Barry's Tenure Was a Roller-Coaster Ride
He particularly remembers the "sinister" quality of Barry's third term, when the mayor's drug abuse spiraled out of control and "there were lots of closed-door meetings and there was clear dishonesty around budgeting and spending."
The substance abuse got so heavy, Cropp said, that "on one occasion I actually had to take his hand, put a pen in his hand and guide his hand on an official document to sign his signature."
At some point, Cropp said, the power went to Barry's head, and his troubled side came to overwhelm his vast potential. Barry admitted as much shortly after his conviction.
"When I was in power, people around me would say, 'Mr. Mayor, you're successful, you've done so much,' and I began to believe it," Barry wrote in a local magazine. "Meetings started when I wanted them to, and phone conversations ended when I was finished talking. I began to feel seven feet tall. . . . I've spent a great deal of time working on the character defects that I've developed over the years, the dishonesty, denial, egocentricity, selfishness, the people-pleasing grandiosity."
And Barry's fledgling government, infused with new talent, showed early resolve.
The Barry years began with enormous hope and excitement as a black mayor took over a city that was majority African American. He assembled a dream team of top aides from the ranks of the civil rights movement, and they set out, as Barry said in his speech yesterday, to redress the racial wrongs by empowering the city's minorities.
Barry spent his first 100 days in office generating proposals to reduce infant mortality, rehabilitate abandoned homes and double the number of summer jobs for youths, saying he was "putting my personal imprint on the government."
The new mayor said proudly that he had found "capable and competent and committed blacks" to join his government. "I've demonstrated -- this administration has demonstrated -- that it can be done in general, and black people can do it in particular."
With City Administrator Elijah B. Rogers imposing stringent spending controls, the city's bloated payroll was trimmed by 10 percent, largely through attrition, and finances were cleaned up to the point where the city's books could be audited successfully for the first time in history.
Downtown construction boomed -- 70 new buildings were begun or completed during Barry's first term -- and the mayor prided himself on helping developers cut through red tape and secure permits.
But beyond the fresh facades of the booming downtown, the first-term administration struggled.
Crime surged, unemployment increased, and Barry had only modest success in improving the efficiency of government agencies and delivering on campaign promises to deliver safer streets, fewer boarded-up homes, more summer jobs and a lower infant mortality rate.
Barry's ethics came under increasing scrutiny. He traveled frequently at the expense of taxpayers or others he didn't always name. Mini-scandals erupted with frequency. And Barry's personal indiscretions manifested themselves early on.
The mayor first met a young woman named Karen Johnson, who would figure prominently in his future problems, at a downtown club in November 1980, toward the end of his second year in office. A little more than a year later, D.C. police received a tip that Barry used cocaine -- or watched as others used the drug -- at a Christmas party at a downtown bar called This Is It. City police took the allegations to the Justice Department, but federal authorities declined to investigate.
By the time Barry ran for reelection later in 1982, he had transformed himself yet again, from progressive reformer into power broker. The fiscal restraint from his first three years in office gave way to an election-year budget with $180 million in new spending for jobs, housing and programs for the elderly.
Patricia Harris, Barry's main opponent in the Democratic primary, hammered away at the mayor's broken promises. But Barry's political hold on the city was far too strong. He raised more than $1 million, had a far better campaign organization and had a winning way about him on the stump.
He beat Harris with 59 percent of the vote.
"Marion Barry is personally rather favorably looked at by the electorate," he said during a post-election news conference, "even though people might have some serious problems with . . .the government."
Barry began his second term warning of fiscal trouble, the result of an election year "budget for the people" groaning under the weight of union contracts he had struck to cement political support.
Money soon became the least of Barry's worries.
In January 1984, U.S. Attorney Joseph E. diGenova hauled Barry before a federal grand jury probing allegations that Karen Johnson, the woman he had met in 1980, had sold cocaine to the mayor and other high-ranking D.C. officials. Federal prosecutors had obtained a tape from Johnson's boyfriend, a federal informant, on which Johnson spoke of selling drugs to Barry 20 to 30 times.
By summer, the storm clouds parted long enough for Barry to stand before the Democratic National Convention in San Francisco, putting Jesse L. Jackson's name in nomination for president.
A second highlight for the mayor came several months later, when Wall Street greeted the District's first entry into the bond market with the highest credit rating possible. Now the city could borrow money on the open bond market, finally independent after years of receiving loans from the U.S. Treasury.
But the year ended in a swirl of controversy. Although Johnson's refusal to cooperate brought the perjury and drug probe involving Barry to a virtual standstill, word leaked out in late December that the grand jury was investigating Ivanhoe Donaldson, the mayor's chief political adviser and a former deputy mayor.
Donaldson pleaded guilty in December 1985 to stealing $190,000 in public funds during Barry's first and second terms. Three months later, Alphonse G. Hill, Barry's deputy mayor for finance, resigned as a federal grand jury investigated his acceptance of $3,000 in payments from a city auditing contractor.
That spring, in a chance encounter heavy with portent, Barry met an unemployed model named Hazel Diane "Rasheeda" Moore at a birthday party for Robert L. Johnson, the up-and-coming entertainment magnate.
Moore later testified that she and Barry (who was then married to his third wife, Effi) became lovers, carrying on a torrid affair with drugs and exotic rendezvous for the next two years. Moore also became a city contractor, receiving $180,000 over the next three years to run a modeling and "image consciousness" program for youths called Project Me.
Donaldson's indictment and Hill's resignation had little effect on the city's Teflon-coated chief executive, who rolled over his only opponent, former school board member Mattie Taylor, in the September primary with 71 percent of the vote.
"The power of the incumbency is a very powerful weapon, and the mayor uses it to its maximum effect," said D.C. Council member John A. Wilson (D-Ward 2).
Barry's Republican challenger in the general election, council member Carol Schwartz, was a far tougher foe who accused the mayor of ineptitude, corruption and cronyism, particularly in minority contracting, saying Barry had bungled management of prison crowding and public housing.
Her appeals failed to energize sufficient support to topple Barry.
Enjoying the advantage of a $1.3 million campaign war chest, 100 paid campaign staff members, 2,000 volunteers and a bevy of major endorsements (including, for the third time, that of The Washington Post), Barry won easily, with 61 percent of the vote to Schwartz's 31 percent.
"I may not be perfect," he told a throng of supporters at his victory celebration, "but I am perfect for Washington."
As a pair of blizzards buried Washington in 20 inches of snow in late January 1987, Barry relaxed in sunny California on a six-day Super Bowl vacation trip. The day after the game, as Barry's public works crews badly fumbled the city's road clearing effort, the mayor partied with a friend named A. Jeffrey Mitchell, played tennis and enjoyed a manicure at the Beverly Hills Hilton. Then he collapsed and was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance.
The mayor's absence from the city, and his collapse, would loom large for years in the city's consciousness. Much later, at Barry's drug trial, Lloyd N. Moore Jr., another close friend, testified that Mitchell had told him Barry collapsed after he had been smoking "cocaine laced with something." Mitchell would take the stand and tell a somewhat different story, testifying only that the mayor might have used cocaine in addition to drinking four bottles of champagne and a bottle of cognac.
Not long after Barry's return, prosecutors revealed the existence of a 17-month undercover "sting" in which an FBI agent posed as a city contractor and set up a dummy firm in an attempt to show that a web of corrupt connections existed between officials at the highest levels of Barry's government and an array of prominent contractors, developers and bankers.
FBI agents searched the home of David E. Rivers, a top Barry aide who had been director of the Department of Human Services, and zeroed in on his relationship with John Clyburn, a city contractor and close Barry ally. The probe also led investigators back to Karen Johnson, a convicted drug dealer who had gone to jail for refusing to cooperate with an earlier diGenova grand jury in 1984.
This time, she started cooperating, telling authorities that she had sold cocaine to Barry on 20 to 30 occasions in 1981 and 1982 and that she had received about $20,000 from Barry associates in exchange for her refusal to testify before the 1984 grand jury about drug sales to Barry.
By year's end, Barry proclaimed 1987 -- a disastrous year for him by any standard -- a resounding success. And 1988 would be even worse.
In early March 1988, at a time when the District's finances were deteriorating, he led a delegation of 17 city officials on a four-day mission to St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, to help the territory improve its personnel system.
The idea that Barry and members of his government, who had trouble keeping track of the number of people on their own payroll, could help improve efficiency in the Virgin Islands struck many District residents as ludicrous.
So did the mayor's vacation plans in September; he wouldn't say where he was going. So secretive was Barry that he stationed two D.C. police detectives at the Hilton Hotel in midtown Manhattan as decoys for a week at a cost to taxpayers of more than $4,000.
A week after his return, reporters managed to ferret out the fact that Barry had spent his time at the New Age Health Spa in Neversink, N.Y., undergoing a program of hiking, Zen meditation, aerobics, massage and colon-cleansing treatments. Barry told a friend at the time that he had kept the location secret so it wouldn't appear as though he'd gone there to deal with a substance abuse problem.
Then, in late December 1988, as the mayor staged a series of high-profile media events to show that he was out front leading the war on drugs and drug-related violence, Barry was engulfed in yet another drug scandal.
District police had received a tip from a housekeeper at the Ramada Inn on Rhode Island Avenue NW that a guest -- Charles Lewis, a former D.C. employee and Virgin Islands native who had arranged Barry's personnel mission to St. Thomas earlier in the year -- had tried to sell her drugs. Two police detectives headed to the hotel to question Lewis but were called back, because Barry was in Lewis's room at the time.
A Washington Post report on the incident exploded across the city's political landscape, cementing the impression that Barry was out of control. He ended the year declaring his innocence. At an emotional news conference, he vowed to "fight for my character, fight for my integrity and fight for my commitment" to the city and said: "I have been tried, convicted, sentenced and doing time by some members of the media and the community."
The FBI, eager to gain leverage over the principal figure in the Ramada incident, followed Lewis to St. Thomas, set up a sting and arrested him in March 1989 on charges of selling cocaine to an undercover officer. Lewis pleaded guilty in late April.
Federal authorities kept the heat on Barry's administration. The next month, a federal grand jury indicted Rivers, a high-ranking official in Barry's government, and Clyburn, the city contractor, on charges of bribery and conspiracy to steer nearly a dozen city contracts worth more than $2 million to four companies -- charges both men would be acquitted of the next summer.
Barry pressed ahead, announcing in August that he had made an "irrevocable" decision to run for mayor the next year, even though many of his most staunch backers were urging him not to.
Later that month, the story broke that Lewis -- now cooperating with federal authorities -- had told the FBI that he and the mayor had smoked crack at the Ramada the previous year as well as in the Virgin Islands.
At some point, as he fed information to the authorities, Lewis also told federal agents about an ex-model, Rasheeda Moore, who had frolicked with Barry in the islands in 1986. They found her living in Los Angeles, and by year's end, they brought her back to Washington.
She called Barry on Jan. 18, 1990, three days before the mayor was scheduled to formally announce his candidacy for a fourth term, inviting him to her room at the Vista Hotel.
The scene would be captured on videotape by the FBI and eventually played for a worldwide television audience: a dissolute Barry occasionally reaching out to touch Moore and fondle her breast and leg before he asks about drugs and takes two long drags on a crack pipe.
FBI agents stormed the room moments later, placed Barry up against the wall with his arms outstretched, read him his rights and handcuffed him.
"Bitch set me up. . . . I shouldn't have come up here. . . . Goddamn bitch," the mayor muttered.
Fall From Grace
Barry bowed out of the mayor's race 10 days after jury selection began in his drug trial in June. The trial went on for 10 weeks and kept all of Washington -- and much of the nation -- transfixed through the summer. Federal prosecutors built a case to show that Barry had used drugs hundreds of times since 1983 and had lied to the grand jury investigating the Ramada incident in January 1989.
In the end, the 12-member jury -- like the city -- split over the federal government's fairness in pursuing the mayor, convicting Barry on Aug. 10, 1990, of a single count of misdemeanor drug possession. The conviction was not for smoking crack in the Vista with Rasheeda Moore, but for using the drug in another hotel room with a different woman -- Doris Crenshaw -- two months earlier.
Five days after the jury delivered its verdict, Barry announced he would run as an independent candidate in the fall for an at-large seat on the D.C. Council, rejecting advice from friends that he quit politics to concentrate on addiction recovery.
In October, Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson sentenced Barry to six months in prison, saying the mayor "has given aid, comfort and encouragement to the drug culture at large, and contributed to the anguish that illegal drugs have inflicted on this city."
A little less than two weeks later, District voters resoundingly rejected Barry for the first time in his 20-year political career. He finished third in the at-large council race with just 20 percent of the vote.
Barry went to a minimum-security federal prison in Petersburg, Va., his appeals exhausted, almost a year later, in October 1991. And even in prison, Barry made headlines: In late December, a fellow inmate said he saw a female visitor perform oral sex on Barry in the prison's family reception room. Barry denied it, but prison officials ruled that Barry had engaged in sexual misconduct with a visitor and transferred him to a medium-security facility in Loretto, Pa.
Released the next April, he rode home in a sleek black limousine followed by six buses packed with praying, celebrating supporters. He immediately started running for the D.C. Council seat representing Ward 8 -- the poorest, most isolated part of the city.
He rolled over the incumbent -- a former ally, Wilhelmina Rolark -- in the Democratic primary by a ratio of 3 to 1.
He announced his candidacy for mayor in May 1994, determined to complete his comeback and redeem himself. Rather than gloss over his fall to drugs, alcohol and women, he turned his recovery into an asset, saying it made him uniquely qualified to be mayor.
"I'm in recovery," Barry said in announcing his candidacy, "and so is my city."
His campaign themes of personal and political redemption struck a powerful chord with the poor, the disenfranchised and the huge churchgoing segment of black Washington, many of whom had extended-family members afflicted by drug abuse.
The Democratic primary was a rout. Barry won 47 percent of the vote, easily defeating council member John Ray, who had 37 percent, and Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly, with just 13 percent.
"This isn't a victory for Marion Barry," Barry told jubilant supporters on election night. "It's a victory for the people of Washington, D.C."
Less than two months later, Barry was back on top of the political world, defeating Republican council member Carol Schwartz in the general election. Barry won 56 percent of the vote to Schwartz's 42 percent in a rematch of the 1986 campaign.
Barry had done the impossible. Now the real work would begin.
Barry had left Kelly, the aloof, ineffectual reformer, a $118 million deficit. She had returned the favor, leaving him a $300 million hole in the budget that had the potential to balloon to $722 million by the end of the fiscal year if something wasn't done.
Barry unveiled his "miracle budget" three months after his triumphant return to power. Facing the projected $722 million gap, he proposed a budget that relied on Congress to provide hundreds of millions of dollars in additional money to bail out the city. He made no provisions to lay off workers from the largest per-capita municipal work force in the nation.
His plan sank like a stone on Capitol Hill, where Barry's critics cited it as Exhibit A in making the case for establishment of an independent board to restore order to the city's finances.
Legislation creating the D.C. financial control board cleared Congress a month later, giving the powerful new oversight authority total control over District spending. It was a major blow to home rule. In taking back the financial authority Congress had ceded 20 years earlier, the Republicans said they had seen enough of unbridled self-government in the District.
It would be an arduous year for the mayor. The federal investigators returned, probing Barry's links to a city contractor named Yong Yun who had helped renovate Barry's new home.
Barry, the control board and the city's new independent chief financial officer, Anthony A. Williams, skirmished for months. And Barry ended the year with a somber, stunning announcement: He was suffering from prostate cancer.
When he came back from successful surgery in early 1996, he picked up right where he had left off with the control board, announcing at the end of January that he no longer accepted responsibility for making deep cuts to balance the budget.
Barry reversed his field two weeks later, presenting a "transformation" plan that indicted the very bureaucracy he'd built over the years and called for eliminating 10,000 jobs over the next four years. Congress cheered.
Then the bottom fell out: Barry stunned the city by announcing that he was headed for a rural Maryland retreat to deal with "the telltale signs of spiritual relapse and physical exhaustion."
He denied relapsing into drug or alcohol abuse but invoked the guiding principles of 12-step addiction treatment and returned to work two weeks later, declaring himself "all right and ready to move forward."
By early summer 1997, President Clinton's staff had produced a far-reaching reform package for the city. But as the package moved through Congress, Sen. Lauch Faircloth (R-N.C.), chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on the District and no fan of home rule, seized the moment.
Late one night in July, he inserted language into the legislation that stripped nearly all of Barry's remaining power, transferring day-to-day control over nine major operating departments to the control board.
Barry angrily denounced Faircloth's "rape of democracy," saying it wasn't just about Marion Barry.
But for Faircloth -- and many other politicians, pundits and residents of the city -- it was about Barry and no one else. And there was consensus among them that as long as the Republicans controlled Congress, Marion Barry would never get his power back.
Sam Smith, who edits the Progressive Review and first covered Barry during the bus boycott Barry organized in 1966, says it is difficult for him to reconcile the man Barry has become with the man he was then.
"The best way I can describe it is, it's like going out into a field and seeing an old rusting-out hulk of a car and trying to imagine what it was like when it was brand-new. What people are seeing now is that corroded shell of what Barry was, and if you don't remember that, it's very hard to see."
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