MY BANK, THE INDEPENDENCE Federal Savings and Loan Association, publishes a newsletter. It is quite a nice newsletter, red and Christmasy this month, and it announces the appointment of a new member of the board of directors -- a women. She is not only the first woman member of the board but also the first new board member since 1968. Her husband happens to be the mayor.
Not that you would know that from the newsletter. Oh, no -- perish the thought. It is not mentioned. Instead, almost everything else Effi Barry has done is mentioned. She is with the consulting firm of Pacific Consultants and a former specialist with the city's Environmental Health Administration and a member of the board of the Corcoran Gallery of Art. "She brings to the board an impressive array of accomplishments," the newsletter says.
She also brings to the board the mayor -- at least her relationship to him. And he, in turn, has brought the bank his bankng business -- specifically his home mortgage. Independence has provided the mayor and his wife with their mortgage and the bank has done it not at 12 percent, which is the going rate, but at a reported 11.5 percent. This is the standard discount provided all board members and bank employes. It is also the sort of transaction that used to be called a conflict of interest. The fact that all members of the board get the same discount means absolutely nothing. They are not married to the mayor.
The fact of the matter is that the mayor has accepted a favor from a firm doing business with the city. Every member of the Independence board, with the exception of Effi Barry, is also a partner in Capital Landmark Associates, which was formed to redevelop a piece of land near the Gallery Place Metro stop. It is now called Parcel Six. What it will be when Capital Landmark Association is finished is a $143 million hotel, office and apartment complex.In every step of the process, from the awarding of the bid to the final site inspections by city workers, the city government is into the thing -- either directly or indirectly.
What the mayor has done is just the sort of thing that used to distinguish the Mandel administration in Maryland. Marvin Mandel was forever accepting free rides on planes owned by corportions doing business with the state. Critics yelled bloody murder and called it a conflict of interest. Call it what you want, it was the sort of thing that contributed to Mandel's image as one slick article. No matter what he said, he was getting it only because he was governor.
It is the same with the mayor. Effi Barry, whatever her qualities, is no financial expert. She is not like the other members of the board, either corporate officers or businessmen of some standing in the community. Her banking experience is nonexistent and she was named to the board only after her husband became mayor. Pardon me for thinking that her principal attribute as a banker is her husband's political office.
On the face of it, there does not seem to be a great deal of money involved -- something like $37 a month. But the truth of the matter is that no one at this newspaper really knows for sure what the discount to the Barrys is. All we know is that one exists and that the standard one is one half of 1 percent. Even that figure, when translated into money, comes to $444 a year -- something like $17,000 if the discount rate holds for the full 30 years of the mortgage. Now we are talking money.
But money is not really the issue. The issue, instead, is how the mayor has been squandering his moral mandate. Say what you will about him, he has always been a man of moral commitment -- everything from civil rights to gay rights to the rights of Washington's poor. Now, given some poetic license on my part, he's beginning to look more like Marvin Mandel.
Anyway, at the moment the bank is mum on the loan. Its president, William Fitzgerald, having once said the Barrys got your basic mortgage, is now saying nothing. Effi Barry, having confirmed she got a deal, later said she couldn't remember what it was and now says the whole thing is her personal business. Her husband, the mayor, at first told a reporter everything about his mortgage but the actual interest rate and is now saying nothing. Maybe he knows nothing.
After all, he has a history of not knowing what his wives are up to.