Mayor Marion Barry's Chicago-style plan to blanket the city with his "eyes and ears" volunteers--one for every 200 voters, his advisers say--may never amount to much for him politically if the results of recent, low-profile events are any measure of the mayor's ability to play a "Boss Barry" role.
Barry this year has lost at least three significant political contests, ones he likes to say he was never really concerned with. But participants call them out-and-out defeats for Barry by politically active residents who savor their small measures of independence from the high-flying, second-term Barry.
In the spring, Barry's candidate for a vacant seat on the Democratic State Committee lost on a close vote to Howard Croft, a statehood activist and self-styled grass-roots politician seeking his first major bid for party office. Barry's candidate, lawyer Ed Black, lost despite support from Barry, council member John A. Wilson (D-Ward 2) and council chairman David A. Clarke.
A Barry appointee interpreted the defeat as a message to Barry that he can't control the city's political establishment without working at it.
More recently, Barry also backed off early moves to find a candidate to his liking to challenge Theodus (Ted) Gay, the hardworking and popular chairman of the state party organization who was reelected easily.
In late June, Barry's forces suffered another defeat in politically potent Ward 4. The Barry organization's candidate, Julius Hobson Jr., lost out as chairman of the Ward 4 Democrats to Norman Neverson. Neverson is a strong supporter of a fallen-away Barry friend, council member John L. Ray (D-At Large), who challenged Barry for the mayoral nomination last year.
Neverson's victory caused consternation among Barry's troops and prompted some angry finger pointing among Barry's top aides, according to sources.
The sources said Barry's chief of staff, Clifton Smith, was so angry that he wanted to fire Nadine Robinson, the Ward 4 coordinator in Barry's revamped Office of Community Service, (which officially isn't supposed to engage in partisan politics anyway).
Neverson also tarnished the standing of Barry Campbell, who held Neverson's post until he was signed onto the mayor's staff as a general aide to Smith. Both Campbell and Smith "appeared to be playing a prominent role" leading up to the vote in the early spring, according the Barry aide.
While Smith and Campbell disparaged Robinson and Anita Bonds, the politically astute organizer who heads the community services office, Bonds complained that Barry and Smith were supposed to be carrying the ball for Hobson, according to the aide.
Barry, who came out on the short end, was mad at them all, according to the source.
Barry, asked last week about the intramural political events, characteristically brushed them aside. "If I had anything to do with it, we would have won it," Barry grumped. Barry deflected questions about dressing down his aides, asking instead, "who are all these aides, these sources?"
Barry made those remarks at a cocktail party for Democratic Ward 4 council member Charlene Drew Jarvis, who's busy trying to decide whether to seek reelection next year or challenge Ray, whose at-large term is expiring.
Ray is widely thought to be on Barry's hit list for having challenged him last year. Ray also is an all-around Barry critic.
Jarvis coyly says "many people are uging me to run at-large" but says she's planning to run for reelection. Barry said he would support Jarvis next year but doesn't say for what race.
As for her role in the Neverson-Hobson battle for the Ward 4 Democratic slot, Jarvis says she had none, continuing a "hands-off" policy she says she has favored since winning her council seat in 1979. Although Jarvis doesn't talk about it publicly, she has said privately that nearly all of the dozen or so candidates who lost to her in 1979 are members of the Ward 4 organization and are ever alert to any effort by her to "control" that group.
Maybe Jarvis could give Barry a pointer or two about how not to push your power too far?