*The residents of the District of Columbia’s Ward 8 are insane. Why else would they continue to vote for Marion Barry, Jr. who over-promises and under-delivers? Since 1975 when he began his political tenure in the nation’s capital as an at-large council-member then weaving his way in and out of the mayor’s seat for more than four terms, to his current position as Ward 8 councilman, Barry has been a part of the political landscape of the District.
The only time he vacated the political scene was when he was forced to take time off in 1991 to serve a six month federal prison sentence for cocaine possession. You might have seen the video on national news of Barry getting arrested by the FBI in a hotel room after getting caught smoking crack with a woman who was not his wife.
If I remember correctly, Barry called the woman “that bitch” who “set me up!” on the video. Barry was sentenced to probation in 2006 for failing to file tax returns. And the IRS is still chasing him to collect more than $3,000 in unpaid taxes in 2010. He also was arrested in 2009 accused of stalking an ex-girlfriend. Despite these transgressions, and the fact that Congress took control from then Mayor Barry and the city council in 1995 because of poor fiscal management, the 75-year old Don of the District has won ten of eleven elections there. And he’s vying for an unprecedented eleven wins if he is re-elected as Ward 8 councilman for a third consecutive term in April. Therein lies my proof that residents in this corner of the nation’s capital continue to do the same thing while expecting different results: the definition of insanity.
I didn’t understand it when I moved to Washington in 1994. I lived in the District and in neighboring Prince George’s county for fourteen years. I drank the water too, and I still don’t understand it. And if you were to question life-long residents about their allegiance to the man most of them go off on a tangent about when they were children (30 years ago) Barry gave them a summer job. That must have been before they started keeping statistics, because since 1980 Ward 8 consistently leads the city in the number of high school dropouts, the number of female headed families with children, the number of teen pregnancies, the number of residents on government assistance, the number of people living below the poverty level and the number of jobless residents. This time last year Ward 8 had an unemployment rate of more than 25 percent topping the national average of metropolitan cities of the same size. But they love Marion Barry! Other than a summer job 30 years ago, what has this man done for Ward 8 lately to earn his $125,000 council salary, which by the way is more than two and half times the average $44,000 salary that his constituents earn; those who have jobs.
Most of the children who live in D.C. reside in Ward 8 among the joblessness, the fatherless households and this perpetual cycle of poverty. And while Ward 8 statistics are not indicative of what the rest of Washington, D.C. has to offer, the future of Ward 8 residents – as with any city – parallels that of its children. What I don’t understand is why residents there don’t expect more of their children, more of themselves and more of their local elected officials, especially Barry who has been living off the good graces of the voters for more than thirty years, seemingly at their expense.
Washington, D.C., known as Chocolate City, is just one example of a predominantly African-American metropolitan area with a legacy of ineffective leadership. Philadelphia and Houston are two more cities with low high school graduation and employment rates in certain zip codes. Incidentally, these are the same areas where the political leadership is allowed in then – just like relatives who overstay their welcome – they don’t know when to leave.
While this is not an attempt to blame one politician for the demise of a community the first step to finding a solution to any relationship problem is to admit there is one. And then be willing to do whatever it takes to fix it, including choosing partners who operate with your best interest in mind. Until residents like those in D.C.’s Ward 8 realize they deserve better from their local elected officials – and then exercise their political power by voting for more responsible leadership and demanding better results – they will continue to be left behind and feeling like the middle of a donut – left out.
Steffanie Rivers is a freelance journalist. Send your comments, questions and appearance inquiries to Steffanie at [email protected].