Term 4, Year 1 Takes Barry on Tumultuous Ride: Mayor Fights Congress, Then Cancer

By Dewey, Jeanne | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), January 2, 1996 | Go to article overview

Term 4, Year 1 Takes Barry on Tumultuous Ride: Mayor Fights Congress, Then Cancer


Dewey, Jeanne, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


A decade ago, Marion Barry probably would have scoffed at the notion of reading a how-to book about managing change.

After all, in the boom 1980s, he was the master deal maker running a city enjoying unchecked growth. Status quo was fine.

But Mr. Barry is nothing if not a student of the writing on the wall. And, with D.C. finances hitting rock bottom and a Republican Congress chomping at the bit to ride in and rescue the District - 23 years of home rule or no - the writing says: Change is here. Grab hold and steer, or get left behind.

"I got no choice. I know better how to get it done: Either we change, or Congress is gonna do it and mess it up," Mr. Barry said during a recent interview with The Washington Times at his home in the Congress Heights neighborhood of Southeast.

Mr. Barry, who is recuperating at home from surgery for prostate cancer, argued that he has been able to maintain basic services despite an overwhelming fiscal crisis.

"We've brought some bad news to our citizens, but it's the truth and they understand that," the mayor said.

* * *

It is understatement to say the city's political landscape has been transformed in the year since Mr. Barry began a fourth term after rising from his drug conviction and prison term to reclaim the office of mayor.

Clouding his otherwise hope-filled inaugural celebration a year ago today was the threat that the new Republican majority in Congress would impose a federal control board over the city.

Less than six months later, Congress followed through on the threat, imposing a strong five-member board to exercise broad authority over finances. Its charge: Steer an essentially insolvent city back to fiscal health.

The control board has wide latitude to approve city spending, recommendmanagement strategies and ultimately force changes in everything from employee benefits to privatization to new taxes - authority once exclusively held by the mayor.

The era of the control board begs a question about Mr. Barry that seemed unthinkable a year ago.

"Is [Mr. Barry] relevant? No, he's not relevant," said Gail Barnes, an advisory neighborhood commissioner in Ward 4 in upper Northwest.

The mayor and the D.C. Council "deserve to be where they are," Ms. Barnes said. "They have absolutely no power."

But to remain a player and help steer the city through the changes ahead, Mr. Barry tapped consultant Daryl R. Conner, a 20-year friend of House Speaker Newt Gingrich, the Georgia Republican who has adopted the city and vowed to transform it into an "urban jewel" via GOP initiatives such as school and tax reforms.

Over the summer, Mr. Barry and about a dozen top Cabinet members read Mr. Conner's 281-page book, "Managing at the Speed of Change: How Resilient Managers Succeed and Prosper Where Others Fail."

Mr. Conner's Atlanta-based company, Organizational Development Resources Inc., agreed to take on the District as a charity case - its annual pro bono client.

* * *

It was a year in which trash piled up in the streets for more than a week while the city struggled with how to pay for both recycling and garbage pickup. Burned-out or broken street lights went unreplaced until Mr. Gingrich guaranteed eventual payment of a huge electric bill. City buildings even went without toilet paper briefly because the janitorial contractor was owed more than $1 million.

Most vendors still are not being paid, in some cases jeopardizing services for the neediest residents. Some contractors have been forced out of business, others have curtailed services and laid off workers.

"I'd probably give him a `C', " said council member William Lightfoot, at-large independent, who backed away from challenging Mr. Barry in 1994's general election.

"I think the city is worse off than it was in January," Mr. …

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Term 4, Year 1 Takes Barry on Tumultuous Ride: Mayor Fights Congress, Then Cancer
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