At the Ward 8 Democrats' political forum, former Mayor Marion Barry decided to address the issue he knows people across the city are whispering about: his health.
In his closing remarks, Barry said that he's not sick.
"I have the energy," he said. "Generally, my health is good. Somebody is trying to say I'm sick. I have diabetes. I have high blood pressure, like many of us do. . . . I'm raring to go. Energetic. Visionary. Courageous. I will fight for the people of Ward 8."
After the Saturday forum, Barry said he knows that people are wondering about his weight loss and wants to reassure residents that he is healthy and can get the job done. He said he is thinner because for three years he was taking the wrong medicine for diabetes. He said the problem has been fixed.
"Several candidates are spreading rumors that I'm not well," Barry said. "There's a whispering campaign to make people think I'm sick."
While both Barry and incumbent D.C. Council member Sandy Allen failed to win the endorsement of the Ward 8 Democrats, veteran council member Harold Brazil (D-At Large) also fell short.
Brazil and three candidates vying to defeat him attended the Ward 8 forum at Washington-Highlands Branch Library in Southwest Washington, but only one of them, Kwame Brown, came close to getting an endorsement.
Brown, who is the son of longtime political campaign strategist Marshall Brown, received 145 votes, just shy of the two-thirds required to receive an endorsement. Brazil received 75 votes. The other candidates, Alvin Bethea and Sam Brooks, received a combined total of six votes.
Brazil, a council member since 1991, heads the powerful committee on economic development. He touted his experience: "These are tough times. We need experience, not on-the-job training."
But Brown said Brazil is out of touch with constituents east of the Anacostia. When Brazil mistakenly referred to Alabama Avenue as Alabama Road, Brown said he was not sure Brazil had been there.
"After 13 years of failed leadership, making $95,000 for a part-time job, it's time for a change," Brown said. Council members are paid $92,520 a year, and only the council chairman is prohibited from holding another job.
Meanwhile, Brooks reminded the Ward 8 Democrats that he started his 1,000-mile walk through the city in Ward 8. "I'm going to work full time, overtime, and every eight weeks I'll be east of the river," Brooks said. "If you think we need some change, I'm your guy."
Bethea wore an orange jumpsuit with D.C. Jail printed on it in large black letters. "I want to be the voice of the ex-offenders," he said.
Coin Laundry Holds On
The frantic calls went out this month. Big Wash laundry, the community-owned pride of Columbia Heights, was facing eviction after falling thousands of dollars behind in rent during a dispute with a strip mall owner.
Big Wash was the first tenant in the Nehemiah Retail Center, which opened with much fanfare in 1995 at 14th and Belmont streets NW, a blighted neighborhood where the nearest coin laundry was 10 blocks away. Its owners say the developers, Horning Brothers and the Development Corporation of Columbia Heights, used the promise of rent breaks for minority tenants to win a $300,000 loan from the District -- then overcharged Big Wash to the point of financial peril.
Horning, which is restoring the historic Tivoli Theater several blocks north, denied charging excessive rent and said Big Wash had reneged on a lease it signed years ago. The two have been fighting in court since 1997 over various landlord-tenant issues. Last month a D.C. Superior Court judge cleared the way for eviction.
Enter D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1). Last week he got all parties together, including Robert Moore, executive director of the Columbia Heights development corporation. They apparently resolved their differences, but no one, not even Graham, is talking.
"I'm not at liberty to divulge the specifics," Graham said this week, "except to say that Big Wash will not be evicted. We were able to find some common ground."
When Big Wash moved into the strip mall nine years ago, it was paying about $2,800 a month in rent and other costs. But to get a 10-year lease from Horning, it agreed to a heavy rent increase starting in 2000. By June of this year, its rent had jumped to about $4,900 a month.
Roger D. Luchs, an attorney for Horning, said the increase reflected expected changes in market conditions in the Columbia Heights neighborhood. He declined to say what other tenants in the mall are paying, but said Big Wash is "fairly close to market."
The laundry was the brainchild of entrepreneurial neighbors. Just five years ago it brought in about $240,000 annually, employed nine people from the community and was returning handsome dividends to its working-class investors.
"We were the best tenants in that mall," said Rita Bright, a Big Wash co-founder who lives across the street from the laundry and serves on its board. "We were never late paying our bills. It's that mark-up that busted us."
Graham said the incident highlights the problems faced by small minority businesses struggling in hot real estate markets. The District, he said, needs to build in more safeguards in their leases.
"I don't want to see any businesses that are contributing to the prosperity of a neighborhood evicted," he said.