'The Final Question Is What's Next?'
Good afternoon. I stand before you in support of my family, Cora, my son Christopher. Let me say something about Christopher. He was born during my second year as mayor and heís lived through all of this, heís had to because of my commitment and my work heís had to live through times when I wasnít home when I should have been and heís also gone through some difficult times that heís taken brickbats and negative discussions from his peers. And heís grown up to be a fine young man. He graduates on June 16 from Wilson High School. So, Christopher, I love you.
And my wife, Cora, who was a friend before we became married, who was with me during the good times and the bad times, the mountaintop times, and the valley times, but sheís been a dear friend, a strong supporter, a good strategist and cares deeply about me and this city. So, Dear, I love you.
And to all of you have gathered and those of you who are watching, let me say that this has been one of the most difficult decisions I have had to make in my 40 years of public service. Itís a long awaited decision for many, and an even longer one for me. Itís a decision that had to be weighed against a backdrop of personal and professional successes and failures; against a backdrop of ups and downs; against a backdrop of a city that has gained a great deal but has lost some degree of democracy; against a backdrop of a mean-spirited Republican-led Congress that assaults us to break the spirit of our people, and recolonize our souls.
This decision was against the backdrop of who will stand in the gap; who advocates and gives help and hope for and to our young people; who can our seniors count on; who will resist the further deterioration of self-government and the loss of democracy; against the backdrop of personal sacrifice, both financial and at the expense of my family. Against the burning desire to serve and the decision on how best to continue to serve.
This decision making process caused me to reflect on my 40 years of service and let me just say that Iíve been blessed that God has blessed me with a persevering spirit, a courageous mind, a creativity who dare not worry about taking a risk. God has blessed me to live this long, to serve this 40 years and we all have a mission in life and Iím convinced that my mission is public service, is to give to others that which I have.
Iíve also been blessed with the opportunity to do what other men dream about and that is to assist and empower other people. Weíre living in a challenging moment in history. The challenges where everyday seems to be equal or better (than) the ones from yesterday and where the person at the bottom rung of the ladder still feels the hardest lick . . .
Iíve sought in my 40 years of service, to be the person responsible for turning things around. I have cared. I have served. And I have been a change agent for the better. I have broken new ground and Iíve found new ways of making this government system work better for our people and make life easier for all of us.
And as I was thinking about all of this, I thought about my early days growing up in Memphis, Tennessee Apartheid Memphis, Tennessee and I was moved to do something about the social injustices, the discrimination and segregation that abounded all around me.
My goal of becoming a research chemist was replaced with my desire to right the wrongs that brought birth to the civil rights movement. The wrongs of segregation, the wrongs of discrimination, and the wrongs of police brutality and racism. And therefore I joined many others civil rights activists and leaders around the south, organizing and participating in voter right activities, sit-ins, getting arrested and jailed.
I joined the Jesse Jacksons, the Andy Youngs, Marian Wright Edelmans, the Ivanhoe Donaldsons, the Courtland Coxes, the Frank Smiths, the Charlie Cobbs, the Julian Bonds, the Joyce and Dory Ladners, Randall Robinson, the Johnny Wilsons, the Les McKinney, and Lawrence Guyot and others. We were the brave band of young people who risked our lives under the most terrorizing and dangerous conditions, to do something to bring reliefs to some of the most oppressing conditions of any place in this country . . .
And this activism led me to Washington, D.C. to organize the field operations of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Thus the challenge to help began to grow and the call to serve became greater. This call was like a voice piercing my soul . . .
I was inspired to fulfill what I call the DC Commitment. SNCC was to begin as a Free-DC movement, then there was PRIDE, where we had over100,000 young African American men who decided to help themselves to the better things of life by working diligently cleaning streets and alleys and also to learn about entrepreneurship.
Then the call went from the streets to the suites, enabled the people of Washington to elect me to a seat on the D.C. school board, then on the council and then mayor. My service on the District school board where I served as president for three years, also marked my strong advocacy to improve education for our District youth. I focused on young people and classroom instruction rather than downtown administration. I was able to stop the bickering between school board members and school administrators. I was able to reconcile the budget and put in place an excellent accounting system which is now fallen into disrepair.
The call again came when I felt compelled to do more and give more. Thus, in 1974 I ran for an at-large member of the city council and was elected chairman of the committee on financial revenue. During this period I learned a great deal about the finances of the city, which would later become the foundation of my understanding the cityís current financial affairs.
Moreover, I co-sponsored the cityís first comprehensive personnel bill. We had comprehensive property tax relief for our citizens and to our seniors. In addition, I was successful in getting the council to establish the Office on Aging and the Arts and Humanities Council. But, perhaps, my most important service that will probably be the most remembered was my effort to strengthen minority businesses and minority enterprises [in D. C.].
I was a main catalyst which mandated a minimum of 35% of D.C. contracting dollars be awarded to qualified miniority business people. We have over a thousand new business that wouldnít have been here if we had not had that law . . .
Then they called here once again and more was required to make a bigger difference, . . . I sought the office of mayor against overwhelming odds of winning. But when God is with you, who could be against you? . . .
You all know that in 1978 downtown development was at a stand-still. There was only one new building on Pennsylvania Avenue and thatís the FBI building. The construction boom began. We cut red tape. We worked with developers and look at us now. Over 23 million square feet of new office space has been created since that time. We are the 3rd largest in office space in America, . . . transforming Washington from a sort of southern, sleepy kind of town to a bustling metropolis.
The convention center was built on time and within budget.
It was built by and for the government. Then the Reeves Center at 14th and U, look at it now. It has been the catalyst for revitalizing U Street. We know that U Street was a mecca during the days of apartheid for the African American community. Look at U Street now, the Lincoln Theater, businesses are bustling, people are working, things are happening on U Street because of my vision of trying to move to the neigborhoods, take government from downtown to our neighborhoods . . .
. . . when I came in in 1979, our books had not been audited or balanced in 100 years. In 1980, we had our first balanced sheet audit. And for 10 of the 12 years I previously served as mayor we balanced our books then. It gave us an insight about how we could end up with $185 million surplus last year, it started way back then.
As mayor, I wanted to make a difference in the lives of our young people and senior citizens. My support for our leadership development institute, over 6,000 young people have gone through that learning and developing, they now have Phds and teaching, theyíre in business and doing things that they wouldnít have been doing if theyíd not had the institute.
But, more importantly, I believe our young people need to work during the summer to learn how to come to work on time, learn how to follow instructions and learn how to dress for the world of work. And since I have been mayor for these 16 years, we have provided work opportunities for over 100,000 young people in this city . . .
My work with seniors is well known, isnít it? I mean if you want to make me angry, just do something with our seniors thatís negative. . . .
And Iíve been a strong advocate for education, too. We must reform our school system. I served with Hilda Mason and some others on the school board, working to try to make education relevant to our people. And I fought with everything, I know how to fight, for UDC. There are those who wanted to destroy UDC, there are those who wanted to make it a community college, wanted to make it a technical school, a has-been. But Iím committed, wherever I go, whatever I do, weíre going to continue to insist that UDC become a full-fledged undergraduate, graduate program at high quality and low cost.
And also let me talk about the D.C. government I found in 1978. ... there were certain jobs in D.C. government that African Americans need not apply. You know what they were. You know where they were. And we changed all that, because I believe that the work force ought to reflect the diversity of our community. So, I now have African Americans and women and Hispanics and others in key positions . . .
But more importantly, we built a strong economic base for this community, too, because when they were working for the government making $50,000 and $60,000 a year, they could then afford to move to Ward 4 and to the Gold Coast and the Silver Coast and the other coasts. And thatís important to know. And thatís very important you do that, if you can get political power weíve got economic power at the same time.
And also because of my insistence that those who would do new contracts would have to hire 51 percent of qualified D.C. residents. Iím here to say over 20,000 D.C. residents are now working who would not have been working had we not had that provision in our contract law.
And . . . I believe that Iíve been a good mayor.
I also believe that Iíve been a compassionate, sensitive, accountable mayor, a responsible and a sacrificing mayor who served the people with joy.
And I want to thank all of the people who, over these years, have not only prayed for me but have voted for me, had faith in me, have lost friendships over me. Have endured through the good times and not so good times. And so I come to this place and Iíve had some dark and difficult days in my life, as you know. I succumbed to the demons of alcohol and illegal drugs. But God has been good to me. God has been good to me. With a good pastor and a good wife I stand here 8½ years later clean and sober.
And what Iíve been able to do with that is show people that you can overcome difficulties, and when youíre knocked down you donít want to stay down. When difficulties and dark clouds come in your life you donít have to let them be there all the time, that you can rise above your circumstances, the people who do that which God wants you to do is to walk right in his eyesight and turn your life around.
I talked to people everyday who had problems, bad marriages or a son or daughter that wouldnít act right or just caused trauma in your life or alcohol and drugs and say youíve been an inspiration to me.
Youíve shown that you can come back, that you can get up from adversity and you can do your very best again. And I think we need to have that leadership. Leadership has to show that example, that our young people can see that everythingís not going to be peaches and roses and that life but if Marion Barry can stand against all thatís been out there and still stand tall still keep his head up with dignity . . .
And so Iíve gone through the fire and brimstone. Iíve given the people hope and not ever to despair, that we can have victory over defeat and courage over fear. I have shown that I can stand in spite of lifeís pitfalls, and Iíve shown that you can get knocked down but you donít have to stay down. Iíve shown that difficulties can be overcome, Iíve shown that if you are a servant of all, God will make you first of all.
. . . The final question is whatís next?
First of all, Iím going to be mayor until January 2, 1999.
And Iím going to give this job, like Iíve always done, all I can give it. The equivalent of 10 or 12 hours a day trying to do things to empower our people, to try to keep democracy from being further eroded from us. Iím going to have, bring initiatives, summer initiatives, fall initiatives, so Iím not going anywhere. Weíll be here working as hard as we can for the people of Washington.
And the question in my mind was where best to serve? I wrestled with that, I really did. I wrestled with that. But Iíve come to the conclusion that there are areas I can better serve in outside of the government.
I know many of you are disappointed by that decision. I know many of you all are saddened by it. I know many of you are hurt by it. But rest assured that as long as Iím alive, Iím going to be living in Washington. Iím going to be fighting for democracy. In fact, I believe I can fight better for that subject on the outside better than the inside. Because quite frankly, as courageous as I am and as bold as I am there are restrictions on this job, and all of what you can do, what you can say, how you can say it.
But we need to do something differently. Iím really upset that this mean-spirited Republican-led Congress have broken too many of our spirits. We walk around with our heads down, it has taken our self respect from us, it has taken our dignity from us. And we just sit and we sometimes take it.
I want to lead the fight to revive our spirits, to give hope, again to Washington. And to fight as hard as we can to get the masses of our people involved in this fight to retain and regain democracy.
I know service is important, I know service delivery is important to all of us. I know the efficiency of the government is important to all of us. But nothing can be of a higher order than freedom and justice and democracy. As American citizens, we have to rise up against this tyranny, against this oppressive, anti-democratic Republican-led Congress. And youíll see me there doing that. Iím not going anywhere next year, folks. Those who think Iím going from here to a rocking chair someplace or a back room someplace, Iíve got news for you. Youíre not going to see me doing that.
And so, for all of you who supported me I love you so much. I love this city, I love, I love the ability to serve, I love all of that. And Iíve decided to serve in another way. But rest assured Iím going to serve. Iím going to serve. Iím going to serve. Iím going to serve. Thank you.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company