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Archive for November, 2014

My Adventures Tracking Marion Barry

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

In March of 1997, after being on strike at the Detroit News for 19 months, I headed off to D.C. to work for the Washington Post.

Sure, D.C. was home to George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, but to me, just importantly, it was home to the legendary Mayor Marion Barry, the guy who had become fodder in the comedic stratosphere after being busted in 1990 in an FBI sting for smoking crack. Comic Chris Rock had a field day with Barry.

Barry’s death on Sunday at age 78 reminded me of the various encounters and dealings I had with him over the years while working at the Washington Post. Sometimes I had to track him down to get a quote for someone’s story or go to a community meeting where he was speaking ,or write about his encounters with the law.

He was a character, and a charismatic one at that, though it seemed in the latter years he had far less energy and zip and suffered from various ailments.

My first dealings with Barry came after I’d been at the paper a short time. Barry had publicly said he had turned over a new leaf and was loyal to his wife. He said he was no longer a stray cat on the prowl.

But some reporters at the paper were hearing differently, that he was still running around, and had at least a couple girlfriends on the side. They had names and addresses.

The Post editors wanted me to stake out the alleged girlfriends’ homes to show that Barry was lying. It smacked of the Gary Hart story the Miami Herald pursued in 1987 after Hart, who was running for president, denied rumors he was a womanizer. The Herald staked out a D.C. townhouse and found that Hart had spent the night with a woman named Donna Rice.

To be honest, I was a little uncomfortable snooping over something so tawdry. I didn’t like the Gary Hart story, and wasn’t too crazy about this one. But I was relatively new at one the nation’s top papers, and thought, well, if the Washington Post is doing this, it must be journalistically OK. Frankly, weeks and years later, I never felt good about it, and in hindsight, should have probably objected to taking part in the stakeout.

Nonetheless, one night I headed out to a stakeout on a street off of North Capitol, just blocks from Union Station. I sat about five houses down from the alleged girlfriend’s home. I remember sitting in the car, calling a friend back in Detroit and saying something like: “You’re not going to believe what they’ve got me doing.”

I thought, even if Barry showed up and went inside the house, short of him spending the night, what was I going to prove without peeking in the window to make sure he was getting naked? Other than that, for all I knew, he could have been going over there to watch a Seinfeld show marathon.

I sat there for a few hours. No Barry.

Another night I was sent out to an apartment parking lot in Southwest Washington. Again, no Barry. Eventually, before I took off, I asked a few people in the parking lot if they had ever seen Barry come around. They had not.

That was the end of that.

The next year, I was working on a story on the 40th anniversary of Ben’s Chili Bowl, a legendary hot dog joint on U Street in D.C. Barry was a regular, as were a lot of politicians, and he was particularly fond of the turkey burgers. While interviewing him, he gave me a very memorable line, which unfortunately was cut from the article because of space.

“Ben’s Chili Bowl is for everybody. It’s for people who go to Morehouse and people who got no house.”

I loved that line.

Eventually, a Control Board, similar to an emergency manager here in Michigan, stripped Barry of his powers. And in 1998, he decided not to run for mayor again. Four years later, the man was back. He announced he was running for city council.

“It’s great waking up in the morning clean and sober,” he said at the time.

But weeks later, I wrote a story, along with colleague Martin Weil, that U.S. Park Police had found traces of marijuana and cocaine in Barry’s car. Police had been trying to keep the story quiet.

What happened was police encountered Barry after responding to a call of a suspicious vehicle in a no-parking zone in an area of D.C. known as Buzzard Point. The officer saw Barry ingesting something and searched the car.

Authorities decided the amounts of illegal drugs were too small to support a prosecution.

Barry dropped out the council race shortly after.

But he wasn’t done.

In 2004, he ran and won a seat on city council. He remained as a council member until his death.

He was a complex man with an addictive personality. Life wasn’t so easy.

But it sure was interesting for him. And frankly, he made it interesting for a lot of other folks including journalists like me.

The Washington Post Editorial board on Sunday put it best:

Those people will mourn Marion Barry today, but they should not be alone. All in this city who knew him over his half-century here ought to mourn the great promise lost over the course of a life that conformed in many ways to the dictionary definition of ancient tragedy, and recall with admiration the man who helped knock down barriers that are almost unimaginable to those of a younger generation.

 

 

 

Lengel: My Adventures Tracking Marion Barry

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

In March of 1997, after being on strike at the Detroit News for 19 months, I headed off to D.C. to work for the Washington Post.

Sure, D.C. was home to George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, but to me, just importantly, it was home to the legendary Mayor Marion Barry, the guy who had become fodder in the comedic stratosphere after being busted in 1990 in an FBI sting for smoking crack. Comic Chris Rock had a field day with Barry.

Barry’s death on Sunday at age 78 reminded me of the various encounters and dealings I had with him over the years while working at the Washington Post. Sometimes I had to track him down to get a quote for someone’s story or go to a community meeting where he was speaking ,or write about his encounters with the law.

He was a character, and a charismatic one at that, though it seemed in the latter years he had far less energy and zip and suffered from various ailments.

My first dealings with Barry came after I’d been at the paper a short time. Barry had publicly said he had turned over a new leaf and was loyal to his wife. He said he was no longer a stray cat on the prowl.

But some reporters at the paper were hearing differently, that he was still running around, and had at least a couple girlfriends on the side. They had names and addresses.

The Post editors wanted me to stake out the alleged girlfriends’ homes to show that Barry was lying. It smacked of the Gary Hart story the Miami Herald pursued in 1987 after Hart, who was running for president, denied rumors he was a womanizer. The Herald staked out a D.C. townhouse and found that Hart had spent the night with a woman named Donna Rice.

To be honest, I was a little uncomfortable snooping over something so tawdry. I didn’t like the Gary Hart story, and wasn’t too crazy about this one. But I was relatively new at one the nation’s top papers, and thought, well, if the Washington Post is doing this, it must be journalistically OK. Frankly, weeks and years later, I never felt good about it, and in hindsight, should have probably objected to taking part in the stakeout.

Nonetheless, one night I headed out to a stakeout on a street off of North Capitol, just blocks from Union Station. I sat about five houses down from the alleged girlfriend’s home. I remember sitting in the car, calling a friend back in Detroit and saying something like: “You’re not going to believe what they’ve got me doing.”

I thought, even if Barry showed up and went inside the house, short of him spending the night, what was I going to prove without peeking in the window to make sure he was getting naked? Other than that, for all I knew, he could have been going over there to watch a Seinfeld show marathon.

Read more »

FBI Sends Nearly 100 Additonal Agents to Ferguson Ahead of Grand Jury Decision

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

Nearly 100 additional FBI agents are in Ferguson as authorities brace for the reaction to a Ferguson grand jury that will decide soon whether Officer Darren Wilson will be charged with shooting an unarmed black teen, ABC News reports.

Federal law enforcement officials have already warned of a potentially violent reaction.

The agents will help other law enforcement.

A grand jury decision could come today.

The fatal shooting has prompted protests and occasional bursts of violence and destruction.

Marion Barry’s Civil Rights Achievements Overshadowed by FBI Sting involving crack

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

For better or worse, the defining moment of Marion Barry’s storied political career was an FBI bust that revealed the D.C. mayor smoking crack in a hotel room in 1990.

“Bitch set me up,” Barry said of the woman who was a part of the sting.

Barry, who also was a tireless supporter for generations of black people, died Sunday.

He was 78.

The FBI sting cost Barry six months in prison but it didn’t end his political career. The son of a sharecropper was elected to a fourth term as mayor in 1994 and then served three terms on the D.C. Council from 2004-15.

His civil rights achievements were overshadowed by the surveillance video showing him smoking crack.

Click here to see the video.

Weekend Series on Law Enforcement History: Archival Footage of the FBI

httpv://youtu.be/xrqf9lOnDUY

Full Video of President Obama’s Speech on Reforming Immigration Laws

President Obama delivered a 15-minute speech in which he unveiled his immigration plan Thursday evening.

“Today our immigration is broken, and everyone knows it,” Obama said.

Washington Post: President Obama’s Executive Order Is ‘Convenient Reinterpretation of Tradition’

By Michael Gerson 
Opinion Writer for Washington Post

There are any number of marvelous things one might do as president, if Congress were not such a checked and balanced mess. But future presidents now have a new method at their disposal: Declare a long-running debate to be a national emergency. Challenge Congress, under threat of unilateral executive action, to legislate on the topic before your term runs out. And when lawmakers refuse, act with the most expansive definition of presidential power.

The supporting arguments for this approach come down to the claim that the American political system is broken — incapable of action on urgent matters because of obstructionism, bad faith and the abuse of legislative procedure. It is the political philosophy of “something must be done.”

The arguments against this approach often come down to institutionalism. Major policy shifts, in this view, deserve legislative hearings and an open amendment process. The White House should make its views known and issue veto threats. There should be a negotiation between the House and Senate to reconcile a bill. There should be a presidential signature, or a veto and an override debate. The machinery is admittedly creaky, but it manufactures democratic legitimacy.

President Obama has ably and sequentially defended both these positions. A year ago, during another immigration speech, a heckler insisted, “You have a power to stop deportations.” Obama replied: “Actually, I don’t, and that’s why we’re here. . . . What you need to know, when I’m speaking as president of the United States and I come to this community, is that if, in fact, I could solve all these problems without passing laws in Congress, then I would do so. But we’re also a nation of laws. That’s part of our tradition. And so the easy way out is to try to yell and pretend like I can do something by violating our laws. And what I’m proposing is the harder path, which is to use our democratic processes to achieve the same goal that you want to achieve.”

Obama has now officially abandoned the harder path — not because the issues surrounding immigration will never be resolved (a case no one has adequately made) but because he wants to be the president to resolve them. Since our democratic process has proved disappointing during his time in office, we get a convenient reinterpretation of tradition — using a history of reasonable discretion in tying up the loose ends of a law to justify a major policy shift in the absence of law. This is motivated reasoning on steroids — and future presidents of both parties will likely find it appealing, on a variety of issues.

By crossing this particular Rubicon, Obama has given up on politics, which is, from one perspective, understandable. He doesn’t do it well. He has always viewed the political process as sullied, compared with the reasonableness of his policy insights. In the aftermath of his party’s midterm defeat, he diagnosed a problem of salesmanship. “It’s not enough just to build a better mousetrap,” he said. “People don’t automatically come beating to your door. We’ve got to sell it.”

To read more click here.

President Obama’s Immigration Plan Would Shield 5 Million People from Deportation

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

President Obama unveiled his plan to reshape the nation’s immigration system during a 15-minute address from the White House.

Tired of Congressional gridlock, Obama said he is issuing an executive order and all but challenged Republicans to come up with a different plan, the New York Times reports.

Under his plan, up to five million people will be shielded from deportation, but the president offered no path to citizenship.

“The actions I’m taking are not only lawful, they’re the kinds of actions taken by every single Republican president and every Democratic president for the past half-century,” Obama said. “To those members of Congress who question my authority to make our immigration system work better, or question the wisdom of me acting where Congress has failed, I have one answer: Pass a bill.”

President Obama is expected to spend the next several months convincing Americans that his plan is good and lawful. He’ll be speaking today at a high school in Las Vegas, where Hispanics have growing influence.

Republicans argue the president is abusing his office and pledged a Congressional battle.