The Strings of Power

I find no glee in the fall of Marion Barry. Don't get me wrong. I have had more than my share of run-ins with the mayor of Washington, D.C., both personally and professionally. He and I have found ourselves on different sides of the issues many times, especially those issues that affect poor people.

But I wish that his likely departure from office would have been necessitated by these political positions instead of his personal behavior. Mayor Barry, as symbolic and actual leader of the city's fight against drugs -- which have nearly destroyed a generation of D.C.'s youth -- committed an atrocious act by using crack cocaine. But why did his drug use bring him down when his attempts to block rent control, education reform, and guaranteed shelters for the homeless did not?

For years the elite establishment in D.C. -- especially the Reagan Justice Department -- has tried to leak information to the media, hoping to embarrass Barry publicly or to entice some of his companions to turn in evidence about his wrongdoings (of which there have been many). But even with all the energy focused on indicting Barry, no illegalities could be verified.

And so, seemingly frustrated beyond their limits, the Justice Department and the FBI decided to win their battle, less so in a court of justice than in the court of public opinion. They "stung" Barry as a drug user, a charge that would cause him the most damage because of his high profile against drugs and crime. In the age of "public relations politics," a lot of money was spent on an operation simply to procure a misdemeanor offense.

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