the revolution, dark glasses and Dashiki, ran for the board, pledging to "get rid of some of those teachers who are not teaching' and telling high school students that "in order to get rid of unemployment in the United States, you must get rid of capitalism as it operates.' Later, as chairman of the board, he continued to display his activist approach by, among other things, sending elementary school children into the streets to protest President Nixon's welfare policies.

He stayed until 1974, when the city gained the right to a city council and mayor. He won an atlarge council seat with a campaign emphasizing greater financial independence from Congress and calling for free transportation for senior citizens and job training. He beat out a crowded field of opponents and soon became chair of the council's finance and revenue committee.

Suddenly he had to deal with the same white business community that had objected to his demands for money for the home rule movement. In a pivotal vote in 1975, Barry signaled a new willingness to accomodate the desires of the business community. He blocked a 1 percent increase in the gross receipts tax proposed by Mayor Walter Washington, which was ardently opposed by the business community. City council members had hoped the increase would fund textbook purchases and school renovations. Although some opposed the tax because it was regressive, Barry explained his decision was an effort to include the business community as part of his constituency. With campaign contributions from this new constituency, Barry was easily reelected in 1976.

In 1978, Barry launched an underdog campaign for mayor against the incumbent, Walter Washington, and then city council chairman, Sterling Tucker, who is also black. It was the city's first real election for mayor. Walter Washington had won the first election in 1974 after having served as the presidentially-appointed commissioner for the city; the popular sentiment had been to give him the honor of being the city's first mayor. But his gentle ways did not move the city's bureaucracy. Neither did it satisfy the black voters' yearing to see the city run by blacks for blacks. Walter Washington was black, but many blacks were suspicious that he was still too tied to the mostly white power structure that had run the city when he was a commissioner.

Barry attacked Washington's administration for "bumbling and bungling in an inefficiently run city government.' Barry told stories of people waiting in lines for half a day to get drivers licenses and city hall bureaucrats not answering citizens phone calls. He posed as one of the new generation, ready to take over and make the city work, responsive to the needs of black people in the city, promising to end the "caretaker' concept of government. "The issue in the election of 1978 is energetic leadership, leadership which [is] chosen by the people, to do the people's bidding,' he said during the campaign.

Ironically, Barry won a very close race by carrying the white wards, in large part because of key Washington Post endorsements. The paper's all-white editors were tired of badly run city government, but also romanded by an image of Barry as radical transformed into mainstream politician. "He is still remembered, by some, for a supposed excess of militancy in the 1960s,' the Post wrote. "We would argue, on the contrary, that Marion Barry . . . has shown a commendable capacity for growth and a considerable talent for accomodation.'

It wasn't until he was reelected in 1982 that Barry gained the support of the majority of blacks. In 1978, older blacks split their vote between the incumbent Washington and the well-financed Sterling Tucker. These Washington and Tucker supporters were established, middle-class blacks with strong historical roots in the city who viewed Barry as an ill-mannered upstart whose embarrassing behavior would likely damage home-rule. Barry's small black support in 1978 came from young blacks, the civil rights crowd that identified him as a man who fought against segregation and was now ready to take control of 44,000 city employees and a $2 billion budget in 1979. This was what the black "revolutionaries' had dreamed of in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Now Barry was in a position to make that dream come to life.

Sex, drugs, and low interest loans

In the seven and a half years since Barry took office, his administration has achieved some notable successes: a highly acclaimed summer jobs program, booming downtown development, a strengthened financial picture, and a generally improved image for the city. But these are not the centerpieces of the administration, for soon after Barry took office a troubling pattern emerged: instead of shaping a government more responsive to the poor or devising creative solutions to the city's mounting problems, the administration seemed to produce mostly a stream of scandals. And instead of providing the dynamic leadership he had promised, Barry seemed more interested in indulging himself.

The first major scandal broke in December 1979, less than a year after the reformer was sworn in. Barry and his wife had accepted a low-rate mortgage from a local banker who was competing for development rights to a city-owned tract of land. The banker had put Barry's wife on the bank's board of directors and now he had given the new mayor a 3 1/4 point discount on a $100,000 mortgage, a savings of $242 a month. Barry at first denied he had been given special treatment, but eventually gave up the discount after local media continued to report the story.

Barry was also showing signs that his revolutionary zeal had been replaced by a concern for money, clothes and status. I was then covering local politics for The Washington Post. His intimates told me Barry gained great pleasure from seeing his name in print and being recognized in public. He bought expensive new clothes, ate at fancy restaurants, and took trips to the Caribbean. Then he had his friends complain to the press that his $64,000 salary was inadequate. The complaints turned virtually into a full-fledged movement to get Barry a $500,000 mansion as an official mayoral residence.

He later complained that other mayors were allowed such perks, so why shouldn't he have them? "In Gary, Indiana, where the whole city is on hard economic times, with factories leaving, unemployment, if [Mayor] Dick Hatcher turned in his Cadillac people there would be outraged,' Barry said wistfully. "If someone donated a Cadillac here the city would be outraged.'

He travelled to a Sugar Ray Leonard fight in Las Vegas at city expense, at first telling reporters that he was trying to lure prize fighting to the District. He soon backed off that explanation as it became clear no one believed him. When city workers had failed to clear the streets following a snowstorm in 1979, Barry rode to work in his limousine. In a gesture of arrogance even Mayor Daley would have found offensive, he then told a reporter "there are more important things for me to worry about than snow,' and gave pithy advice to those who were unable to drive to work: "They can walk.'

As his first term wound down, another scandal hit close to home. Reports emerged that Barry's first wife, Mary Treadwell, Barry's wife until 1976, had diverted federal funds from Pride, Inc., the anti-poverty group that she had run with Barry, to her own bank account. Barry said he had suspected nothing about her alleged misuse of federal funds even though Treadwell drove a Mercedes, bought him a Volvo, and paid for trips to the Caribbean, art and jewelry--all on her $23,000-a-year salary. The government also charged that Treadwell had defrauded the government of money intended for Clifton Terrace, a low-income apartment complex. In July 1983, Treadwell was convicted and sentenced to three years in federal prison.

Since his 1982 reelection, the parade of scandals surrounding Barry has continued:

In mid-1984, reports emerged that Barry had bought cocaine from a campaign worker, Karen Johnson. In a phone conversation apparently taped by the police, Johnson reportedly told her boyfriend she had sold cocaine to the mayor. Barry admitted he had a "personal relationship' with Johnson but denied any drug use. In June, Johnson pleaded guilty to charges of using and selling cocaine. She was also cited for contempt of court for refusing to testify before a federal grand jury investigating allegations that several city officials, including Barry, used cocaine. Barry testified before the grand jury in the Johnson case but was not indicted.

In August 1984, Joanne T. Medina, a publishing company executive, became ill after taking large amounts of cocaine and barbiturates at a party with several top city officials. She died four days later. After her death, city officials attempted to get the medical examiner to change the autopsy results. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration then tried, unsuccessfully, to find out if the mayor and another top city official had used cocaine with Medina or been involved in buying cocaine with her or for her.

In February 1985, the city paid $11 million to Jeffrey N. Cohen, a real estate developer and godfather to Barry's son, for land it valued at only $6.7 million.

In August 1985, Robert L. Green, the Barry-supported president of the University of District of Columbia, resigned amid charges from the D.C. auditor that he had misspent money from a special university checking account for his personal travel, catering and consultants.

In January 1986, three principals of a firm hired by the city to renovate a housing development pleaded guilty to income tax evasion. The grand jury investigating the Bates Street project, a showcase of the administration's housing policy, was delayed by the Barry administration's repeated failure to turn over its records.

Finally, the Barry administration appears to have turned the city's minority set-aside program into a treasure chest for the mayor's friends. In 1984, D.C. auditor Otis Troupe said the city could not justify about $200,000 in contracts given to the former Barry aides and a former D.C. politician after they left government. "The mayor's policy of settling windfalls on a few political influentials is unsatisfactory; making millionaires of a few well-connected lawyers is a perversion of minority participation,' complained The Washington Post. They noted that in one downtown project a proposal that ranked last on merit was approved "because of the prominent blacks on the development team.'

Two city officials lost their jobs after complaining of illegal practices in the minority contracting program. Jose Gutierrez, the city's former chief purchasing officer, charged that the Barry administration was paying millions more than necessary for goods and services provided by minority contractors with close ties to the mayor. Then Alvin C. Frost, a black senior cash management analyst, charged that the city's finance department was "rife' with corruption, again singling out minority businesses in which the city had invested. Frost was forced to resign. Deputy Mayor Alphonse Hill told reporters to ignore Frost because he was a "nerd and an imbecile.' Hill was later fired after he admitted accepting $3,000 and assorted gifts from a city contractor. The minority contracting program is now in serious jeopardy in Congress, which still has the power to reject the D.C. budget.

The FBI has subpoenaed nearly 500 people in or involved with D.C. government for various investigations. As this magazine went to press, new scandals were unfolding almost daily, several involving contracts awarded by the Department of Human Services and problems at the Department of Employment Services.

When scandals weren't in the news, rumors of wrongdoing were circulating. Most damaging in the eyes of the city's large black church-going community was the perception that Barry was an unrestrained philanderer. When I was covering city hall, sources and reporters would often chat about the latest Barry sex rumors before getting down to business. Barry's public actions only encouraged the rumors. For instance, Barry went to a 14th Street strip joint called "This Is It' and expressed frustration when reporters later asked him why he would go into such a place. That the owners of the go-go bar were under grand jury investigation at the time and that the entertainment consisted of naked women standing on tables and bending over to expose their genitalia didn't seem to convince Barry it wasn't a proper setting for the mayor. Barry's defense was that he went there seeking not erotica but campaign contributions.

Alter ego in the slammer

Perhaps the saddest chapter in the story of the Barry administration's shift in values is the career of Ivanhoe Donaldson, the mayor's most trusted aide. Donaldson, who masterminded Barry's two election drives, was the heart and soul of Barry's administration. He was the "hands-on man' in charge of the actual operation of the government while Barry took the ceremonial role of mayor.

Donaldson reveled in his role as the real power broker of the city government; he had always been cast opposite the white power brokers when he had worked with SNCC organizing blacks to register to vote. Now the rich, white K Street lawyers, lobbyists and accountants had to come to Ivanhoe Donaldson to do business. So did the black professionals who worked for the big, white companies--the same guys who for years had snubbed Donaldson and Barry as wild-eyed civil rights workers.

He was once asked why the District government wasn't doing more for the poor. His answer, the Post wrote, was that "government can't eliminate poverty.' Government can, however, give out patronage in the form of jobs and contracts, he added, explaining that contracts Barry gave to selected black professionals who were politically close to the administration would enrich a slice of the black community and might create some jobs for poor blacks. "Patronage isn't evil, it's just good politics,' Donaldson told me one day during the 1982 election. Distribution of contracts and jobs doesn't have to be bad; it can help struggling contractors and the unemployed, and can make government more accountable. The problem with the Barry administration's cronyism is that it has been blind to individual capabilities and needs, and usually lines the pockets of a small group of professionals with political connections. For example, about 40 percent of the city's housing acquisition money from 1979 to 1981 went to builder Theodore Hagen, the chairman of Barry's inauguration committee.

Donaldson used his power to subsidize an extravagant lifestyle, racking up huge debts with payments for his Mercedes Benz, limousines, custom-tailored suits and expensive restaurants. He left city government in 1983 to become a liason with black mayors for E.F. Hutton's municipal bonds division.

The tragedy of Ivanhoe Donaldson ended in January 1986, when he pleaded guilty to stealing $200,000 from the city (although federal investigators said the total may have been as high as $1 million), obstructing justice by trying to convince four people to submit false affidavits to D.C. inspectors, and income tax evasion. He took money from a special fund that was supposed to help distribute unemployment benefits. He used city funds to have his Mercedes Benz repaired, double-billed the city for a poll, and shifted $6,500 to his unemployed aunt, ostensibly for a study of New York's unemployment system. More recently, his name has come up in connection with scandals in New York and Chicago involving payoffs to parking meter collection companies.

The pathetic epilogue to the Donaldson story was provided by Barry himself. After his principal deputy, old comrade-in arms, and close friend was convicted, Barry insisted that Donaldson was "just one of several' top aides in the city with no special connection to him.

"Where is the Mayor?'

The seemingly endless list of scandal and innuendo is embarrassing, but does it represent a betrayal of blacks? In the case of Marion Barry, yes. First, several of the Barry administration scandals ripped off his poorest constituents. When contractors for a public housing project are chosen solely for their political connections and do a lousy job renovating apartments, it cheats those in the project. Similarly, the scandals can destroy potentially worthwhile programs, as happened when corruption permeated the minority contracting program.

Furthermore, the scandals, rather than an aggressive agenda of problem solving, became the focus of the Barry administration. In the course of four years Barry's ex-wife, his lover, and his alter-ego went to jail. I was reporting from the District building during the Treadwell controversy. For a full year, speculation continued on whether Barry would be indicted. A typical day consisted of him spending hour after hour consulting with his lawyers on how to avoid being implicated in the scandal, with aides on how to handle the political fallout, with reporters answering questions about the scandal, and with constituents, responding to their questions on his involvement. It happened again with the Karen Johnson controversy and, undoubtedly, when Ivanhoe Donaldson was indicted.

The supreme distraction these problems caused, along with Barry's increasing interest in treating himself to the finer things in life and his cynically political view of who he had to help instead of who he should, combined to take a tremendous toll on the poor in Washington. A calloused realpolitik had crept into Barry's policies. In an interview with me during the city's 1980 budget crisis, Barry, in cold political terms, listed the groups he would protect in

the face of budget cuts. "I'll tell you who supported me . . . the labor unions, police, fire fighters and teachers, the gays and 30 percent of the black voters. I lost Ward 8 where all the black people live. They didn't support me.' He created a special office to address gay concerns and increased the police department budget, but scrapped a scheduled, long overdue welfare in crease and cut the education budget, the two parts of the budget most important to poor blacks.

Barry's administration has also bungled plenty of opportunities to resolve the city's problems. This year, the U.S. District Court had to take control of the local jails from Barry because he had consistently failed to address the problem of prison overcrowding. In 1983, U.S. District Judge William B. Bryant held Barry in contempt of court for violating his orders to reduce jail population. In July of 1985, Bryant threatened another contempt citation for Barry. Barry was saved that time by the U.S. Justice Department, which agreed to house some of the city's prisoners to give Barry time to find added jail space for several thousand prisoners. But by January, the Justice Department said it would help with the prison problem no more because it felt the city was doing nothing. Barry then tried to secretly ship some prisoners to Pennsylvania, a move showing questionable political acuity since the chairman of the Senate Appropriation subcommittee on the District of Columbia is Pennsylvanian Arlen Spector. Pennsylvania officials refused the prisoners, Barry apologized, then tried housing the prisoners in an old police station in a residential neighborhood near a public school without consulting area representatives. "The history illustrates that the management of the system is so inept . . . that officials have no idea of what to do and how to do it,' said Alvin J. Bronstein, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union's National Prison Program. "Other jurisdictions have ongoing problems, but they deal with their problems . . . but not in the District.'

Barry's "revolutionary' government has also failed to improve the city's deteriorating public housing projects. Walk through these projects and you see missing front doors, sewage from broken plumbing, people jammed into small, one bedroom apartments. The city's handling of public housing was deemed so disgraceful that in March 1986, Samuel Pierce, Jr., the secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, took the unusual step of directing an aide to oversee the D.C. system because local officials had failed to correct serious problems identified in federal government audits. For example, the waiting list for public housing has almost doubled from 7,232 in 1974 to 13,000 this year, with waiting periods as long as ten years. Yet the city's system had one of the highest vacancy rates in the nation because the city failed to renovate apartments and manage them efficiently. In March 1986, 2,066 units--about 17 percent of the total--were vacant. A 1984 HUD audit said apartments remained vacant for an average of a year and a half, giving vandals plenty of time to destroy the chance that someone on the waiting list might get a home.

It's not for lack of money that Mayor Barry has let public housing languish. It was revealed this year that the city has been sitting on more than $8.8 million in federal housing money for more than three years without spending it.

For the most destitute, the city's roughly 10,000 homeless, Barry's administration has done little. As the battle between Mitch Snyder's Community for Creative Non-Violence and the Reagan Administration raged over the renovation of a few federal shelters, Barry's administration stayed quietly on the sidelines. The Washington Post, in an editorial entitled, "Where is the Mayor?' wrote, "Marion Barry is a man who made his reputation and political career by taking up the cause of people without power. Now he has an official responsibility to help a particularly needy group of people without power. It is a scandal that he does not do his duty.' In rejecting a federal proposal to house hundreds of homeless in trailers on District property, Barry said, "we are not prepared to take sorely needed local dollars to pay for either short-term or long-term solutions that are solely the responsibility of the federal government.' Barry also opposed a referendum stating that the city had a responsibility to shelter the homeless. The referendum passed overwhelmingly and now the Barry administration is battling it in the courts.

In the area of transportation, Barry--the man who led a boycott to protest increased bus fares for the poorest riders--has presided over the construction of a discriminatory transportation system. Anyone interested in a quick lesson in the demographics of poverty and political clout in Washington need only glance at a Metro map. There are four lines: red, blue, yellow and green. The red, blue and yellow lines cut through downtown Washington and jut into the ritzy Maryland and Virginia suburbs; the green line draws a loop through most of the blackest, poorest parts of town. Three of those four lines are partially or totally complete. One has not been begun and may never be begun. Guess which. Barry ducks this charge by saying that the plans for the Metro were finished long before he came into office. True. But as finances were dwindling and decisions were being made to concentrate resources on the commuter lines, Barry threw up his hands.

In the area of public education, the school system that had hit bottom has seen some improvement during the Barry administration. But it has come in spite of the mayor, not because of him. The last two superintendents, appointed by the independently elected school board, have provided strong leadership, improved test scores, morale, and funding. The public schools' current superintendent, Floretta McKenzie, a hardworking administrator not given to grandstanding, this March threatened to quit if Barry didn't give the ailing school system enough money. Over 44,000 parents signed a petition asking the mayor to give the schools more money. The city council approved the funding; Barry's liason to the council ultimately agreed the mayor could "live with' the increased spending. Barry's budget shows the emphasis he places on education. From 1983 to 1986, agencies falling under the category of "governmental direction and support,' such as the Mayor's office, received a 30 percent increase. Meanwhile, the education budget went up only 17 percent. Barry's concern for education is also reflected in his actions as a parent. When it comes toD.C. public schools, Marion Barry is no fool: he sends his son to a private school.

In health care, the city also has a questionable record. While the city spends more per capita than most cities on mental health care, it has one of the weakest programs, according to the Public Citizen's Health Research Group.

There has been plenty of money to attack the city's problems. D.C. has per capita taxes that are among the highest in the country. Part of that burden goes to pay for the second largest government payroll per capita of any state. The Barry administration, long sensitive to claims that its bureaucracy is bloated, notes that it combines the services of state, local and municipal government.

In the area of economic development, Barry's constituents had expected he would be more than simply a representative of the Board of Trade-- that in the process of developing downtown he would also develop the poor parts of the city and make sure that at the very least, the economic development that does occur wouldn't uproot neighborhoods.

Muhammad Sabur, a former official at the city's housing and planning office, said he left his job out of frustration over the role of politics in determining economic development. He said that while Barry has done well developing downtown, he has spent no energy trying to develop the poorer parts of town because politically he takes them for granted. He says Barry "wants to be mayor. He likes being mayor. If Ward 7 and 8 [two poor, black districts] don't bring the network and political clout then he's not going to work on it.' He said there has been little effort by the Barry Administration to require developers who are getting tax breaks and assistance to construct downtown to also invest in poorer neighborhoods, a strategy that has had great success in Boston and San Francisco. Moreover, Barry has shown little concern for how economic development affects neighborhoods. He reneged on campaign promises not to support the expansion of a Hilton hotel into the Adams Morgan neighborhood, nor to allow office buildings and condominiums instead of public parks or malls on the Georgetown waterfront.

Sabur explains that the relationship between community organizations and city hall helps to quiet much of the criticism that would otherwise come from these communities. He says that because most of the civic and housing counseling groups are financed with city grants they are reluctant to complain too loudly.

Blacker than thou

A major with such a poor record--both in terms of actual achievement and wasted potential--should surely go down to thumping defeat. Certainly a mayor bathed in a constant stream of scandal and leading an arrogant lifestyle amid so much despair should be kicked out by voters at the first opportunity. Without question, a mayor who has both problems should be a political has-been. So it would seem.

But Marion Barry won re-election in 1982, defeating his opponent Patricia Roberts Harris, 58 percent to 36 percent. More incredible, he won the 1982 election by carrying the lower income black wards overwhelmingly. His job approval as of January 1985, was a robust 65 percent, with blacks giving him almost twice as favorable a rating as did whites. He is considered the odds-on-favorite for reelection and so far doesn't have any strong opponents for November's election.

Why is the mayor so invincible even when he has compiled such an embarrassing record? For one, blacks fear that to challenge a black mayor as corrupt is to take a risk. That gamble could mean fracturing the loud, insistent, united black voice that enabled blacks to become mayors in the first place. Even though Barry's mayoral opponents in 1978 and 1982 were black, some blacks fear that throwing out the city's second black mayor like a scoundrel might help the ever-gentrifying whites take over city government. Blacks occasionally speak in terms of The Plan--the plan by whites to take over city government again. There is also the sense that open rebellion against a black mayor could be seen as a tacit admission that black governance doesn't automatically work. It would be letting down a guard to a hostile world.

I remember when I was covering the election returns in 1982, one of Barry's young poll watchers asked me how, as a black, I could have written a particular profile critical of Barry. "The people know about Barry,' he said. "But you don't want to let people outside, even Ward 3 [where the whites live], or the rest of the world know. You don't want people to know he's an idiot.' This tendency to circle the wagons ends up providing ammunition to the enemy as incompetence is preserved under the banner of ethnic solidarity. A white prosecutor like U.S. Attorney Joe DiGenova, a Republican appointee probably relishing the prospect of embarrassing a Democrat, is an obvious "bad guy;' there's a perverse pride in seeing a black man keep a step ahead of the white lawman. What no one seems willing to admit is that DiGenova is fishing for corruption in teeming waters, and that the black man in this story has been assaulting the trust of other blacks.

"This is a black mayor in a white-run town-- and the whiteys don't like it,' Robert Jones, a resident of southeast D.C. told The Washington Post during the DiGenova drug investigation. "A blind man can see what's happening: the whites are moving back and the groundwork is being laid to make sure this is the last black mayor.' Joslyn N. Williams, president of the AFL-CIO's Metropolitan Washington Council said DiGenova was gunning for Barry because the city is overwhelmingly black, Democratic and liberal. "Regardless of what one thinks of the mayor, it is important to rally around Marion Barry,' he said, "not because he is Barry but because he is the chief executive.'

Barry encourages this all-for-one ethnic unity. "I am concerned that as blacks become leaders in positions where they weren't before, that other blacks begin immediately to criticize everything that's there and act as though [the problems] started when we got there,' Barry told a graduating class of the University of District of Columbia in 1980.

The worst risk in criticizing Barry is that such criticism might break faith with the civil rights movement. Just as northerners after the Civil War won elections for three decades by "waving the bloody shirt'--invoking memories of the war--black politicians sometimes wrap themselves in the banner of the civil rights movement.

When Martin Luther King Jr. was confronted with criticism from other black civil rights leaders in the middle of the southern protest movement, he cautioned his rivals: "We should not devour each other to the delight of on-lookers who would have us corrupt and sully the noble quality of our crusade.' The "crusade' was everything; the opponents were racist and oppressive whites. That lesson is one not easily forgotten. Unfortunately, the vigilance that was necessary then is now being used as cover for selfish, corrupt or incompetent black leaders. "They used to just lynch people by a rope a long time ago,' Barry said when DiGenova was investigating the drug charges against him in 1984. "After that they're trying to lynch black people another way and I'm not going to be lynched.' When the Post investigated a minority contracting program, Barry's response was that the newspaper was out to "destroy our minority contracting program.'

In such a political environment, blackness has become Barry's main defense--even when his opponent is black. While Barry uses racial unity as a weapon in fighting white adversaries, he uses his blacker-than-thou street-dude persona to strengthen his appeal within segments of the black community. His principal opponent in the 1982 election was Patricia Roberts Harris, President Carter's secretary of Housing and Urban Development. During the race Ivanhoe Donaldson said, "there has always been a black candidate in D.C. elections and Marion is that candidate. Mrs. Harris can speak for herself.' Harris was undeniably black and she had compiled a solid record of black achievement despite the odds against a black woman in the fifties and sixties. Donaldson's message was that she worked her way up through the white-dominated federal government, not the confrontational civil rights movement as Barry had.

Whites have reasons for supporting Barry too. Businessmen appreciate the hypnotic hold he has over the city's black voters, that has created a stable environment for business in a city where turmoil could easily take hold. Most of the District's politicians are ex-radicals from the civil rights movement; there is a socialist on the city council, and the voters are decidedly anti-business, as shown by their support of rent control and higher taxes. Moreover, Barry has been helpful to white developers, siding with them frequently in battles with neighborhood groups and cutting red tape for downtown development projects. That may be why the developers poured tens of thousands of dollars into Barry's re-election campaign.

The most important white political actor in the city, The Washington Post, has also shied away from criticizing Barry. While I was working on the editorial page staff, there was a tendency to hold Barry to a lower standard than other politicians. The paper had pushed hard for him and felt that as the leader of the first independent black government since home rule, he was entitled to make mistakes and have time to learn. There was also a strong sense of defensiveness and liberal guilt that came with being a white newspaper in a black town. More recently, Barry's criticism of the Post's investigative series on minority contractors played on that racial tension.

Entering a new era

This nation has seen scores of lousy mayors-- nearly all white. Yet the story of Marion Barry is particularly tragic because it involves a man who abandoned the principles of the civil rights struggle for which he fought so valiantly. Barry did more good for his people when he was working in the civil rights movement to gain power than he did after he had that power. The constant bouts with petty corruption have diverted attention from Barry's policy failures and from the larger agenda of reforms that black voters might demand of the practically all-white development firms, real estate companies, banks, and utilities. Consequently, the promise of black political power in Washington and the change it could bring for the city's black residents, particularly the poorest, has gone down the drain. Yet Barry is on his way to reelection for a third term because black Washington voters can't bring themselves to cut loose this sad figure.

Unfortunately, Marion Barry is not an anomaly. There are several black mayors who have similarly betrayed the hopes and faith of their people. Wilson Goode in Philadelphia has gained more and more support from the black community as criticism from whites has mounted. Richard Hatcher has presided over Gary, Indiana, for years even though he has done little to address the poor public schools and deep poverty.

Obviously, the failure of these men has nothing to do with the fact that they are black. And just as obviously, there have been many tremendously successful black mayors. Andrew Young of Atlanta, Richard Arrington of Birmingham, and Johnny Ford of Tuskegee, are just a few who have earned high marks from blacks and whites alike. But it's time for American blacks to defeat bad black mayors; they are no longer a symbol of pride for the race.

In May 1986, for only the second time in American history (the first being the unusual case of Walter Washington), an incumbent black mayor of a major city was defeated. Kenneth Gibson, the mayor of Newark, N.J. for 15 years, was defeated by another black man who complained that Gibson had long since lost interest in solving the city's problems of poverty, crime, and economic decay. It is incredible that Gibson lasted for so many years while the city deteriorated. But his defeat provides hope. It may mean that a new period of black politics has started in which black voters will no longer allow themselves to be trampled upon by those who claim to lead them.
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Title Annotation:Philadelphia mayor - W. Wilson Goode
Author:Stone, Chuck
Publication:Washington Monthly
Date:Jul 1, 1986
Previous Article:Watching the watchdogs; are they barking up the wrong tree?
Next Article:Goode: bad and indifferent.

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