Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker joins the broadcast to explore the challenges in his jurisdiction - and those throughout the D.C. region.
Two decades ago, journalists Tom Sherwood and Harry Jaffe set out to document the short and tumultuous history of local government in the District of Columbia. In the first 20 years of home rule, D.C. survived a drug epidemic, record levels of violence and the political downfall and rebirth of a controversial mayor. But today’s D.C. is a different place from the one Sherwood and Jaffe wrote about in their 1994 book, “Dream City.” They join Kojo in the studio chat about how the city has changed and what remains the same.
- Harry Jaffe Co-author, "Dream City: Race, Power and the Decline of Washington, D.C." (Simon & Schuster, 1994); National Editor, "Washingtonian" magazine
- Marion Barry D.C. Council Member (D-Ward 8)
- Tom Sherwood Co-author "Dream City: Race, Power and the Decline of Washington, D.C." (Simon & Schuster, 1994); Resident Analyst; NBC 4 reporter; and Columnist for the Current Newspapers
Watch Live Video
Starting at noon May 12, watch live video of our discussion about “Dream City.”
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. The history of local politics in Washington, D.C. is an incredibly eventful and complicated one for something so short. It was only in the 1970s that Congress first gave District residents the right to elect their own mayor and council. And the decades that followed were, well, a whirlwind. In the early '90s, the journalist Tom Sherwood and Harry Jaffe set out to write an account of how the tangled politics of race and power shaped the first 20 years of home rule in D.C.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIA period in which the city suffered a crack cocaine epidemic, record levels of violence and the downfall and rebirth of a mayor who had become one of the most controversial politicians in the country. In some ways, few cities have changed as much as Washington has since Sherwood and Jaffe wrote "Dream City" in 1994. But even though homicide rates have plummeted and yoga studios and coffee shops are now common sights in neighborhoods where drugs were traded out in the open, it's arguable that the politics of race and class in D.C. remain as complicated now as they've ever been.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIJoining us to explore the history of local Washington, and how the city has evolved, and how it remains the same, is Tom Sherwood. He is our resident political analyst at WAMU 88.5, a reporter for NBC 4 and a columnist for The Current Newspapers. He's the co-author of "Dream City," which is not available for the first time as an e-book through Amazon, complete with a new preface and afterward. He joins us in studio. Tom, welcome.
MR. TOM SHERWOODWell, thank you very much. It's a little awkward to sit on the side to be asked questions.
NNAMDIAs opposed to asking the questions here.
NNAMDIBut since you've been here two days in a row, it seems like you're here almost every day now. Joining us in studio is Harry Jaffe. Harry is the National Editor at Washingtonian. He is co-author of "Dream City." Harry Jaffe, good to see you.
MR. HARRY JAFFEIt's a pleasure to be here.
NNAMDIAnd you can both clarify me. What is the correct subtitle of the book today? Is it "Race, Power and the Decline of Washington, D.C.," as it was 20 years ago, or is it "Race, Power and the Revival of Washington, D.C.?" The new title has "Decline" scratched out and "Revival" put in. What is the correct subtitle?
JAFFEI think that we have a much changed city over 20 years, thankfully. And "Revival," we knew -- Tom and I tossed back and forth "resurrection." Not necessarily. "Reformed?" No. So, but revived, I think, accurately captures the feel of Washington, D.C., 20 years after we finished writing this book.
SHERWOODFinancially, socially, just around the country, the image of the city has changed dramatically in 20 years.
NNAMDIIf you lived in the District during the first 20 years of home rule, give us a call. How would you say the city has changed since then, and what do you think accounts for that change? 800-433-8850. You can send email to email@example.com. You published this book 20 years ago, about a city that, in the subtitle at that point, makes it clear that it was a city in decline. This is how you describe the Washington you were writing about at the time. Quoting here.
NNAMDI"A town where bad things happen in good neighborhoods and terrifying things can happen in poor neighborhoods. Here is the 69 square mile city that jails more black men than it graduates from high school every year. It's a city where white men and foreign investors own virtually all the commercial real estate, though 70 percent of the population is African-American. Where black babies die at rates higher than in any other American city. Where the rate of AIDS cases, among children, is rising faster than in any other place in the nation."
NNAMDI"Where a small deer herd thrives in Rock Creek National Park while a half mile east of the forest, young black gangs prey on one another and where the murder rate from 1989 to 1991 made the city the country's killing capital." That's the quote from the original book. Now here we are, in 2014. How much of that, to you, still describes the city, and how much of that city, you feel, no longer exists?
SHERWOODWell, we still have horrendous public policy problems with homelessness, with housing for low and moderate income. I'm not talking about just public housing for people who just need a place to stay, but for people to live. They can afford to live in the city. Crime remains an issue in many parts of the city, although it's substantially down across the city. AIDS remains a serious problem in the city, although it gets far less attention than it used to. Joblessness -- I mean, I keep waiting for someone to do a major renovation of the Department of Employment Services.
SHERWOODThe joblessness is terrible in the city. So there are many things, across the board, that you can say are bad. There are some cases, maybe homelessness, might be even worse for some people. But you cannot deny the dramatic economic change that has swept across this region, as it has many other places, in terms of the schools are much better. Are they good? No. But are they better? Yes. There are substantial, positive changes. You don't have to align one good one with one bad one to see that this city has dramatically changed for the better.
JAFFEFor once, I would agree with Tom. The forces that are bringing fresh residents into San Francisco and Philadelphia and Chicago and Dallas are also bringing a lot of people into Washington, D.C. But I think that there was a change that had to happen, about how people thought about Washington, D.C. You know, we described a pretty dismal city. And I think that, you know, if you take crime, absolutely, still -- parts of Washington, D.C. that are -- where people feel unsafe. And they...
JAFFE...are unsafe. And robberies and gun crimes are bad. But look at this. I mean, when we put the final period on our book, the murder rate was close to 500 people in Washington, D.C.
JAFFENow it hovers around 100. I mean, that's a huge change. Now, the violent crime is still too high. But, and I also think that there's a sense that the city is functioning better. You cannot deny that Tony Williams was a mayor for two terms who, for whom the management of the city, and having the city function well, was important. And, you know, he dreamed fancy, as well.
SHERWOODDon't skip over the Control Board. The Federal Control Board, you know, we gotta credit Tom Davis, in many respects, with helping to get a Control Board...
NNAMDIIs this how your writing process actually went?
SHERWOODYes. He says something, I correct him, and then he expands his entry to include mine.
JAFFEWe call it creative tension.
SHERWOODBut you know, the Control Board took off a lot of money from debts in the city. A lot of cities are suffering in debts. We don't, because part of the deal was the feds would take over part of the expenses of the city. And so, the Control Board set a firmer foundation, from which Tony Williams and Adrian Fenty, and yes, Mayor Gray all did some substantial...
NNAMDIHow did this writing process actually begin. A lot of people listening today may only know you two as what you are now. A reporter at NBC, political analyst on this station, long time writer, reporter with the Washingtonian. Can you remind us of where you both were, professionally, when you began the process of writing this book?
JAFFEI was working for a -- for Regardie's Magazine, which was a rock n' roll, iconoclastic, long form magazine. I was covering the city, politics and development. I had a column called "Gravy Train." And I had made contact with David Black, who was a literary agent in New York City, and we had been throwing around some book ideas. And he was actually coming down to Washington the weekend after Marion Barry was busted at the very infamous Vista Hotel bust. And he said, look, I've got editors in New York City that are all of a sudden very interested in a Marion Barry book.
JAFFEWould you do it? And I said, I would love to do it, but I really can't do it myself, because I really haven't covered the city well enough. He said, well, who could you collaborate with, and I said, hmm, Tom Sherwood. Because Sherwood, at that point...
NNAMDIEven though you didn't know him that well, at the time.
JAFFEI didn't know him very well, at all. He had been...
NNAMDIStill don't know him very well, Tom says.
JAFFEHe had been, he had been -- no, he says he doesn't know me. I know him quite well. That's another show. Tom had been covering city hall for the Washington Post, and he had -- was just, at that point, learning what a microphone was, working for WRC TV. Go ahead.
NNAMDIAnd Tom, when, I read this in City Paper, that when you took over the D.C. beat for The Post, years before you left for NBC 4 and started working on "Dream City," you inherited this file cabinet full of source documents from reporters who had preceded you in that role. One of whom, I remember, was my friend Milton Colma. (sp?) Another might have been Eugene Robinson, right?
SHERWOODI don't think Eugene Robinson worked that hard when he was there. He's now a talking head, and he knows -- you know, he's much better suited talking on TV, rather than working on newspapers. No, Gene had some stuff there. But, you know, I had just been -- when Barry was arrested in January of 1990, I had never been on live television outside of the studio. I had just planned, that coming Sunday, was Barry's kickoff and Super Bowl Sunday, I think it was, at the time, and I'd planned to do my first ever live shot outside, that Sunday afternoon.
SHERWOODAnd then it turned out to be Barry's arrest.
NNAMDIAnd that was your -- the beginning of your...
SHERWOOD...television. I didn't even know how to do the -- you know, put the thing in your ear and all that stuff. They had to send I.J. Hudson, a fine reporter for NBC 4 at the time. He had to come down to the Vista Hotel and interview me. Like, what happened, Tom? As if I were an observer, not a -- you know, witness, not a reporter.
NNAMDIIn your updated book, you write that the constant in the city, throughout the change that swept over it since 1994, is Marion Barry, Who I'll be talking with later in this broadcast, former mayor, current council member from Ward 8. What do you feel, in the end, is behind his ability to survive, and in many ways, thrive as a politician?
JAFFEI think that Marion is very smart. I think that Marion has an incredible memory. I think that he...
SHERWOODTo this day.
JAFFE...to this day. I think that he -- his understanding of Washington and Washingtonians is unparalleled. He knows people from all, you know, every corner of the city. And he knows how to connect with people. He knows how to talk, he knows how to -- whether it's to a camera or to a potential voter, he has an uncanny ability. People compare him to Bill Clinton. To make you feel like you are the universe when he's looking at you. And I think that he can still, when he gets up on the (word?) . He may have a hard time mounting the stairs, but when he gets up there with the other 12 council members, he can often be the most lucid, articulate of the bunch.
NNAMDIBit of history here, because the Barry you introduce readers to at the beginning of the original book, is not the Barry of the Vista Hotel sting. It's the civil rights era Barry. To what degree do you feel that people, in this town especially, but around the country, are still unfamiliar with the early part of Marion Barry's life? And what do you feel people gain by studying his early days?
SHERWOODWell, I think some people, either they were aware of it, or they think the misdeeds that he personally engaged in, his drug use and stuff like that, they forget that. They don't want to -- one of the great problems I have is when I talked about Marion Barry. So, many people, initially, want to go right to his drug abuse problems, which he's acknowledged. Of course, his arrest and all of that. Others, the flip side, just want to talk about the good stuff he did. You know, the thousands of people who did summer jobs.
SHERWOODYou know, there were senior citizens...
SHERWOOD...who were not eating in senior citizen homes until Barry came...
JAFFEI got my first job...
SHERWOODWell, but that -- you know, I don't dismiss it. And I try to tell people this. You can make a caricature out of Barry, as Regardie's Magazine once did, with a cartoon-like character.
JAFFEDon't point at me like that.
SHERWOODWell, I just did. But Barry has -- the great tragedy, I think, if Mayor Barry were sitting here, is his own self discipline and his own self-failure...
JAFFEThe lack of self-discipline.
SHERWOOD...created so many of the issues. Charlene Drew Jarvis, who famously said, when he was complaining about it, he had suffered a thousand wounds in public service. Charlene Drew Jarvis said, yes, all self inflicted. So it's a really -- he has a lot to go for him. The people like him to just stay. People still come up to me and say, I got my first job. I got my first entry into Catholic university. I got my this, I got my that, because Barry took time to help. Did he waste some money doing it? Yes, but tens of thousands of it even though they didn't waste it. So that's the good part about Barry, which a lot of people just don't want to hear.
NNAMDIAs I said, we'll be talking with Marion Barry later in this broadcast. Right now, we've got to take a short break. If you have called, stay on the line. We'll try to get to your calls as quickly as possible. The number is 800-433-8850. Well, before we take a break, let me take a call anyway. Let's start with Cosby in Washington, D.C. Cosby, you're on the air, go ahead please.
COSBYHey, guys, thanks for taking my call. Quick question, how do you all envision this book as a teaching tool? And of course, I want to invite everyone to the event on Thursday at the Martin Luther King Library to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the book.
SHERWOODWhat time is it?
NNAMDIAt the Martin Luther King Library, Friday. Question, how would you see "Dream City" being used as a teaching tool?
JAFFEWell, I think it's a pretty good teaching tool because we don't just talk about the last 20 years, I mean, we go back to the origins of Washington, D.C. and, you know, when there were slaves being traded on the Georgetown War, for god sake. And I think it's also incredibly instructive to see how Congress in the Senate treated Washington, the city behind the monuments as a plantation for decades and decades.
NNAMDIWhich is what I was going to get to next.
JAFFEThese were classic white supremacists before we knew that there was a term who really wanted to basically, you know, keep their heels down on African Americans who lived in Washington, D.C. It was unabashed and I think that's an important part of the city story, the pre-stages and also has an effect on how Washington functions right now. We are still a ward of the federal government.
SHERWOODYes, we are -- the nation's capital is the most un-American place in America. The lack of voting rights, the ability to determine their own affairs. We've already had these fights about -- we're having a fight, a court case now about the budget autonomy. All that means is to spend the money you raise. We're having congressional hearings this past Friday on whether we should decriminalize marijuana.
SHERWOODI mean, everything we do, if we decide -- if Congress decides it wants a Ferris wheel on the National Mall, then by god we'll put a Ferris wheel on the National Map. If we don't want one, they can tell us to have one anyway.
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, we will talk about not only the relationship that the city has to the federal government and to Congress but by the new section in "Dream City: Race, Power and the Revival of Washington, D.C." I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking with Tom Sherwood and Harry Jaffe. They are the co-authors of the book, "Dream City: Race, Power and the Decline and now Revival of Washington, D.C." It's available for the first time as an eBook through Amazon, complete with a new preface and afterword. You can also listen to today's conversation. It is streaming at our website, kojoshow.org. Harry Jaffe is the national editor at Washingtonian.
NNAMDITom Sherwood is WAMU 88.5's resident political analyst and a reporter for NBC 4 and a columnist for the Current newspapers. One of the first scenes you paint in "Dream City" is a collision of federal Washington and local D.C. The murder of a congressional aide in the early 1990s that provoked Alabama Senator Richard Shelby to introduce a measure the bring the death penalty to the District. Why did you find that story to be so illuminating?
JAFFEBecause crime sells and it also was, you know, one of the rare moments when, you know, a crime -- I mean, people were dying, you know, five a days sometimes in Washington, D.C. But the fact that a congressional aide got the attention of a senator, I think it spoke -- it allowed us to talk about what was going on in the streets and also how Washington, D.C. is ultimately controlled by Congress.
SHERWOODEven though this was a low-level aide, it's part of the power elite of Washington. It wasn't just another guy in Southeast with the way a lot of people treat him because this guy gets killed...
JAFFEOh, my god, it's a white person.
SHERWOODI was going to mention that. He's a white guy and he's on his way to a 7-Eleven or something like that. I can't remember all the details. But that's -- a crime is dramatic no matter what story you look at. If a crime is traumatic...
NNAMDIYour story is not as neat and simple as one of our tension between blacks and whites even though race is one of the ongoing factors in the city's politics or by the affluent and reports about who created what D.C. became, who benefited from it and who was left behind. Few characters are a central to that story as developers, including a group of white developers who supported Marion Barry's rise. Tell us about Jeff Cohen why you feel he's an important part of the story.
JAFFEHe was a Washingtonian. He befriended Marion Barry. They, you know, they were in many ways kindred spirits. But Jeff was also in it for the money. And so while he would take Marion to his vacation spot up in Nantucket, he would also be cutting deals for property and getting, you know, buildings for a buck. And then hoping to flip them for a lot more money. I think that Marion was very, very smart in that he befriended and had relationships with the money folks of Washington.
JAFFEKeep in mind that one of this first decisions on the city council was finance and revenue. And he used that to, you know, make connections with all the developers, all the builders. And they understood at that point that the pay to play kind of, you know, operations in Washington that we still see operated back then.
SHERWOODBut it wasn't pay to play illegal. The issue was that in this city, the economy, the government and the whole city was run by essentially white people in a majority 70-something percent African American city. Just as Maynard Jackson did in Atlanta and other people did in other cities, he said you cannot come in and reap the benefit of your business in this city and shut out African Americans.
SHERWOODBarry opened the doors to not only the government offices but to the real estate offices and the law firms in town along with many other people. Barry didn't do it himself, obviously. But he said, if you're going to be in and of the District, then you have to share this economic wealth and include people in (unintelligible)...
JAFFENo, but that...
SHERWOODAnd that was...
JAFFEThey're called Marion's friends. He had a chosen few who he brought into the circles.
SHERWOODAll right. But the larger picture is, whatever corruption, whatever...
JAFFEI didn't call it corruption.
SHERWOODI didn't say, no. I wouldn't have said that either if I'd finished my sentence. Whatever problems...
SHERWOOD...there were with the management of these various programs, but again whether they were senior citizen homes or whatever or getting people into business, Barry said you cannot exclude us. And that has been his lifelong position.
NNAMDIA few years after you published this book, speaking of economic development in the city, the MCI Center opened in Chinatown. It was a moment that preceded changes all over the city. A lot of people see it as one of the pivotal points of the city's rise, if you will. But that project started on Marion Barry's watch. Even at that, though, it's a complicated story.
SHERWOODRight. And, you know, Abe Pollin gets a lot of credit for deciding to build downtown, but he didn't -- everybody thinks he just built this, you know, snapped his fingers and built this couple hundred million dollar arena by himself. He did not. The city prepared the land. I think he moved a Metro station -- not a station but a line and the city spent well over $125 million on land accumulation, remediation of the land that was polluted. And so, it was a partnership between the taxpayers of the city and Abe Pollin and Marion Barry.
JAFFEI think that one of the things that Marion Barry could do is Marion can make a deal.
SHERWOODMake a deal, there you go.
SHERWOODRemember Sharon Pratt Kelly couldn't get it done.
JAFFEI was going to bring that up if you hadn't interrupted me, I would have said something about that.
NNAMDIGo ahead, say it anyway.
JAFFEThe Redskins was in play. The Redskins stadium was in play. They had been at RFK for years and years. RFK, as we all know, was a baseball park, not for football. And so, Jack Kent Cooke said, you know what, I need a new stadium for my team. Instead of making a deal, he and Sharon Pratt Kelly, you know, had a, you know, got into a bit of a catfight. She called him a billionaire bully.
JAFFEYou know, he said she was a nice lady. She took offense. And it just turned out badly, and now of course the Redskins are out in Prince Georges County. Marion actually, you know, I would say that if Marion Barry had been mayor, that the Redskins would be playing in Washington, D.C. right now.
NNAMDIOn to John in Falls Church, VA. John, you're on the air, go ahead please.
JOHNYeah. I live in D.C. in the early '90s. And just a couple of comments. One about Barry being very good at playing politics. When you talk about racial politics in the city, I think he was one of the worse offenders to start contentions. I was in that infamous crowd that flipped off at a rally one day. And when he was taking the task for it, you know, he basically said, well, all the white people don't like me.
JOHNWhere at the same rally, either just before him or just after him, Jesse Jackson spoke and got a, you know, resounding ovation. So it just seem that he try to blame everything on everybody else when something went wrong. As to why the things are developing the way they are now, I mean, it's been a long time in the pipeline. I worked on the Green Line project in Anacostia back in '87 and '88.
JOHNAnd we knew that that area around there once thought was completed would go from what it was, which was, you know, a very lighted area to where now it's some of the hottest real estate in the District. And I think that trend is going to continue. And things like affordable housing are going to really take a hit. And just, in general, I don't know that the city is going to turn all that much whiter, but it's going to turn a lot wealthier. And I think that's across all groups.
NNAMDIThe demographics of the city are changing.
SHERWOODYes. Well, let me say how much they have dramatically changed. In the last 20 years, they have gone from 70 percent -- nearly 70 percent African-American to just under 50 percent African-Americans, so there is a dramatic change. You know, Barry is often accused of racial politics and people can point to specific things he's done. I think he was talking about the Adams Morgan day where the crowd was booing Barry and he saluted them. I'm not sure. The crowd was a big crowd. There's all kinds of people, but I understand the meaning of the caller.
NNAMDIBut if you read "Dream City," you'll understand how Barry's support base essentially shifter over the years from his early endorsements by the Washington Post and the people who read the Washington Post to how it evolved in later years. But you're going to have to read the book to find out all of that. But speaking of racial politics, there's a section in the afterword where you write that Anthony Williams and John Hill, the head of the Control Board at that time were emblematic of a post-Civil Rights generation of leadership in the District. What did you mean by that?
JAFFEWell, the leadership became less focused on righting wrongs and discrimination and that kind of battle for civil rights and more interested in can this city function? Can a city deliver services? Can the trash get picked up? Can a snow get removed? Well, people answer the phones. I mean, it's called public service for a reason and I think that was happening all over the country, that wasn't just in Washington, D.C.
JAFFEI think that John Hill and Tony Williams brought that to -- that feeling to Washington. And I also think that that's one of the reasons why Anthony Williams was elected mayor.
NNAMDII'm glad you brought that up because my next question is how would you explain the ascent of Anthony Williams in the wake of Barry deciding not to seek reelection in 1998. But we got a tweet from one Marie Drissel who was one of the key supporters, one of the drafters, if you will, of Anthony Williams' first mayoral campaign in 1998. Marie writes, " Barry taught constituents to think he was the only one who could get government to work not to demand government should work for all.
SHERWOODThat is true. That was Betty Ann Kane, a former councilmember, who once said when she was trying to mount a campaign for mayor that she was speaking to the senior citizens. She says has these -- Betty Ann Kane said of Barry, he has these people believing that they will starve to death if he's not mayor. And it was kind of true.
JAFFEAnd that's a gift for Marion.
NNAMDIHow do you explain the ascent of Anthony Williams?
SHERWOODWell, it's classic. It's very opposite of Barry. Barry, outgoing, hell-fellow, will negotiate with anybody about anything. And then here comes Tony Williams, you know, pocket protector in his shirt.
JAFFEWell, we had a control board our affairs. Keep in mind that...
SHERWOODBarry was -- picked Tony Williams.
JAFFEI understand that. But this is a city that had lost self-control. The limited self-government that we had been basically snatched away. And the control board and Congress basically neutered Marion. I think that Effi Barry said castrated him as a matter of fact. And so, I think that the residents of Washington, D.C., think about whether their votes counted and self-determination realized that something had to change here.
SHERWOODHe also did that to the council members, too. They just -- they took the power, which was the whole point of the control board.
NNAMDIAnd created the position of chief financial officer of the District of Columbia. And Anthony Williams was the first person to occupy that position. However, he was selected by Marion Barry...
NNAMDI...after being recommended by...
JAFFEWell, I think...
JAFFEI think that we have a kind of an untold story here. And, you know, with Sherwood and I being news people we like to have a little bit of news in what we do. The -- how did Tony Williams get to Marion Barry? Jeff Thompson.
NNAMDIThat name sounds familiar.
JAFFEGo ahead, Tom.
SHERWOODWell, Jeff Thompson of course is the money man in all the shadow campaign. He pled guilty back in March. And he's been very big in the news of scandal. But a lot of people don't realize that he had insinuated -- that's not the right word. He had become so much part of the city that he was able to go to Tony Williams and talk to him about becoming the CFO for Marion Barry under the control board, which ultimately led to Tony Williams running for mayor. It's quite the story.
NNAMDIYou know that Tom Lindenfeld was the political brain of Anthony Williams' first campaign for mayor and that he grounded it on the twin themes of, A, proven competence and, B, the city's need for change. Lindenfeld is one of the strategists who was behind Adrian Fenty's campaign...
SHERWOODAnd Muriel Bowser.
NNAMDIHe's now behind Muriel Bowser's current campaign, one in which changes a word that was thrown around quite a bit during a primary against Vincent Gray. What do you make of the undercurrents of these two campaigns?
SHERWOODI just think, you know, we throw away the sidecars and just hire Tom Lindenfeld as mayor.
JAFFENo, I think that this is a city because look -- because local Washington politics is a kind of a backwater. It hasn't attracted that many professional political consultants.
SHERWOODThat's not true.
JAFFEWell, then how do you explain Tom Lindenfeld being so central to these -- to all these many campaigns?
NNAMDITwo campaigns. And now...
NNAMDI...being central in a third that has won the Democratic primary.
SHERWOODSo he might go, like, going with a winner.
NNAMDIYou both note that U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu offered to write into federal law the power for Anthony Williams to take over the city schools and dissolve the school board, which was Adrian Fenty's signature move. But why did Anthony Williams turn her down?
JAFFEI think that he lack the political sense that he could pull it off.
SHERWOODWell, he initially wanted it, but the other people around him were saying, look, you got enough to do. Taking on the schools?
NNAMDIAnd so he just didn't do it.
JAFFEWell, he did -- it was a half-baked job. He had a hybrid school board. It was half appointed, half elected. And it really was a...
SHERWOODThere's a half in there somewhere.
JAFFEYeah. And it just was a disaster. And nothing happened. And I -- that's, you know, that's one of the things that I imagine Anthony Williams would like to take back. It gave -- it certainly gave an option -- an opening for Adrian Fenty to do what Anthony Williams could have done. I think the big sweep of this -- of what we've written in the last -- this new afterword is that since the near-bankruptcy of the city in the '90s, I think what Harry did in his writing style and my working with it is that we show that there has now been the continuum from the control board, from Mayor Williams, from Mayor Fenty and Mayor Gray.
SHERWOODAnd we don't know what's going to be next with whoever wins in November. But there has been a continuum of this city getting better on the right track. Lots of problems, and we can cite them all, I'm sure the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute could tell me some of them. But the whole nature of the way the city is seen now is changed. And that's what's changed in the last 20 years.
NNAMDIWe're running out of time here. And we're going to be talking with former mayor and councilmember Marion Barry in our next segment, he joins us by phone. But before you leave, there's a clarification that needs to be made between what "Dream City" is all about, covering 20 years of the city's politics, and what the upcoming, possibly upcoming HBO movie is going to be all about. Because a lot of people conflate the two things and think that the HBO movies is merely a movie version of "Dream City." It's not.
SHERWOODNo, it is not. "Dream City" is a book, a lot of life work that Harry and I have put into the book and the new version of it. Apart from that, HBO bought the rights to use our book in a movie. If they want to make Mario Barry into Christine Quinn in New York, and have all her issues up there in New York, they can do that. They can make any movie they want. They asked us to be available if they have any questions. I don't think Spike Lee or Eddie Murphy has any questions for us.
SHERWOODSo the movie is separate from us. They're focusing on -- the mayor doesn't like it, but they're focusing more on the Vista sting, and some other parts of the -- dramatic parts of Barry's life. Not his whole life. Our book talks about not just Barry, but the whole life of the city and those are significantly different.
JAFFEHaving said that, I think that Marion Barry is a Shakespearean flawed candidate -- candidate, I'm sorry, person, character. And you go anywhere in the world, mention Marion Barry and people will know who he is and the power that he had and the power that he, well, you know, squandered, if you will.
NNAMDIWell, feel free to stick around while we talk with the former mayor and city councilmember.
SHERWOODOkay. Well, he did many good things, but he had enough bad -- you know, when people want to remember good or bad, but do they remember.
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back we'll be joined by former mayor, current Ward 8 councilmember Marion Barry. You can call us with your comments and questions, 800-433-8850. What pieces of local D.C. history do you find are most often misunderstood or unappreciated? Give us a call, 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. Tom Sherwood and Harry Jaffe, co-authors of "Dream City," are still in studio with us, but joining us now by phone is Marion Barry, former mayor of the District of Columbia. He's currently a member of the D.C. Council. He's a Democrat who represents Ward 8. Mayor Barry, thank you for joining us.
MR. MARION BARRYThank you. I'd like to be there, but I'm at a hearing about affordable house on the "Big K," site. So, otherwise I would have been right there in the studio.
NNAMDIYeah, we wanted you here in the studio, but you've got an autobiography coming out later this year. Tell us a little bit about that.
BARRYOh, it's my story. It's going to be released June 17. And Tom Sherwood and Harry Jaffe are trying to exploit me. I'm tired of being exploited. I'm tired -- I'm seriously tired of being exploited by them.
NNAMDIIs this book going to cover from Itta Bena, Miss., all the way to the year 2014?
BARRYAbsolutely. I have a wonderful story. I've overcome so many hard -- "Dream City" does not reflect my (word?) life. It has not the sense of (unintelligible) in it, (unintelligible) and more important, it's exploitive.
NNAMDITom and Harry make clear that if the original publication of this book was about a city in decline, but we're talking about a different city today in 2014. What do you see when you look at D.C.? Do you see a city undergoing a revival?
BARRYNot undergoing, even at that time. They were -- the city was on the upswing. Harry Jaffe has never said anything positive about our city, about me and Tom Sherwood just exploited me. He got a job at Channel 4 because he was a Barry expert. And I'm tired of it. The citizens are tired of it.
NNAMDIWell, they mentioned that you have a very strong and celebrated history in civil rights, that, in fact, you were a mayor that -- as a councilmember of the city who was the head of the committee on finance, that you understood a lot about development in the city. The book has quite a few complimentary things to say about you.
BARRYBut the bad outweighs the good.
NNAMDIAnd so you think your book is going to remedy that situation?
NNAMDIWhat do you see…
BARRYMy book is truthful. It's educational. And it's going be an inspiration to a lot of people, mostly black people, and tell you how you can overcome the odds. I overcame being born black and poor in Mississippi. God gave me some gifts that helped me overcome those things.
BARRYAnd I want the public to know that Harry Jaffe, Tom Sherwood have been exploiting us. Got to stop exploiting black folks. That day is over with. We want -- that they will exploit black people and get away with it.
NNAMDIWhen you say that the revival of the city began under your tenure, can you explain for our audience what you mean by that and how what they see in the city today is, in your view, rooted in your stewardship of the city?
BARRYWell, when I came into office, Washington, D.C. was like a sleepy Southern town. And Pennsylvania Avenue didn't have any new buildings, except one. And that's the FBI building. Downtown (unintelligible) was decaying, looking in there, you know.
NNAMDIAnd when you talk about writers and others exploiting blacks, it's my understanding that this HBO movie involves Eddie Murphy, it involves Spike Lee. What do you think about their role in it? Are they, too, exploiting us?
BARRYAbsolutely. I mean, you have "Dream City," Tom Sherwood, Harry Jaffe, two white people exploiting black people. And I'm not going be a party to it, you know.
NNAMDIBut I was asking about Eddie Murphy and Spike Lee, about their involvement in it. Have you had the opportunity to speak with any of them? Did you have the opportunity to speak with HBO about this movie?
BARRYI've spoken with the president briefly, president of HBO Films briefly, but that's not the issue. The issue is, why should I let two white men exploit a black man like me? I'm not going to take it. I'm not going to be a party to it. I expect the great majority of the nation (unintelligible).
NNAMDIWell, do you think that as reporters they have a right to write what they see as the 20 years of history of the city? You think that by virtue of being white they don't have the right to write about it at all?
BARRYThey don't have a write to exploit a black person or black people. And Tom Sherwood and Harry Jaffe are exploiting me, a black -- they're trying to exploit me, won't get away with it and exploiting black people.
BARRYThat book is so full of misinformation, it's amazing.
NNAMDILike what? What's the kind of misinformation you find in the book?
BARRYI don't want to get bogged down in (unintelligible) except that I refuse to be interviewed by Harry Jaffe and Tom Sherwood because I know they are going to use it to gain economically from me.
NNAMDIAll right. Let…
BARRYAnd I'm not going to let it happen that way.
NNAMDIHow about Jonetta Rose Barras' book, "The Last of the Black Emperors?" What do you think about that?
BARRYIt's worse than "Dream City." (unintelligible) evidence is, I mean, Jonetta Barras has been anti-black, and back then, all of her career. And that's a fact.
NNAMDIAll right. Let me go to the phones. Here's Emmanuelle, in Crofton, Md. Emmanuelle, you're on the air. Go ahead, please. Emmanuelle, are you there? Uh-oh. Emmanuelle doesn't seem to be there any longer. In that case, let me go to Wanda, in Washington, D.C. Wanda, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
WANDAThank you, Kojo, for taking my call.
WANDAAnd, you know, I want to say that if people would just go and take the time to review some of the videos that have been made about Marion Barry -- I did a voiceover recently for his -- Mr. Barry, for your birthday tribute. And every time that I read and do a voiceover about your story, it moves me in many, many ways, politically, economically, you know, spiritually.
WANDASo I think, although people think they know you, I think the last video that was done, this birthday tribute to you, is phenomenal. People should go and see it and listen to it and hear your story. I am just -- I was just honored to be able to do the voiceover for that tribute video.
NNAMDICare to comment on that, Mayor Barry?
BARRYI agree that the -- it's time to stop the exploitation of black people by white reporters and white people who don't -- who try and get economic gain for themselves.
NNAMDIRufus Catfish Mayfield, your former partner at Pride Incorporated, told the City Paper that he feels there's a double-standard in reporting when it comes to mistakes that black politicians make. Do you agree with him?
BARRYIt is known that disproportionately. Black people are disproportionately reported on compared to white people. They got -- the facts are there.
NNAMDIHow would you…
BARRYAnd it's time, time to stop.
NNAMDIAnd I guess we can find this in your upcoming autobiography, but how would you characterize your own mistakes? What are the mistakes you feel that you may have made in your stewardship of the city and in your life?
BARRYI don't want to get bogged down in any specific. I know when you look at the whole game, you balance it out. I want all four -- all nine innings reported. Not just one inning or one mistake or two mistakes or five mistakes. I want it to have the whole storybook there. And "Dream City" does not even begin into that. And the up and coming movie, which I hope to try to kill, doesn't do that.
NNAMDIIt's my understanding that in your upcoming autobiography you will say that the 1990 arrest that led to your leaving office was simply a night of embarrassment. Is that how you see it?
BARRYNo. I see it as a night of the power of the federal government coming down. It so happens that nine jurors out of twelve voted for acquittal on all charges. You know, the three white men voted for a conviction. That's clear.
NNAMDIAnd you feel that was but one small incident in what you see as a successful career.
BARRYAbsolutely. Very much so.
NNAMDIAnd you said the book was...
BARRYI mean, just...
NNAMDIThe book will be coming out when?
BARRYWe're going to launch it in New York, June 17. It's going to be power packed, it's going to be truthful, it's going to be inspirational, it's going to be everything good that can happen to a black man who had beaten a number of odds. All that I've overcome.
NNAMDIAnd before I let you go, I have to ask, how are you feeling now?
BARRYOh, I (unintelligible) I had a blood infection, almost took me out. But blood infections kill about a third of the people who get it. And God blessed me to have good doctors and some good antibiotics. So I'm back now, about 90 percent back. And I'm talking soft because I'm at this hearing on affordable housing.
NNAMDIAre you aware that one of the leading candidates for the mayor of Newark, Ras Baraka, the son of Amiri Baraka, has cited you as an important role model?
BARRYYeah, I heard about that.
NNAMDIOh, I thought I would be the first one informing you about that. I read about that over the weekend. But, Mayor Barry, thank you very much for joining us.
BARRYWell, thank you. Let's stop the exploitation. Let's stop the exploitation by Tom Sherwood and Harry Jaffe. I'm sick of it. I'm tired of it. (unintelligible).
NNAMDIMarion Barry is the former mayor of Washington. He's now the councilmember representing Ward 8. Tom Sherwood and Harry Jaffe maintained a noble silence during the course of that interview. But you said 20 years ago that you felt that Al Arrington, an African American police officer who played an important role in the police investigation into Marion Barry during the late '80s and early '90s, was central to this story. Why did you feel that way? Because I think you said in 1994 that he was, in some ways, the hero of the book as it was originally published.
JAFFEWell, Al Arrington…
SHERWOODSay who he is.
JAFFEHe was a -- I was about to. He was a police officer with the MPD. And he was on the -- he investigated Marion Barry. And it was not necessarily the FBI that took Marion Barry down. It was Al Arrington and Jim Pollock (sp?), two MPD investigators, who did the real investigative work. Al Arrington was a sharecropper's son, as was Marion Barry. And Al Arrington was a -- in many ways the mirror image of Marion, except that he took a different route.
JAFFEAnd we wrote the blow-by-blow crime story of how Arrington and Pollock broke down the wall of silence that Marion's police officers, who were in his contingent, security contingent, and other friends had built up around him. So it wasn't the FBI that investigated Marion Barry. It was Al Arrington and Jim Pollock, two MPD cops.
SHERWOODAnd who had his hand on the door?
NNAMDIAt the time of the…
SHERWOODAt the Vista Hotel? Was that -- I'm -- was that Al Arrington?
JAFFEYeah, it was -- well, and Al Arrington got to Marion Barry first.
NNAMDISaid he'd been investigating for years, but he was very torn at the point of which…
NNAMDI…he had to arrest him because…
JAFFEHis heart -- his heart was broken.
SHERWOODIt's a dramatic moment when he burst into the room ahead of the FBI agents and yelling and screaming and he can't see anything in that dark room very much, but he gets over there and it's really a dramatic moment where he confronts Barry.
NNAMDIAnd he said this, to himself, this is a brother…
NNAMDI…that I'm doing this to. Even though I've been chasing him for years, all of a sudden you felt that pain. It's just one of the complications of race in the politics of the District of Columbia that you can find in "Dream City." And most probably can also find in Marion Barry's upcoming autobiography coming out, he said, June the 17, is the date of that.
SHERWOODThat's what he said.
NNAMDIJune the 17.
SHERWOODIn New York, a New York launch.
NNAMDIMayor Barry's a man who says he's never had permanent friends or permanent enemies, only permanent interests. And you should know that his relationship with Harry Jaffe and Tom Sherwood and…
SHERWOODIt's been pretty permanent with Harry.
JAFFEAnd it will continue.
NNAMDI…yours truly and others over the years has been up and down, on and off. But we thank you very much Marion Barry for joining us. And Tom Sherwood, thank you for joining us.
SHERWOODHave a good afternoon. Thank you for having me in and the book.
NNAMDIHarry Jaffe, good to see you. Thank you for joining us.
JAFFEPleasure to be here as always.
NNAMDITogether they are the co-authors of "Dream City: Race, Power, Decline and Revival of Washington, D.C." It's now available for the first time as an eBook through Amazon.
NNAMDIComplete with a new preface and afterward, that's true. Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
Most Recent Shows
Kojo explores how design encouraged the historic mental health hospital's mission.
Kojo explores how D.C.'s main library fits into the city's strategy for caring for the homeless, and how patrons are reacting to the closure.
Kojo explores what Etete's new look and menu says about changing expectations in U Street corridor.