Lunch with the Godfather of D.C.

Photo by Kate Michael
Marion Barry and me
Marion Barry and me

A delicious lunch on a Thursday at the Ritz-Carlton Georgetown is nothing to avoid. That same delicious lunch featuring Carol Joynt’s Q&A Café with former D.C. Mayor Marion Barry is even better. And that lunch after this week’s book club, which was on Dream City, a book by Harry Jaffe and Tom Sherwood about Marion Barry is even better. Timing is everything …

Fellow book club member and bestie Kate and I had the opportunity to listen to the “Godfather of D.C.” answer Joynt’s questions. More often than not, he answered her questions with a question … and a twinkle in his eye. Some of the highlights of the interview are below.

The most fun part of the lunch, however, was meeting him. I have to admit that having now met the (in)famous Barry, I like him a lot more than when I finished the book. I had brought Dream City with me, I wanted Barry to sign it for me. For those of you who have not read Dream City, it does not portray him in a very favorable light … I went up to Barry at the end of the luncheon, with the book open on a page with a great photograph of him, and the jacket off the cover. I asked him to please autograph his photo. “What book is this?” he asks, not a fool … I say “the Sherwood book, please …” he chuckles, I plead sheepishly, he asks for my name, and signs the photo. Highlight of my day.

Getting Dream City signed (Photo by: Kate Michael) Getting Dream City signed

Kate and I sit back down, finishing our coffee, when we learn that Jaffe, one of the Dream City co-authors, is at the table across from us. Now this is a small world, and indeed, timing is everything. After meeting the subject of the book, we met the author of the book. Funnily enough, other book club member and bestie Cathy had called Jaffe out of the blue (they have a Washingtonian Magazine connection) on Tuesday morning (the day of book club) to ask him a few questions, and invite him to come. While he couldn’t on such short notice, he promised to come, with Sherwood, later this winter. Would he autograph my book? He did, and I didn’t even have to hide the jacket …

Q&A Café highlights:

On Georgetown

Barry: I love Georgetown, I love every part of the city. Georgetown residents just don’t want to have anything change.

On Presidential Politics

Barry: I am a lifelong liberal progressive democrat.

To Joynt’s question about Romney’s comments on the 47%, Barry merely replied by saying that he has “fought against injustice and discrimination all of my life.” “The majority of that 47% are not victims. They are not poor because they did wrong.” Indeed, Barry admitted that it was unthinkable for him to imaging Romney as president.

Barry: Obama will win the race.

On D.C. Home Rule

While Barry thinks Obama has indeed been good for D.C., he wants more. He wants statehood for our Capital.

Barry: Democracy depends on democracy, yet we don’t have democracy in our own home. We need statehood.

On D.C. Politics

Joynt also brought up the topic of the current City Council and mayoral scandals.

Barry: I won’t call names.

Barry said he would be voting for Philip Mendelson as Council Chair. Should Gray be indicted, should he resign, Mendelson would then become the Mayor of D.C. Joynt: Is Washington D.C. ready for a white mayor?

Barry: Some people are, some people aren’t.

Joynt: What does that mean? Which people are you?

Barry: I’m ready for democracy.

Joynt: Could you campaign for and endorse a white candidate?

Barry: That is a “what if,” I don’t get into what ifs.

Joynt: Are you going to run for reelection?

Barry: I’m smarter than tha t… than to answer that question.

On Family

Joynt asked Barry about his family. His son Christopher, now 32, lives in Ward 8 and runs a small business. “He is struggling, like most small businesses” admits Barry. And of course he is interested in politics “he’s been around me his whole life …”. About marriage, well, Cora did come up in conversation.

Joynt: Are you still married?

Barry: Technically, yes. [chuckle from the audience, pause] Cora and I separated.

On Addiction

Barry: The FBI spent 10 to 15 million dollars to frame me. The good news is that I have been clean since 1990.

Joynt: You can only blame the government for so much.

Barry: I am a victim. They set me up. The jury understood that. Like many, I got caught in an addiction… 90 percent of those who get addicted don’t kick it. I’m proud of that.

Overall, Barry says, that was “just a chapter in my life. Well, maybe two chapters.” It’s just about being a human being, about “human being issues, like traffic problems and girlfriend issues.”

On Racism

Joynt: Where are we on racism?

Barry: There is racial division all over America.

Joynt: Do you think you are being racist when you slur against Asians?

Barry: No

Joynt: Are there any Asians on your staff?

Barry: No

Joynt: Are there any Latinos on your staff?
Barry: No

On the Media

Barry: The media in D.C. does not give me a fair shake. Absolutely not. That’s their nature. Newspapers are supposed to report the news, not make the news.

On Power

Joynt: Whoever becomes the next Mayor of D.C., do they need you?

Barry: Absolutely. I’m probably the most successful politician in Washington DC.

Joynt: Mayor for life. Who are you really?

Barry: I’m Marion Barry.