An evening with Harry Jaffe and Tom Sherwood

Last night was book-club night. While these funnest of meetings happen once a month, last night’s was particularly special for a few reasons.

  1. It was the one year anniversary of book club, my brainchild that consists of bringing together amazing women for DC-themed reads and fun conversation.
  2. In addition to the usual savory snacks, we munched on King Cake from New Orleans. The kind with the purple, green, and gold icing.
  3. It was a “re-do” of a book that we read last year. Well, that some of us read last year (hence the re-do). The featured book was Dream City: Race, Power, and the Decline of Washington. As we discovered the first time around, it is a hard book to find for a reasonable price, and near-impossible to get from most area libraries. Dream City chronicles the rise and fall of DC’s (in)famous former mayor and current Council Member, Marion Barry. In addition to being akin to a biography of Barry, the book provides insight into DC’s governmental quirks such as Home Rule and is a must-read for anyone passionate about this city.
  4. The male gender was represented. For some reason, all of our past book-clubs have been women only, including when we have been fortunate enough to have authors come discuss their books.
  5. The male gender was doubly represented! Both Harry Jaffe and Tom Sherwood were with us last night.

As is usual in book club, we had drinks, laughed, debated, and learned from the authors. Both Jaffe and Sherwood (who call themselves by their last names) drank, laughed, and debated with us. And debated with each other. Indeed, it turns out they don’t know each other as well as one would imagine a pair who wrote a book together would, and see things from two very different perspectives: while Sherwood is forgiving of Barry’s actions, and gives him the benefit of the doubt, Jaffe is much less sentimental about this man that continues to fascinate people.

While it is impossible to convey how interesting the evening was, here are some of my favorite one-liners:

“I love your Blue Danube.” (I love a man who knows his China)

“What makes Marion Barry Marion Barry are his human frailties.”

“What Marion Barry does not have is discipline.”

“I have a different set of facts.”

“We [DC government] are corrupt and stupid. We need to learn from Chicago or New York how not to get caught.”

“’He only has a minor drug problem’ is the equivalent of saying ‘He is a functioning alcoholic’ [in Ward 2].”


Read more about my first meeting with Harry Jaffe (and Marion Barry) here.

Lunch with the Godfather of DC

A delicious lunch on a Thursday at the Ritz Carlton in Georgetown is nothing to avoid. That same delicious lunch featuring Carol Joynt’s Q&A Café with former DC Mayor Marion Barry is even better. And that lunch after this week’s book club, which was on Dream City, a book by Harry Jaffe and Tom Sherwood about Marion Barry is even better. Timing is everything…

Fellow book club member and bestie Kate and I had the opportunity to listen to the “godfather of DC” answer Joynt’s questions. More often than not, he answered her questions with a question… and a twinkle in his eye. Some of the highlights of the interview are below.

The most fun part of the lunch, however, was meeting him. I have to admit that having now met the (in)famous Barry, I like him a lot more than when I finished the book. I had brought Dream City with me, I wanted Barry to sign it for me. For those of you who have not read Dream City, it does not portray him in a very favorable light… I went up to Barry at the end of the luncheon, with the book open on a page with a great photograph of him, and the jacket off the cover. I asked him to please autograph his photo. “What book is this?” he asks, not a fool… I say “the Sherwood book, please…” he chuckles, I plead sheepishly, he asks for my name, and signs the photo. Highlight of my day.

Kate and I sit back down, finishing our coffee, when we learn that Jaffe, one of the Dream City co-authors, is at the table across from us. Now this is a small world, and indeed, timing is everything. After meeting the subject of the book, we met the author of the book. Funnily enough, other book club member and bestie Cathy had called Jaffe out of the blue (they have a Washingtonian Magazine connection) on Tuesday morning (the day of book club) to ask him a few questions, and invite him to come. While he couldn’t on such short notice, he promised to come, with Sherwood, later this winter. Would he autograph my book? He did, and I didn’t even have to hide the jacket…

Q&A Café highlights:

On Georgetown

Barry: I love Georgetown, I love every part of the city. Georgetown residents just don’t want to have anything change.

On Presidential Politics

Barry: I am a lifelong liberal progressive democrat.

To Joynt’s question about Romeny’s comments on the 47%, Barry merely replied by saying that he has “fought against injustice and discrimination all of my life.” “The majority of that 47% are not victims. They are not poor because they did wrong.” Indeed, Barry admitted that it was unthinkable for him to imaging Romney as president.

Barry: Obama will win the race.

On DC Home Rule

While Barry thinks Obama has indeed been good for DC, he wants more. He wants statehood for our Capital.

Barry: Democracy depends on democracy, yet we don’t have democracy in our own home. We need statehood.

On DC Politics

Joynt also brought up the topic of the current City Council and mayoral scandals.

Barry: I won’t call names.

Barry said he would be voting for Philip Mendelson as Council Chair. Should Gray be indicted, should he resign, Mendelson would then become the Mayor of DC. Joynt: Is Washington DC ready for a white mayor?

Barry: Some people are, some people aren’t.

Joynt: What does that mean? Which people are you?

Barry: I’m ready for democracy.

Joynt: Could you campaign for and endorse a white candidate?

Barry: That is a “what if,” I don’t get into what ifs.

Joynt: Are you going to run for reelection?

Barry: I’m smarter than that… than to answer that question.

On Family

Joynt asked Barry about his family. His son Christopher, now 32, lives in Ward 8 and runs a small business. “He is struggling, like most small businesses” admits Barry. And of course he is interested in politics “he’s been around me his whole life…”. About marriage, well, Cora did come up in conversation.

Joynt: Are you still married?

Barry: Technically, yes. [chuckle from the audience, pause] Cora and I separated.

On Addiction

Barry: The FBI spent 10 to 15 million dollars to frame me. The good news is that I have been clean since 1990. Joynt: You can only blame the government for so much.

Barry: I am a victim. They set me up. The jury understood that. Like many, I got caught in an addiction… 90 percent of those who get addicted don’t kick it. I’m proud of that.

Overall, Barry says, that was “just a chapter in my life. Well, maybe two chapters.” It’s just about being a human being, about “human being issues, like traffic problems and girlfriend issues.”

On Racism

Joynt: Where are we on racism?

Barry: There is racial division all over America.

Joynt: Do you think you are being racist when you slur against Asians?

Barry: No

Joynt: Are there any Asians on your staff?

Barry: No

Joynt: Are there any Latinos on your staff?
Barry: No

On the Media

Barry: The media in DC does not give me a fair shake. Absolutely not. That’s their nature. Newspapers are supposed to report the news, not make the news.

On Power

Joynt: Whoever becomes the next Mayor of DC, do they need you?

Barry: Absolutely. I’m probably the most successful politician in Washington DC.

Joynt: Mayor for life. Who are you really?

Barry: I’m Marion Barry.