“Hey, Darryl!” he calls across six lanes of traffic. “I know your sister,” he responds to a man waving from a corner. “Hey, brother, got those boxes for me yet?” he asks the garbage collector hauling cans from senators’ driveways in Foxhall.
An astonishing number of people in town feel enough kinship to Rock Newman that they approach him in the street to ask for work, cadge a five-spot, cheer him on, ask after his wife, or leave it at a simple “Hey, Rock!” The man need only stop at a red light and a crowd gathers. He steps over to a pay phone and a line forms to the right, 14 guys waiting to pay their respects.
And then there are those for whom Newman is tabula rasa. Perhaps you’ve seen the name -- boxing promoter, savior of Riddick Bowe, the fighter Newman nurtured back from Olympic disappointment to the heavyweight championship. Or perhaps you saw the Santa-shaped, bearded man on TV, doling out cash -- $250,000 in one day -- to any and all who turned over guns to be melted down. Possibly you recall when Rock stormed into the ring at the D.C. Convention Center and heaved over the ropes a man who he felt had dissed his fighter; this would be remarkable enough if the offending individual had been a sportswriter or the opposing manager or the referee, but the act achieved mythic proportions because 5-foot-8 Rock Newman had flung over the ropes his fighter’s heavyweight opponent.
That was Rock standing beside Marion Barry at his primary election victory party last month. That was Rock directing the band when to stop playing, leading the crowd in cheers and chants. When Barry was indicted, when all around the disgraced mayor were leaping out of camera range, Rock stood by his side. Rock was the one who invited Barry, post-prison, out to Las Vegas to spend time on the fight scene. Rock was the guy who urged Barry to mount his remarkable rally for redemption. And it was Rock who masterminded the Election Day coup in which hundreds of homeless men were plied with sandwiches and given rides to the polling places.
By his own estimate, Rock pumped $50,000 into the Barry election campaign (the legal limit on direct contributions is $100, but PACs can give anything, and the pro-Barry Washington Business PAC is Rock’s baby). Rock is a member of the prayerful foursome that believes a God-force will help lift Washington out of its spiritual and social morass -- Newman, the Barrys, and the Rev. Willie Wilson of Union Temple Baptist Church in Southeast Washington.