Barry Cites Health Woes

By Marcia Davis, Bill Turque, Nikita Stewart and Hamil Harris
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, February 12, 2009

Marion Barry has been at the center of the news this week, with federal prosecutors asking a judge to put the D.C. Council member (D-Ward 8) in jail for not filing a tax return for 2007.

But Barry, 72, gave WUSA (Channel 9) an explanation Tuesday for his recent behavior.

The former mayor said the expectation of undergoing a kidney transplant has distracted him from filing the return.

He told the TV station that the health issues have been "consuming" and have dominated his mental state. He said there was "no excuse" for not filing the 2007 return, but "that's the reason."

Two years ago, prosecutors failed in their efforts to jail Barry over taxes.

This week started off much more quietly for Barry. Hours before the tax issues emerged, he was demonstrating that he can agree with an antagonist when it's the right issue. In this case, he was agreeing with Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee.

Barry has challenged Rhee on numerous issues, including the high rate of suspensions and what he has called her lack of respect for the council. But they were in harmony this week when he said he agreed with Rhee's proposal to close two elementary schools in Ward 8.

"It makes sense, educationally and otherwise," Barry said of a plan to close Birney and Draper elementary schools at the end of the school year.

Draper, which can hold 352 students, has 84 this year, with enrollment expected to drop further in the fall. Rhee said she wants to move the children to nearby Ferebee-Hope Elementary, which has 271 students and is operating at about 50 percent of its capacity. Birney has been accommodating students displaced by the remodeling of Savoy Elementary. All of its students would move there in August.

Rhee also proposed closing Webb Elementary in Ward 5, which has served as a receiving school for students from Wheatley Elementary. All Webb students would move to Wheatley.

Some community leaders said last week that Draper and Birney should remain open to support residential construction planned for the area. Barry said such development, should it come to pass, would not attract significant numbers of families with school-age children.

Chili by the Gallon

The revenue from the country's largest inauguration in history is still being counted, but it's clear that area hotels, especially in the District, did all right for themselves.

Hotel guests paid an average of $605 to stay in the District on Jan. 20, when 96 percent of the rooms were booked, according to Destination D.C., the city's tourism arm.

Around the region, 87 percent of hotel rooms were booked at an average rate of $335.45 on Jan. 19, the eve of President Obama's inauguration.

Destination D.C. offered other facts. For example, 14,750 pounds of pasta were served at the six official inaugural balls hosted at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, and 555 gallons of chili were served at Ben's Chili Bowl during the week of the inauguration.

The Push for Statehood

The D.C. Statehood Green Party isn't going to be satisfied with just getting a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives.

One question dominated a recent panel the party sponsored at the University of the District of Columbia: "Is the effort for the District to get a vote in Congress undermining the effort for D.C. statehood?"

Green Party leader John Gloster asked that question of the panel, which included two D.C. Council members, the city's shadow delegation on Capitol Hill and several other activists from Free D.C. and Yes We Can Statehood Now.

Council members Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5) and Michael Brown (I-At Large) and shadow Sen. Paul Strauss (D) said that although the ultimate goal is statehood, the fact that the city was close to getting a vote in the House at a time when the Democrats control Congress and the White House is a good thing.

"If we get a vote in the House, there is a danger that we can't overlook," Strauss said. "We could send a message to the American people that the problem of D.C. statehood has been solved for now. I think that it is a decision that we have to consider more broadly."

Gloster said his party plans to turn up the heat on the D.C. statehood issue. "Now is the time to seize the moment," Gloster said, referring to President Obama's support and a Democratic majority on the Hill.

"If we can't get statehood now, then when can we?"

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