News & Politics

The World According to Vance

Some of the quotes that didn't fit in our 1994 cover story.

ON MARION BARRY: “Marion certainly has experience that none of the other candidates have. There is something that you get—not just recovering addicts—from pain and humiliation and suffering that tends to make you a better person. Obviously it doesn’t work with everybody, but you know you get your best steel from the hottest fire. That doesn’t mean I’m going to vote for Marion, because I won’t. ”

ON EFFORTS TO FIGHT DRUG ABUSE: “We have to change the focus from looking at the drug problem as a criminal-justice issue to making it a health issue. There is nothing more pathological in our communities, with the possible exception of AIDS, than this drug epidemic.

“When you put drug users in jail, all they are going to do is to continue their habit. They can get drugs in jail more easily than they can go out now and buy them on the street. And the minute they get out, the first thing they do is go right back to P Street and get some more.

“If we could just spend a fraction of the money we spend building jails and locking people like that up, I am convinced we would go much further in terms of resolving so many of our other problems that are driven by drugs. One of the reasons I am totally committeed to the Columbia Recovery Center is that I have seen with my own eyes what a difference it can make.

“I’m thinking of a woman I ran into the other day who came into CRC about two years ago, and man, she looked about as much like death as anyone can and still walk. Well, she has been clean for almost two years now. She has a job. She is taking care of her child. She has a place to live. She is looking good. In short, she is a contributing member of our society and an absolutely wonderful human being.

“Somebody was there to show her the way, which is not what she would have gotten had she gone the normal way, through the criminal-justice system or the Women’s Detention Center, or through the welfare programs and all that other crap out there making lifelong slaves out of people.

“What this woman found [at CRC] was that she had a life that was worth saving. Jail never gives anybody the reason to believe they are an okay human being. ”

ON RACE RELATIONS: “They are certainly worse today than when I came to Washington 25 years ago. People at least acknowledged there was a problem then. I cannot tell you how many white people I have encountered who think black people are free enough, perhaps too free, and who are disinclined to accept any responsibility for the problem or for the solution.

“On the other hand, we need to lose this notion of victimhood, because the plain fact is if you think you’re a victim, you’re going to act like one. You can’t move beyond it.

“I’m not so sure the struggle is so much about civil rights anymore as it is about economics. And the whole thing of whether or not I’m going to be able to go to school with you or live next-door to you or eat at a lunch counter with you is not as important as what control I have over the curricula of those schools and how many houses next-door to you I can own.”

ON LOCAL TELEVISION NEWS: “This business is nowhere near the fun that it used to be. And it goes beyond nostalgia. We are more inclined now to sell the news than to report the news. I swear to God I spend as much time doing teases and promos as I do writing news copy. And I sometimes get the impression at the station that the tease to the news is more important than the news itself.

“This is not to suggest that we don’t make an effort to cover the news anymore. We do. But the fact of the matter is we don’t have an investigative reporter any more. I’m told we’re going to get one, but I only know what I see. We used to have two. Then we had one. Now we have none.

“The decision to go into television is one of the best things I ever did in my life. And I have no regrets. I’m not mad at anybody. But I do feel that maybe I’m about to outlive my usefulness. I don’t want to be some old curmudgeon in the newsroom, talking about how great things used to be.”

ON THE CITY’S LEADERSHIP AND THE FUTURE OF DC: “Kathy and I were seriously thinking about moving two months ago, maybe finding a place in Montgomery County, because of the disgust at the quality of leadership in the District. We thought it over and decided we cannot leave. If we—and by that I mean the black middle class—leave, it’s over. So we’re not going.

“But I am not in despair. One of the reasons I do ‘Everyday Heroes’ is that people need to know about all the will and the strength and the resolve in people around this city, and the entire metropolitan area, who refuse to give up.

“There are groups like Concerned Black Men, the Learning Center, the Green Door, and so many others, where people have taken it upon themselves to fix the problems as best they can. There are a lot of people—I know many of them personally—who will ride down the street and see a kid in danger or despair and not keep riding. They’ll stop. They have determined to execute what Jesse Jackson has been preaching. They’re saying, ‘Maybe I ain’t going to save the country, the city, or even a whole neighborhood, but I can do something for that one boy right there.”

These are the kinds of efforts and kinds of people who, if this city does survive and prosper, will be far more responsible than the Sharon Kellys and the John Rays and the Marion Barrys and most of our other so-called leaders.

“I give talks from time to time, and I hear from a lot of people who have all come to the realization that there’s not a single one of us who can’t make a difference in somebody’s life. And that kind of thing doesn’t need a messiah. The way out of this wilderness is not necessarily through another Martin, but through 10,000 Martins who take it upon themselves to do what they can.

“I also see promise and potential on the political landscape. There are some good younger black and white people out there who are not out of the civil-rights era but who are the best products of that era. I’m thinking of people like [DC council members] Bill Lightfoot, Kevin Chavous, Harold Brazil, and also Eleanor Norton, who is one of our brightest stars.

“Hell, this city is a whole lot more governable than New York is. I would rather take DC’s problems than what they have in Newark or Detroit or East St. Louis or even Los Angeles.

“This city is salvageable. It’s governable. Most of all, I think it’s worth it. ”