Tom Sherwood's Notebook: 8/27/09

And what about opera on a baseball field?

Mayor Adrian Fenty’s administration has moved to strip Cora Masters Barry of her prized creation -- the Southeast Tennis and Learning Center.

What is not clear is, why? A lot of questions are being asked, but so far they haven’t been answered.

The center has won awards and widespread recognition for combining a quality place to learn and play tennis with a quality place to learn schoolwork.

Out of the blue a few weeks ago, Cora Barry’s organization got a harsh eviction notice, saying her corporation wasn’t properly filed with government officials. It turns out that the paperwork was a minor issue. Paying about $500 in registration fees and fines easily cured it.

The eviction notice, however, still stands.

But more than a few people -- some pretty famous – are beginning to weigh in on the bubbling controversy.

The tennis sisters Venus and Serena Williams have publicly called on Fenty to explain the city’s action and reverse it.

More famous people who have backed Barry’s efforts are expected to come forward soon.

Cora Barry has spent more than 15 years on her Recreation Wish List Committee, the group that conceived the idea. The center itself was built with city funds -- thanks to then-Mayor Anthony Williams -- and recreation money helps run the facility. But Barry’s organization is the lifeblood of the operation.

The mayor’s office has been opaque about the issue. Fenty seems not to have even known about the eviction and has suggested it could all be “worked out.” But D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles seems adamant that the Barry group entered into a contract improperly and that it must be nullified.

The ugly rumors are fairly simple. The mayor or his administration wants Cora Barry out so it can turn the modern facility over to cronies of the mayor and the U.S. Tennis Association.

The tennis association has said it wants to do more programs in the District. Well, some suggest, it should look to partner with Cora Barry, not kick her out.

Still, it is well-known that the mayor is intent on placing his stamp on every job or opportunity in the city government. It’s the “Big City Mayor” model of controlling everything lest your enemies undercut you.

Ward 8 D.C. Council member Marion Barry has been an enemy of Fenty on many issues, but Cora Barry has steered clear of those city politics.

The Notebook nosed around, asking if there were any hints that Cora Barry’s operation had misappropriated money, engaged in unethical conduct or done anything wrong that merited such harsh treatment. The responses: No, it’s just that somebody else could do it better.

Cora Barry wants to remain at the center, doing the work she loves (and raises money for). If she’s going to be kicked to the curb, somebody ought to come up with a good explanation. Quickly.

• The Right Way

While the questions linger over the tennis center, there’s no question that better days lie ahead for Marvin Gaye Park in Northeast. The mayor’s administration has committed to an ambitious plan to turn the park into a showplace.

The park runs along Northeast for more than two miles. It’s been a center of drug abuse, homelessness and violence. But in recent years, the community has embraced the land. Organizations fought to move it up on the revitalization list, and now millions will be spent over several years to make it a place families will want to go.

• School Enrollment

The Fenty administration has spent over $1 billion rehabbing city schools. Michelle Rhee as chancellor has shaken new life into a once-prodding bureaucracy. School reform finally is more than rhetoric despite some criticisms of the changes. And at the start of the new school year, the city had a $100,000 ad campaign to encourage parents to enroll their children in city schools, not charters.

So is it working?

The Washington Post reported this week that there is a 17 percent drop in enrollment from last year. That’s astonishing. School officials insist the number is inaccurate and doesn’t account for the still-developing number. The schools don’t officially count the enrollment until Oct. 1.

It would be sad if there is a 17 percent drop. That’s especially true because the schools, in planning the budget, predicted an increase in enrollment of 3,000 students.

• Baseball Opera

This sounds fun. If you haven’t been able to get to the Kennedy Center for an opera, the opera is coming to you.

On Sept. 12 at 7 p.m., the Washington National Opera is going to simulcast “The Barber of Seville” at Nationals Park. The Nats will use the big scoreboard screen to project the opera.

And it’s free.

Worth saying again. Free. No reservations required.

If your group wants to reserve a space, log onto

We wonder if they’ll stop serving beer for the last act -- kind of like they stop selling beer in the seventh inning of the baseball games.


Contact Us