Thursday, January 12, 2006

Barry Carries on the Reagan Legacy of Excess

When I lived in Washington I dreamed of having a roll up the sleeves, get down to saving the city kind of mayor. Instead, for most of my time in the city, I had Marion Barry. Once just after the Reagan inaugural, I was riding by the District Building on Pennsylvania Avenue and the mayor passed us in his limousine. That's when it struck me: with Barry in office there were going to be two men who commonly cruised Pennsylvania Avenue in a limo, Reagan and Barry, and that what buoyed Barry now was not Black Pride so much as his understanding of the glitz of the Reagan Era, the usual political pieties and platitudes surrounded by money and people flaunting it. He was going to prove that he was king of the city, not Reagan. Of course, all the wealth of black American could not match the roll that empowered a phenomena like Reagan. So Barry needed cocaine.

As a historian I know Washington has not had many mayors, and traditionally the art of being the mayor of Washington was having a smooth relationship with the powers in Congress, but that was before the age of TV and media focus. As Fisher points out in his article Memo to Barry: Enough paying so much attention to Barry only encourages him. But Fisher doesn't address the fundamental problem of being a mayor in DC. How can you be a mayor in a city conceived and dedicated to putting the federal government first in everything? And if like Barry you take democracy at its word, and the voters said "You de Man, Marion," how can you not be true to yourself and carry on much like Barry has? To eschew the grandeur and any aid to empowerment in the context of modern Washington is to admit from the start that you are a loser.


p.s. check out my on-line history of early Washington The Seat of Empire

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