An Old Flame Draws Mayor Marion Barry into the Fire
District of Columbia Mayor Marion Barry liked to boast that he was invincible, and for many years it seemed that he was. Throughout the ’80s his administration was awash in scandal, and rumors of drugs and womanizing swirled around its imperturbable leader. Yet even as key aides went to prison for taking kickbacks and a former girlfriend was prosecuted for dealing cocaine, the Mayor himself remained unindicted—and apparently unconcerned. He taunted his accusers and carried on as usual. A federal investigation went nowhere, officials say, because Barry’s inner circle remained adamantly loyal.
His associates may have feared the Mayor’s considerable power, or believed, along with his huge black constituency, that he was being singled out for harassment by white federal authorities. Whatever the reason, few would cooperate—until Jan. 18, when a longtime friend lured Barry into the trap that would be his undoing.
“The only way to nab the Mayor was with a woman,” said one investigator. And that’s how federal agents, assisted by D.C. police, did it—persuading former model Rasheeda Moore to invite Barry to a room at Washington’s Vista International Hotel, where he was filmed asking for, paying for and then smoking crack. Moore, 38, who was called before a grand jury last week, refused to speak publicly about the bust, so her reasons for cooperating in the sting remained unclear. But piecing together the facts of her life, it appears that her trajectory over the past decade may have paralleled Barry’s own—a long gradual slide from bright promise and accomplishment into a troubled double life. “It’s like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” said one friend, who knew her as a devoted mother, when she heard of Moore’s involvement with Barry.
One of eight children, the daughter of a church organist, Hazel Moore was raised in Washington and graduated from Roosevelt High School in 1969. “She went to church every Sunday,” says a friend who knew her then. “She stayed away from drugs.” In 1974 Moore signed on at the Cappa Chell Finishing School and Model Agency in McLean, Va., which numbers Irangate secretary Fawn Hall among its graduates.
“She worked extra hard,” says Cappa Chell owner Gladys Davis. “She pushed herself and became a fantastic model—one of the best.” As soon as Moore had completed the eight-month program, Davis took her to a New York City convention, where she caught the eye of a Bill Blass representative. The woman watched Moore take a turn down the runway and “hired her right there,” says Davis. “[Hazel] never came home. Her career really took off.” According to Davis, Moore—who changed her name to Rasheeda while modeling professionally—lived in New York City for about six years, working for the Zoli and Wilhelmina agencies. Her picture appeared in W magazine and on the cover of Essence. But after Moore married and had three children, says Davis, her career went into eclipse. Little is known about her husband, but by the early ’80s she had returned with her children to Washington and moved in with her mother.
Moore’s relationship with Barry dates from that time, sources say. By 1986 she was working for the city; with her sister Mertine, Moore ran a program called Project Me teaching young teens to put on fashion shows and skits. She was also listed on city records as a social worker. Davis says Moore told her the Mayor often attended the fashion shows, yet Davis did not suspect any romantic link, nor did she suspect Moore was involved with drugs. “I think that something drastic must have happened to her,” says Davis. “Maybe I misjudged her character.” Another friend who occasionally saw Moore in their Northwest Washington neighborhood in the late ’80s also says she detected no sign of trouble. “I used to run into her at school, at the pediatrician’s and at the hairdresser,” says the friend. “She seemed happy to be with her children. She was a good mother.”
But she was also an ex-con. In 1984 Moore was convicted of “unauthorized use of a vehicle” in Alexandria, Va. Sentenced to three years, she served six months in prison. After Moore’s release, Davis became aware that her onetime protégée had serious financial troubles. “I know for a fact she needed money badly,” says Davis.
How often Moore saw Barry over the years is unclear. But Charles Lewis, a former Barry aide who was arrested for drug dealing in 1989 and eventually began to give evidence against the Mayor, says that in 1988 Moore joined him and the Mayor in the Virgin Islands, where Lewis claims to have seen Moore and Barry smoking cocaine. His testimony may have given the FBI the leverage it needed to enlist Moore in a sting. But Moore recently told a friend she had had a “religious experience,” which might also have influenced her to cooperate. “I can’t say that it [her cooperation] is complete altruism and goodness of heart,” one investigator told the Washington Post, “but she was not trying to work off a drug charge.”
Whatever the reason, Moore made her date with the Mayor—who turned to her as federal agents came crashing into their hotel room and said accusingly, “You set me up.” But by the time he faced the press three days later, the time for recrimination was past. “I felt for some time that I could do any and everything,” said Barry, who confessed to suffering from the “deepest of human frailties.” Resisting pressures to resign, he flew the next day for a rehab clinic in Florida, leaving D.C. government temporarily in the hands of City Administrator Carol Thompson.
Barry’s staff and colleagues were more saddened than surprised by the arrest. “He came into office energetic, bright and idealistic,” says a woman who worked 12 years for the Mayor. “Over the years I watched him become a man who sweated profusely, slurred his words, was vague, frequently wouldn’t show up or would cancel events. His face became wasted and ashen. Women and drugs were his downfall.”
Those close to him date Barry’s decline from the 1985 conviction of his friend and closest aide, Ivanhoe Donaldson, who pleaded guilty to defrauding the city government of $190,000. A veteran of the civil rights movement, Barry, a Mississippi sharecropper’s son, became the district’s second elected Mayor in 1979 and soon made good on his promise of a better deal for Washington’s black majority—launching an ambitious downtown revitalization that provided hundreds of new jobs. But the conviction of Donaldson tarnished that crusade. More important, “Ivanhoe was the only one who could tell Marion what to do and make him do it,” says a former aide. “He would go and pull him out of bed and get him to the event.”
A few years later, the man the Washington Post had once glowingly hailed as “A Man for All Stormy Seasons” seemed rudderless and dangerously adrift, while the District of Columbia was swept by crack and drug violence. In a city desperate for someone to stem a tide that threatens its future, Mayor Marion Barry had become a cynical spectator whose leadership was hopelessly compromised.
—Montgomery Brower, Tom Nugent, Jane Sims Podesta, Elizabeth Velez and Garry Clifford in Washington