Marion Barry spoils a turkey giveaway

November 20, 2012

HUNDREDS OF FAMILIES in Ward 8 lined up Tuesday for free turkeys. The donations were arranged by D.C. Council member Marion Barry (D). Good for Mr. Barry in helping to serve the needs of residents, particularly in these hard-hit times. But did he really have to spoil the holiday spirit with gratuitous comments that insult the very people he aims to serve?

Mr. Barry’s turkey giveaway is an annual tradition, and in years past he has refused to say who has paid for the turkeys or whether the donors have contracts with the city. Pressed this year by the Washington City Paper’s Alan Suderman, Mr. Barry said it’s only “liberal white folks” who are interested in disclosure rules or, for that matter, other good-government initiatives, such as the city’s open-meetings law. After vowing not to disclose the donors (“I’m not ever telling”), Mr. Barry released a statement that cited the involvement of Chartered Health Plan, Wal-Mart, WC Smith, Chapman Development, Intralot, United Healthcare, Fort Myer Construction and Union Temple Baptist Church.

Mr. Barry’s clumsy reference to race should surprise no one (recall his comments about Asian store owners and Filipino nurses), but the suggestion that only white people care about measures to ensure integrity and ethics in government is truly offensive.

The donors who provided the funds to purchase the turkeys ($40,000 for 2,000 turkeys) may do so out of the goodness of their hearts or as a way to ingratiate themselves with a city official who holds some sway over contracts. That they be a matter of public record — much like contributions to officials’ constituent service accounts — should not even be a matter for dispute. Nor is the fact that all citizens, no matter their skin color, have a stake in a city government as open as possible.

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