Two veteran Washington journalists offer a vigorous and resonant portrait of the 30-year decline and polarization of our capital. Jaffe (of Washingtonian magazine) and Sherwood (of WRC-TV, formerly of the Washington Post) tell their story in episodic sketches, covering the city's historic caste system among blacks, the rise of community organizer (and, later, mayor) Marion Barry during the War on Poverty, and the shift of power to blacks after the traumatic 1968 riots. The authors criticize the long-standing federal stranglehold on the district, as well as the Post's ignorance of black Washington, but their major culprit is ``Boss Barry,'' who emerged in his second mayoral term (1982-6) as a betrayer of the biracial coalition that first elected him. Barry's failures were legion: political spoils for a narrow group of adventurers such as profiteer-from-the-homeless Cornelius Pitts; a top aide turned embezzler; a police department in disarray; a downtown that boomed as other neighborhoods crumbled. His defiance of the black bourgeoisie and the white power structure preserved his popularity among blacks, and when he was arrested on drug charges in 1990—an episode recounted in telling detail—his lawyer successfully argued that the government was out to get him. After serving a six-month jail term for one misdemeanor, Barry began a comeback as council member from the city's poorest ward. The authors criticize the current mayor, reformer Sharon Pratt Kelly, as out of touch, and warn that federal receivership for Washington is as likely as full home rule and statehood. Reliance on dialogue-rich scenes sometimes sacrifices depth for drama, but this is a memorable and disturbing reminder of much unfinished urban business.
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