On the morning of Jan. 19, 1990, you may have heard a noise like a thunderclap. The night before, of course, Mayor Marion Barry had been arrested at the Vista Hotel for smoking exotic and illegal substances. The next morning Del. Walter Fauntroy awoke from a 12-year sleep and decided the city needed new leadership. The noise you may have heard was Wake-up Walter saying "Eureka!" and slapping his forehead.
"The events of the 18th sort of shocked me into the reality that we were going to need leadership in the mayor's office," Wake-up Walter told a luncheon meeting at The Post. This had to be leadership of a particular kind, Fauntroy said, and after "careful thought" he hit upon just the person who was "uniquely positioned" to give it: himself.
This stunning event, this awakening of Wake-up Walter, followed a Rip Van Winkle period in which the District's nonvoting delegate to Congress heard not a whisper of the mayor's private activities. When, on two occasions, the mayor broke his rule of "everything in moderation" and ran into health difficulties so that once he was even hospitalized, Wake-up Walter merely turned over in his sleep. Others said drugs, but not Wake-up Walter. His sleep was untroubled.
This was a most remarkable sleep. In the recollection of some of the District's oldest residents, not once did Fauntroy ever criticize Marion Barry. When a member of the mayor's Cabinet went to jail, Fauntroy said nothing. When a host of them were indicted, Fauntroy stayed silent. When the various trials revealed influence peddling, our delegate snored on. When all of Washington heard rumors that Barry was using drugs and abusing women (or is it using women and abusing drugs?) our nonvoting, nonseeing and nonhearing delegate went on with business as usual.
In contrast, Fauntroy was not so shy about Walter Washington, Barry's predecessor. Engaged in a political squabble with Washington, Fauntroy in 1976 said the mayor had compiled a record of "waste and inefficiency." He said that the open dissatisfaction of Democrats with Washington's administration represented nothing less than "a festering boil on the body politic."
Some would say that under Barry that boil has become the face itself, but not Wake-up Walter. Such lively language, such pungent use of metaphor, seem to have been a one-time thing for him. After criticizing Walter Washington, Fauntroy turned over to sleep. His rule seems to have been: Don't criticize me and I won't criticize you.
In fact, the awakening of Walter Fauntroy was much like a bear's after a winter's hibernation. The thunderclap all of Washington did not hear on Jan. 19 might well have taken place some time later. The record shows, in fact, that two days after the mayor's arrest, Fauntroy was one of eight clergymen who ministered to the mayor at St. Timothy's Episcopal Church in Anacostia -- a display of solidarity and fellowship accorded few of the city's many other drug users. This sort of thing is usually explained by distinguishing the sin from the sinner. It is especially appropriate when the sinner has a political organization.
It's really not too much to assume that Fauntroy knew what Barry was doing -- and whom he was doing it with. In fact, he has said as much. He went to the mayor, told him what he had heard and was assured that all the stories were lies. There were so many stories that just to rebut them must have taken whole days, but Fauntroy is a patient man. With the mayor's denial, there was nothing more he could do, he said. Had Congress had such a mentality during Watergate, Richard Nixon would have served a full eight years.
Wake-up Walter is not the man he described at that Post lunch. Anyone "uniquely positioned" to give Washington the leadership it deserves would not have recently proposed that District residents withhold their federal taxes until statehood is granted -- an event now scheduled for the day after the Second Coming. Such a man would not plan to solve the city's money woes by relying on the tooth fairy of a commuter tax -- a good idea whose time may never come. As for statehood, Fauntroy should have realized long ago that one obstacle was Barry himself. "Governor Barry" is not a phrase that comes easily to the lips of most congressmen.
The awakening of Walter Fauntroy, occasioned by the U.S. attorney's rattling around in the District's garbage cans, has thus far produced nothing but the sleepiest statements from Wake-up Walter himself. The process is not yet complete. After awakening, Fauntroy ought to do something else: open his eyes.