WE noted with interest a recent story about how NAACP...

salmagundi

May 02, 1994

WE noted with interest a recent story about how NAACP Executive Director Benjamin Chavis angered some of the civil rights group's board members by meeting with a group of black "radicals" without telling them. Surprisingly, also among the guests was Cornell West, a Princeton University professor of religion who has written eloquently of what he calls the "crisis" of black leadership.

One black leader who was not invited was former Washington Mayor Marion Barry. Mr. Barry has had his share of crises since first being elected district mayor in 1978. Four years ago he was forced from office after being convicted of cocaine possession in a spectacular trial. He served several months in federal prison before returning to Washington, remarrying and regaining office as a councilman from Washington's poorest neighborhood.

Now Mr. Barry has told friends he will run for his old job as mayor against incumbent Sharon Pratt Kelley. Mr. West, in his book "Race Matters," identifies three kinds of black leaders: "race-effacing managers," like Ms. Kelley, who pride themselves on administrative expertise; "race-identifying protest leaders," like Mr. Barry, who embody populist pride and anti-establishment resentment; and "race-transcending prophetic leaders," whom Mr. West compares to the late Harold Washington or Nelson Mandela.

So Washington may soon see a spirited contest for the city's top job that could also be viewed as a referendum on two very different leadership styles. One thing Mr. Barry may have going for him: Over the past three years, nearly 30,000 middle-class blacks and whites have left the city -- as many as left during the entire decade of the '80s. It wouldn't be surprising if Mr. Barry captured the votes of many of those who remain. After all, in the eyes of his followers, he has always been a protest candidate; what better way to "send 'em a message" and defy the establishment than to re-elect Mr. Barry mayor of Washington?

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