Journalist Jonetta Rose Barras takes a hard-boiled look at the rise and fall of Washington, D.C., Mayor Marion Barry, who was reelected after serving time for smoking crack. Barras, in her top- notch reporting, lays bare the racially charged Washington political landscape in which Barry operates, writing, "Some blacks are leery of Barry. Having found their way inside corporate boardrooms and suburban neighborhoods, they temper their praise for him, labeling his race-based politics divisive.... Still, their cultural connections demand that they respect and marvel at Barry...."
Barras chronicles Barry's beginnings, from his '60s student work in Nashville, Tennessee (which is also discussed in broader scope in David Halberstam's The Children), to his ascendance from the D.C. school board to the mayor's office. But Barras also calls into account the effectiveness of Barry's '60s-style political activism and the near-despotic characteristics of his generation's hold on power. "Twenty years from now," she writes, "if today's new black leaders provide for their own timely exits from the political stage--something their predecessors failed to do--they will help realize the dream of civil rights era activists." Barras's book is a sometimes scathing account of Barry's peril and promise that also serves as a cautionary tale for future black leaders. --Eugene Holley Jr.
In Washington Times columnist Barras's hard-hitting assessment, Marion Barry, mayor of Washington, D.C., is "a chief purveyor of African-American-extortionist politics... squeezing whites for as much as possible." Barras, who is African American, charges that Barry's divisive brand of race-based politics has fostered black dependency on the white establishment instead of building coalitions within the black community. Yet her tough-minded profile of Barry?who bounded back from a 1990 drug bust and six months in prison with his 1994 reelection to a fourth mayoral term?is not entirely negative. She probes Barry's abiding popularity with his constituency, who, she maintains, view his well-publicized womanizing and crack addiction as the indiscretions of a prodigal son who rose above his impoverished Mississippi childhood to become a civil rights activist in the 1960s. She credits Barry with serious attempts to eliminate waste and corruption during his current term, and she argues that Congress set him up for martyrdom by passing legislation in 1997 that stripped the D.C. mayor's office of basic executive powers and denied funds to the district. Nevertheless, she urges Barry not to seek a fifth term (he has already announced that he will not), to step aside for an emerging generation of African American politicians who, in her opinion, have transcended the politics of race. Author tour.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.