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BUSINESS EXCHANGE: House on the Hill

William Reed | 4/30/2014, 3 p.m.
Marion Barry

For all the good he’s done, and individuals he’s made rich and elevated to the middle class, it’s a shame that Marion Barry has been left to struggle. Instead of having been provided a house in Hillcrest, a limousine and full-time chauffeur, the 78-year-old District of Columbia City Council member is in failing health and hanging on to his “good government job” for dear life.

Marion S. Barry has been at the forefront of American race and politics for four decades and “Can I borrow your car?” is an exhortation the legendary politician should never have to make. As many people as he’s made “rich” it should have been automatic that Barry’s benefactors put him in a place on top of the highest hill in the city. “Mayor Barry” deserves a house with a balcony in the forest-like landscape in Hillcrest that affords him easy views of the Capitol and Washington Monument. Hillcrest is located in D.C.’s Ward 7 and considered one of city’s most beautiful neighborhoods. East of the Anacostia River and populated mostly by Blacks, Hillcrest is like an island that has one quiet, rolling street after another, each lined with dignified homes that sit above well-tended lawns.

Despite the passé “Chocolate City” moniker, Washington, D.C. is actually a place where virtually all the commercial real estate is owned by Whites and foreign investors. Barry brought the D.C. government and populace into the commercial and governmental “big leagues.” His leadership and guidance of Blacks and their issues is an important story of impressive achievements. Despised by many of America’s Whites, and disowned by many Blacks, Barry has dominated the collective psyche of the nation’s capital since the 1960s. During his public life in the spotlight, Barry came to town as a young civil rights activist, then moved seamlessly into mainstream politics, and then evolved into a political machine boss. He fell in disgrace after an FBI sting. After being imprisoned, Barry resurrected his political career and rode a redemptive wave back to power.

For what’s he done, there are many Blacks who owe Barry the honor of a house on a hill. Barry helped hundreds of thousands of Blacks fulfill their business and professional dreams. Barry purposefully funneled lucrative proposals and contracts to Blacks. In and around D.C., vast numbers of Blacks owe their upward mobility to Barry. Prince George’s County, Md., right next door to D.C. is dubbed the richest majority-Black county in the nation; Barry had a lot – if not everything to do with that. The names Donahue Peebles, Bob Johnson and Black Entertainment Television (BET), might be meaningless were it not for Barry. After they made their fortunes through access and opportunities Barry provided, they quietly took the money, boarded private jets, and went to Miami leaving Barry back home “to fend for himself.”

Roy Donahue “Don” Peebles is a successful real-estate entrepreneur. In the early 1990s, R. Donahue Peebles got his start when at age 24 Mayor Barry appointed him chairperson of the Washington, D.C. Board of Real Property Assessments and Appeals. Now, Peebles is the chairman and chief executive officer of the Peebles Corp., the largest African-American real-estate development company in the U.S., with a multi-billion-dollar development portfolio of luxury hotels, high-rise residential and commercial properties in D.C., Las Vegas and Miami Beach. Since 2003 Peebles solidified his reputation as one of the most powerful players in the ranks of South Florida developers. In 2009, Forbes listed him as one of the top 10 wealthiest Black Americans in the country estimating his wealth at $350 million.

Barry met an unemployed model named Hazel Diane "Rasheeda" Moore at a birthday party for Robert L. Johnson. In later years, the founder of BET became the first African-American billionaire in 2000 after he sold the network to Viacom for $3 billion. Now, a hotel and real-estate tycoon, Johnson founded cable channel BET in 1979. Barry helped Johnson become the city’s cable operator and later built BET’s offices and studios through government financing and bond sales.

William Reed is publisher of “Who’s Who in Black Corporate America” and available for projects via the BaileyGroup.org.