Why Marion Barry survives in Washington

February 19, 1996|By Carl T. Rowan

WASHINGTON -- I can't turn around, especially out of town, without facing a barrage of questions about the social and economic woes of this city.

''What's wrong with the people there?'' ''How could they re-elect Marion Barry?'' ''Why doesn't Congress throw the crooks out?''

This nation's capital, so atypical of the rest of the nation, is in fact a dismaying example of the worst things about all of America.

The District of Columbia is a shameful amalgam of racial passions, endemic corruption, bureaucratic incompetence, unfairness in taxation, rampant crime amid police abuse, and more. And because the District is unable to cope with one problem -- racism, for example -- it is rendered powerless to deal effectively with the others -- corrupt political leaders, for example.

The media, leaders of Congress, even judges tiptoe around the fact that the majority of Washingtonians are black, as are those holding political power. Powerful congressmen, mostly white, wallow semi-secretly in their beliefs that black people are inherently incapable of governing the capital city of the world's greatest nation. Intelligent blacks know this and, insulted, believe that whites here have one over whelming goal: to wrest from blacks the few levers of power that they hold.

And so a corrupt, incompetent black mayor, Marion Barry, can continue a destructive reign by citing such racial injustices as the tax laws and congressional restraints that are racist in origin and indisputably unfair.

The corruption here is mind-boggling, from the mayor's office to the police department to the lowliest overbloated bureaucracy. Many people have become inured to stories of graft and waste. They become indignant, however, any time Mr. Barry shows that HTC the Congress treats the District of Columbia as a black outcast, compared with Maryland and Virginia.

Un-American plot

Consider taxes. Congress goes bonkers at any suggestion that all who earn their living in D.C. should pay D.C. taxes. Residents of Maryland and Virginia act as though this is some un-American idea birthed in the Kremlin.

The reality is that virtually all jurisdictions other than the District are now taxing those who earn money within their boundaries. In 1994, because I got paid for speeches and earned money on investments, I was compelled to file income-tax returns in California, Maryland, Mississippi, New York and Virginia, in addition to federal and District filings.

Only blatant unfairness prevents the District from taxing people who work here, which would then make the nation's capital less dependent on congressional appropriations for its fiscal well-being.

Mayor Barry has become almost irrelevant in comparison with the Congress-created financial control board. Now, in typical phoniness and shrewdness, he makes headlines by promising to eliminate 10,000 city jobs and up to 22 city offices and agencies over the next four years. The people are likely to be suckered by this about-face, just as they were suckered into re-electing him after his imprisonment on criminal charges.

I know voters here who laugh derisively when Mayor Barry pledges ''investments in technology and worker training'' and other pie-in-the-sky things for this community. They don't trust him. But they are so fed up with the plantation bosses in Congress, and a general disrespect of black people, that they refuse to join any whites in a campaign to get rid of the mayor and his cronies.

This sad conflict of interests exists all across America, but not in any city with the disastrous results that we are seeing here. Congress and white executive branch leaders just won't trust black people, and African Americans can't escape their deep distrust of white people. The elements of civic disaster are identifiable.

Carl T. Rowan is a syndicated columnist.

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