When the spotlights flooded the stage of Washington's new Convention Center and the front line of the District's political power faced their supporters, Del. Walter Fauntroy gave a command: "Let's have a ball."
No quorum was needed, no arguments ensued. The second inaugural ball of Mayor Marion Barry was a flashy, voguish and up-tempo party. There was no scarcity of cameras, furs or champagne. But there was a shortage of chairs and tables for the several thousand guests who paid $35 each. Brig. Gen. Russell Davis even had to mediate a fight over chairs between two gowned women.
Compared to Barry's first inaugural ball in 1979, last night's formal affair was strictly elegant. Effi Barry, the wife of the mayor, set the tone, sweeping up her golden brown hair into a Gibson Girl wave and wearing a long black velvet dress with black tulle sleeves studded with gold threads. "I think the evening is fitting for a capital city," she observed.
Samuel Foggie, president of the United National Bank, agreed. "Maybe I'm old-fashioned but I like to dress up. And it's great we have our own Convention Center to celebrate such an event for the greatest mayor we've ever had."
Marion Jackson, the immediate past president of the Washington section of the National Council of Negro Women, wasn't so sure. Speaking of the black-tie requirement and the ticket prices, she said, "I thought it was a little too much, too fancy. The ball is something any citizen should be able to participate in. It need not be so grandiose."
In the midst of the ladies' red fox coats and chiffon, the men were no slouches. The mayor wore a red bowtie; Noel Kane, the husband of City Council member Betty Ann Kane, had on red candy-cane socks, and one man was wearing pilgrim-like rhinestone buckles on his patent-leather loafers. "I've never been to an affair like this," said Janie Simmons, a district resident who works for the federal government. She and two friends were close to the bandstand where the Charlie Byrd Trio and the Duke Ellington Orchestra, directed by his son Mercer, were playing.
The ball marked the public debut of the $98.7 million Convention Center. A second-floor room, where the dance was held, was decorated with white balloons, white Georgian columns and plants. A first-floor room, the site of a pre-gala VIP reception, was too crowded to see any decorations. The Center was getting high marks from many of the guests. "We came out of curiosity. If nothing else we wanted to see the Convention Center," said Douglas Bellis, a Washington attorney who had supported Kane during the mayoral primary. His wife, Alice, a Presbyterian minister, had missed a governing meeting at her church last night to check out the facility.
Standing by the bandstand, Anita Bonds, the mayor's community services coordinator, said the day had gone smoothly. "Only one snag in transportation. We had designed one entrance for the motorcade at the swearing-in, away from the crowds. But being politicians, they drove up right where the crowds were." When her duties overseeing yesterday's $150,000 inaugural budget were over, Bonds said she would return to the hard task of helping the city's many unfortunate persons. "I don't know if we can ease the pain of the recession," she said. "But we can explain why some programs are being cut and help them find services that are available."
None of the politicians had bad moments during the day. David Clarke, the new chairman of the D.C. City Council, said: "Right before I gave my speech, I was anxious. Then the New Bethel choir started singing and I thought about the line that says 'Don't worry about what you're going to say, it will come.' That was my moment of peace."
However, the man of the day, Mayor Barry, had a slight slip of the tongue. On stage, explaining the sacrifices of political spouses, he said: "It takes a lot on the part of spices and spouses." Everyone laughed and Fauntroy jumped up as if he were soaring for a basket. Then the Ellington band struck up and played.