A Lesson in Barry's Win

September 16, 1994|By CARL T. ROWAN

WASHINGTON — Washington. -- To the surprise, embarrassment and even horror of thousands of us here in the nation's capital, Marion Barry has scored a remarkable primary victory that almost certainly guarantees him four more years as mayor of this city.

After his tragic and disgraceful previous 12 years as mayor, people here who did not vote for Barry on Tuesday are now saying that:

Many D.C. public schools could not open on time because of fire hazards and other long-neglected problems. Barry will never get the estimated half-billion dollars needed to bring the public schools up to acceptable standards for fire codes, leaky roofs, clean toilets, etc.

Barry is so despised by most members of Congress that he will never be able to get funds to reduce the huge overall budget deficit that cripples almost every positive enterprise in this city.

Barry corrupted the police force during his last years as mayor -- even getting cops to help conceal his cocaine habit. The District will never get all the funds it is due from the new crime bill, nor the trusting cooperation from other law-enforcement agencies that is essential to reducing an atrocious rate of major crimes.

All these dire predictions may turn out to be true. But the story now is that 65,000 D.C. voters said that whatever the consequences, they wanted Barry. The horror predictions of the costs of electing Barry must not blind millions of leaders of a thousand American cities to the fact that there is a lesson for them in Barry's triumph.

We must acknowledge the force, however destructive, of black rage, minority alienation and poor people's anger and class hatred in America.

We ought to be saying today, ''My God! Has racial polarization become so great, so pervasive, so poisonous in America that so many people would vote for a disgraced Barry over other black candidates of class and probity who have demonstrated their ability to function amid ethnic and class diversity?''

nTC Barry won because a veritable army of blacks aged 18 to 26 manned the political ramparts for him. Most were too young to know about the excesses, failures and outrages of his previous terms as mayor. But they knew a lot about how hard it is now for black Americans their age to find jobs -- or hope -- in our cities. They were driven by the rush of both white Democrats and Republicans to find space for them in costly, new prisons even as no meaningful force was put behind efforts to give them learning, work and self-respect.

The danger is that Barry will betray these youths again, which will lift to more dangerous levels their hatred for the American system.

The danger in other towns is that since the racially alienated and the social outcasts cannot relieve their rage temporarily by voting for a Marion Barry, they will explode irrationally in more violent ways.

Many thoughtful people in D.C. are so worried about the future of this city under Barry that they will turn to a gossamer dream that an independent candidate will pop up like Superman and defeat Barry in the November 8 general election. I expect no such miracle.

I am now resigned to watching my city go through four more years of economic distress, official corruption and incompetence, and abuse of power by Barry and the cops whom he will make his cronies.

We Washingtonians must steel ourselves against that grim prospect, or we must believe whole-heartedly that God is indeed now inside Barry, infusing his every personal inclination with the spirit of redemption.

What I wish for the nation is a campaign led by the president, by governors, by newspaper editors and publishers, and by business and civic leaders to reduce the racial bigotry and class discrimination that make politicians like Barry so potent at the polls. We either get this inspired new leadership or we all will pay a price that will bind us in conflict and shame for at least a generation.

Carl T. Rowan is a syndicated columnist.

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