WASHINGTON — Marion S. Barry Jr., a sharecropper’s son and civil rights pioneer who became a flamboyant and polarizing mayor of Washington, went to prison on a cocaine charge and then recaptured City Hall in one of the most improbable comebacks in the history of American politics, died early Sunday in Washington. He was 78.
Mr. Barry died at United Medical Center in Southeast Washington just hours after he was released from Howard University Hospital on Saturday. He had admitted himself on Thursday, saying he did not feel well, although no specific medical problems were mentioned. The District of Columbia’s Medical Examiner’s office ruled that he died of heart disease.
Mr. Barry had various health problems in recent years, including undergoing a kidney transplant in 2009. His death comes just months after the publication of his autobiography, “Mayor for Life: The Incredible Story of Marion Barry Jr.”
Elected mayor four times — in 1978, 1982, 1986 and 1994 — Mr. Barry left the mayor’s office for good early in 1999 and then worked as an investment banker. But politics was never far from his mind. In 2004 he was elected to the District of Columbia Council from a hard-pressed section in Southeast Washington, a district he represented until his death.
Mr. Barry was a charismatic yet confounding politician. Admirers saw him as a Robin Hood who gave hope to poor black residents. His detractors saw a shameless rogue who almost ruined the city by stuffing its payroll with cronies and hacks and letting services decay. Indisputably, he was a political Lazarus with a gift for convincing his followers that their hopes and disappointments were his, too.
On Jan. 18, 1990, Mayor Barry was arrested in a Washington hotel room while smoking crack cocaine and groping a woman who was not his wife. The arrest, videotaped in an undercover operation, caused a sensation, but it was hardly a surprise: The public had known of his womanizing for years, and there had been rumors of drug use. Nor was he a stranger to the bottle.
Convicted of a misdemeanor cocaine possession, Mr. Barry was sentenced to six months in prison. His fall from grace was especially poignant for those old enough to remember the bright promise and idealism of his youth.
He was born on March 6, 1936, in Itta Bena, Miss. His father, also named Marion, died when he was 4, and his mother, Mattie, moved to Memphis, where she remarried. Her new husband, David Cummings, was a butcher, and she worked as a domestic to support eight children.
Young Marion picked cotton, waited on tables and delivered newspapers. He became an Eagle Scout and earned a degree in chemistry from LeMoyne College in Memphis in 1958.
His middle initial, S., originally stood for nothing, but in the late 1950s he adopted the middle name Shepilov, after Dmitri T. Shepilov, a purged member of the Soviet Communist Party. As a sophomore, Mr. Barry joined the LeMoyne chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and became chapter president his senior year.
While studying for his master’s degree at Fisk University in Nashville, he organized a campus N.A.A.C.P. chapter. Early in 1960, he helped organize the first lunch counter sit-ins in Nashville. That April, he and other student leaders met with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to establish the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Mr. Barry became its first national chairman.
After a year as a teaching assistant at the University of Kansas, he began studying for a doctorate in chemistry at the University of Tennessee. He abandoned his studies a few credits short and began working full time for S.N.C.C.
In June 1965 he moved to Washington, where reporters occasionally referred to him as a “dashiki-clad militant.” A powerful speaker and street campaigner, he began pressing for home rule for the District of Columbia. He had found fertile political soil, since residents had only recently won the right to vote in presidential elections and had virtually no say in governing themselves.
In 1967, Mr. Barry started a jobs program for poor blacks, winning federal grants worth several million dollars. He won his first election in February 1970, to a citizens’ board created to smooth relations between police officers and black residents. He was later president of the school board and a member of the City Council.
On March 9, 1977, he was shot during a takeover of a Washington office building by members of the Hanafi Muslim sect. The bullet narrowly missed his heart, but Mr. Barry was back at work by the end of the month.
The next year he ran for mayor and defeated the incumbent, Walter E. Washington, who had become the District of Columbia’s first elected mayor four years earlier, and the City Council president, Sterling Tucker, in the Democratic primary, making his election in November a certainty in that overwhelmingly Democratic city.
‘Our Drive Toward Greatness’
“Let this day signal our drive toward greatness,” he told a cheering crowd on Jan. 2, 1979, as he was sworn in for the first time by Justice Thurgood Marshall of the Supreme Court.
At first, Washington seemed to undergo a renaissance with Mr. Barry as mayor. Downtown boomed as vacant lots and abandoned buildings gave way to smart new offices, hotels and restaurants. But as the political honeymoon faded, Mr. Barry’s critics complained that conditions in the poorest black neighborhoods were deteriorating even as he used the city government as an employment agency for his followers.
His detractors said he held on to power by cynically telling blacks that the only alternative to him was restoration of a quasi-colonial white power. Indeed, he exploited memories of the decades in which congressional chairmen, typically white Southerners, gave short shrift to the Washington beyond the gleaming edifices of the federal government.
Several people close to Mr. Barry were implicated in scandals. A deputy mayor was sent to prison for embezzling city funds. One of Mr. Barry’s former wives (he was married four times) went to prison for embezzling money from the job-training and antipoverty organization he had founded. When she was released, he found her another city job.
His defenders pointed to Washington’s unique situation as a city with no state to look to for financial aid, no heavy industry to tax and many tax-exempt government buildings. Many people who work in Washington commute from Maryland and Virginia and pay no District of Columbia taxes.
Part of Mr. Barry’s tenure coincided with a nationwide crack cocaine epidemic, and Washington’s poorest neighborhoods suffered as much as any in the country. At its nadir, Washington had both the highest infant mortality rate and the highest homicide rate of any city in the United States. Drugs were peddled openly on many corners, and homeless people slept on heating grates within sight of the White House. The Fire Department could handle only a single two-alarm blaze at a time.
Young black men fared badly year after year. One study found that by 1991, 42 percent of the district’s black men ages 18 to 35 were in prison, on probation or on parole, released on bond or sought by the police.
More and more middle-class people, black and white, fled to the suburbs after despairing of getting a good public education for their children, getting their garbage picked up or getting their streets plowed after snowstorms.
But the mayor seemed not to worry about such complaints, just as he seemed not to care about appearing to be hypocritical. In October 1986, for instance, he announced that he would convene a “D.C. drug summit” of experts to discuss the cocaine epidemic at a time when the mayor himself was rumored to be a user.
“I may not be perfect,” he said a month later, after his election to a third term, “but I am perfect for Washington.”
In January 1987, Mr. Barry went to Los Angeles for the Super Bowl game between the New York Giants and the Denver Broncos at the Rose Bowl. His detractors noted that while he was watching football and partying afterward in sunny Southern California, his constituents were being buried under a knee-deep snowfall that clogged Washington streets.
The mayor’s Super Bowl vacation was interrupted by a visit to a hospital. Mr. Barry said he had suffered a flare-up of his hiatal hernia. An associate said he had overdosed. There would be other medical crises in which he claimed exhaustion or indigestion and people close to him blamed alcohol or drugs.
But the mayor seemed immune to embarrassment. In early 1988, with the District of Columbia’s government slumping under debt and its payroll bloated, he led a delegation of 17 city officials to the Virgin Islands. The stated purpose of the junket was to help the islands’ officials overhaul their personnel system.
Arrest and Return
In 1989 Mr. Barry was called before a federal grand jury investigating whether a woman had sold drugs to city officials, including the mayor. He acknowledged having had a relationship with her but denied buying drugs.
He was arrested just as he was about to announce that he was running for mayor again. In 1990, after a two-month trial, he was convicted of one misdemeanor count of drug possession and acquitted of another misdemeanor. The jury could not agree on another 12 counts, including three felony charges that he had lied to the grand jury.
The verdict was a near-victory for Mr. Barry. Had he been convicted of a felony, he could not have sought office again. But in 1990, Mr. Barry suffered the only electoral defeat of his career. As an independent, he finished third in a race for an at-large City Council seat.
After serving his sentence in a minimum-security prison in Virginia, he was easily elected to the City Council in 1992.
In the 1994 Democratic primary for mayor, he defeated Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly, who had been unable in her single term to turn the city around, and several other candidates.
“Amazing grace, how sweet it sounds to save a wretch like me!” he exulted on the night of Sept. 13, 1994. In November, he cruised to victory over his Republican opponent.
But the problems that had dogged the city during his first three terms continued into his fourth. The government sagged under the weight of accumulated debt. The payroll remained heavy, even though the city’s population had been dwindling for years: While Mr. Barry was in office, the city lost 115,000 residents, leaving it with just over 520,000 in January 1999, the fewest since 1933. (By 2013, the district’s population had increased to about 646,000, according to the Census Bureau.)
In April 1995 an exasperated Congress created the District of Columbia Financial Control Board to oversee city spending. In August 1997, Congress stripped Mr. Barry of much of his remaining power, turning over nine major operating departments to the board.
Mr. Barry called the move a “rape of democracy.” Though he was now a figurehead, there was widespread speculation that he would try for still another term. But on May 21, 1998, he announced that he would not.
“For all of you who have supported me, I love you so much,” he said that day. “I love this city.” The control board shined a spotlight on Anthony A. Williams, a bow-tied number cruncher who had been credited with helping the city out of its mess as its chief financial officer. Mr. Williams was elected mayor in 1998 and served two terms marked by a more businesslike, if less colorful, approach to governing.
Although the trial on cocaine charges was Mr. Barry’s most serious encounter with the law, it was but one of many run-ins with the authorities. In July 2000 Mr. Barry was accused of shoving a female janitor in a restroom at Baltimore-Washington International Airport. He pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault and was sentenced to community service.
In March 2002 he announced that he would run for City Council, but he withdrew after the United States Park Police found traces of crack cocaine and marijuana in his car, which was illegally parked, later that month. No charges were filed, and Mr. Barry said he had been framed.
Despite his clashes with the law, he won a City Council seat in 2004. The next year he pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor charges for failing to file income tax returns for the year 2000. He was placed on probation for three years. Yet he continued to defy the I.R.S., neglecting for the next several years to file returns. He finally settled with the tax agency in 2009, saying that his failure to file had been the result of his health.
He had no such excuse in 2010, when the City Council stripped him of a committee chairmanship and censured him for steering a consulting contract to a sometime girlfriend (who had once had him arrested on accusations of stalking her, though the charges were later dropped). Mr. Barry apologized for his “lack of sound judgment” on the contract.
Mr. Barry also had trouble on the road. In August 2014, after he was slightly injured in a crash while driving on the wrong side of the street, it was revealed that he had accumulated some $2,800 in fines for moving violations and parking infractions. He finally paid up.
Various theories have been advanced to explain how Mr. Barry survived scandals that made him a laughingstock for television comedians and would have destroyed lesser politicians. Writing in The New Yorker in 1994 about that year’s mayoral campaign, David Remnick saw that Mr. Barry’s flaws actually helped him, especially among impoverished black people who feared that white businessmen and other elitists were conspiring to take back the power that black Washingtonians had gained.
“No one has a more acute feeling for the divides of the city and their political possibilities than Marion Barry,” Mr. Remnick wrote after spending considerable time with the mayor on the campaign trail.
“What Barry grasps intuitively — and what comes as a shock to most whites — is the political potential of conspiracy thinking,” Mr. Remnick wrote. Indeed, years afterward, Mr. Barry blamed a racist conspiracy for his trial and imprisonment for cocaine. “They didn’t want me creating all of these opportunities for black folks,” he wrote in his autobiography, published by Simon & Schuster in June.
Co-written by Omar Tyree, “Mayor for Life” indulged in some revisionist history and selective amnesia. As Marc Fisher pointed out in reviewing the book for The Washington Post, Mr. Barry asserted at one point that news media reports of his womanizing “were all unfounded.” Yet a hundred pages later, Mr. Barry conceded that he “got involved with women who sometimes were not good for me.”
In an interview with The New York Times shortly after the book’s release, Mr. Barry denied that his personal troubles and run-ins with the law had hindered the progress he sought for the poorest Washington residents.
“I serve as an inspiration for those who are going through all kinds of things,” Mr. Barry said. “Whatever storm they’re going through, they can learn from me.”
Mr. Barry is survived by his wife, Cora Masters Barry, and his son, Marion Christopher Barry.
What Mr. Barry bequeathed to Washington, and his motives, are likely to be debated for years.
“One reason he was so good at the political game, some of his friends thought, was because so little of it really meant anything to him,” David Halberstam wrote in “The Children” in 1998, about the early days of the civil rights movement. “He was largely free of causes, save his own. His agenda was always primarily about himself.”
But Mr. Fisher, in his review of Mr. Barry’s book, wrote that “no other mayor has come close to his achievement in providing first jobs for poor young black residents.” Nevertheless, Mr. Fisher added, “black poverty remains deeply entrenched in the District, and his administration had little to show for its efforts to curb crime or improve schools.”
Sam Smith, editor of The Progressive Review, who knew Mr. Barry since 1966, had a subtler perspective in the twilight of his public career:
“It’s like going out into a field and seeing an old rusting-out hulk of a car and trying to imagine what it was like when it was brand-new. What people are seeing now is that corroded shell of what Barry was, and if you don’t remember that, it’s very hard to see.”
Marion Shepilov Barry, Jr. (March 6, 1936 – November 23, 2014) was an American politician who served as the second Mayor of the District of Columbia from 1979 to 1991, and again as the fourth Mayor from 1995 to 1999. A Democrat, Barry had served three tenures on the Council of the District of Columbia, representing as an at-large member from 1975 to 1979 and in Ward 8 from 1993 to 1995 and again from 2005 to 2014. In the 1960s he was involved in the African-American civil rights movement, first as a member of the Nashville Student Movement sit-ins and then serving as the first chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).
Barry came to national prominence as mayor of the national capital, the first prominent civil-rights activist to become chief executive of a major American city; he gave the presidential nomination speech for Jesse Jackson at the 1984 Democratic National Convention. His celebrity transformed into international notoriety in January 1990, when he was videotaped smoking crack cocaine and arrested by Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) officials on drug charges. The arrest and subsequent trial precluded Barry seeking re-election, and he served six months in a federal prison. After his release, however, he was elected to the Council of the District of Columbia in 1992 and ultimately returned to the mayoralty in 1994, serving from 1995 to 1999.
Despite his history of political and legal controversies, Barry was a popular and influential figure in the local political scene of Washington, D.C. The alternative weeklyWashington City Paper nicknamed him "Mayor for life," a designation that remained long after Barry left the mayoralty. The Washington Post has stated that "to understand the District of Columbia, one must understand Marion Barry."
Marion Barry was born in Itta Bena, Mississippi, the third child of Mattie Cummings and Marion Barry. His father died when he was four years old, and a year later his mother moved the family to Memphis, Tennessee, where her employment prospects were better. Growing up near South Parkway and Florida, Marion Barry attended Florida Elementary and graduated from Booker T. Washington High.
The first time Barry noticed racial issues was when he had to walk to school while the white students were able to ride the bus. He had a number of jobs as a child, including picking cotton, delivering and selling newspapers, and bagging groceries. While in high school, Barry worked as a waiter at the American Legion post and, at age 17, earned the rank of Eagle Scout. Marion Barry first began his spirit of civil rights activism when he was a paperboy in Memphis. The paper he worked for organized a contest in which any boys who gained 15 new customers could win a trip to New Orleans. Marion Barry and a couple of the other black paperboys reached the quota of 15 new customers and were not allowed to go on the trip to New Orleans, because New Orleans had segregation laws and the paper could not afford to take two buses. Barry decided to boycott his paper route until they agreed to send the black paperboys on a trip. After the paper offered the black paperboys a chance to go to St. Louis on a trip, because it was not a segregated city, Barry resumed his paper route.
Education and civil rights activism
Undergraduate studies at LeMoyne College
Barry attended LeMoyne College (now LeMoyne–Owen College), graduating in 1958. In his junior year of college, all of the racial injustices he had seen started to come together. There was a fair ground in Memphis that he and his friends decided to go to; it was a segregated fair. They went to the fair at the time that the white people were supposed to go, because they wanted to see the science exhibit. When they were close to the exhibit, a policeman stopped them and asked them to leave. Barry and his friends left without protesting the policeman. At that time, Barry did not know much about his race, or why they were treated poorly, but it did not sit well with him. After this experience, Barry became a more active member of the NAACP chapter at LeMoyne; he became the president. While at LeMoyne, his ardent support of thecivil rights movement earned him the nickname "Shep", in reference to Soviet politician Dmitri Shepilov. Barry began using Shepilov as his middle name. In 1958 at LeMoyne, he criticized a college trustee for remarks he felt were demeaning to African Americans, which nearly caused his expulsion. While he was a senior and the president of the NAACP, Barry heard of Walter Chandler—the only white member on LaMoyne’s board of trustees—making comments that black people should be treated as a “younger brother not as an adult.” Barry did not appreciate the comments made by Chandler, and wrote a letter to LeMoyne’s president asking if Walter Chandler could be removed from the board A friend of Barry’s was the editor of the school newspaper, The Magician, and told Barry to run the letter in the paper. From there, the letter made it to the front page of Memphis’ conservative morning paper.
Master's degree, Nashville Student Movement, SNCC
Barry also earned an M.S. in organic chemistry from Fisk University in 1960. Barry was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. While in graduate school at Fisk, Barry was arrested several times while participating in the Nashville sit-ins and other Civil Rights Movement events. After graduating from Fisk, Barry worked further in the African-American Civil Rights Movement, focusing on the elimination of the racial segregation of bus passengers.
In 1960 Barry was elected the first chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Soon after becoming SNCC's chair Barry helped develop an organizing project in McComb, Mississippi. The project was both a voter registration and a direct action project. Barry and the other members of SNCC who went to McComb were able to pick which field they wanted to work in. Barry said that they lived with the local people instead of in hotels, motels, or their own houses because that was a way they could stay safe and learn what it was like to live there, and would be able to organize the members of SNCC accordingly.
He began doctoral studies at the University of Kansas but soon quit the program. He contemplated law school to help with his activism but decided against it because the delayed admission would mean that he would have to take a year off from school. Had he taken a year off, there was a chance of his being drafted into the military, and he did not want to be drafted. He decided to go to the University of Tennessee because he was awarded a graduate fellowship. Additionally, the University of Tennessee was a southern, integrated institution. He had never had the chance to experience that before. He began doctoralchemistry studies at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, the only African American in the program. There he discovered that he was prohibited from tutoring white children, while his wife was not allowed to work at the school. He quit the program in favor of his new duties at SNCC.
Working for SNCC
During his time leading SNCC, Barry led protests against racial segregation and discrimination. After he left McComb in 1964, Barry’s job in SNCC was to go around the country to all of the state legislatures to try to convince them to vote to make the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party the recognized Democratic party of Mississippi. He even slept on the boardwalk in Atlantic City the night after speaking to the New Jersey legislature.
After he left the New York legislature, James Forman asked Barry to go to Washington, D.C. to manage SNCC’s office. At the time, over half of the population of Washington D.C. was black, and they had no political representation. In 1965, Barry moved to Washington, D.C. to open a local chapter of SNCC, where he was heavily involved in coordinating peaceful street demonstrations as well as a boycott to protest bus fare increases. The first thing Barry did in Washington D.C. was organize a “mancott” of the bus system when the owner decided to raise prices from 20 to 25 cents. Barry organized the entire boycott to provide rides to work and to notify the city. The boycott cost the bus line thousands of dollars, and Barry proved his ability to organize. He also served as the leader of the Free D.C. Movement, strongly supporting increasedhome rule for the District. Barry quit SNCC in 1967, when H. Rap Brown became chairman of the group. In 1967, Barry and Mary Treadwell co-founded Pride, Inc., a Department of Labor-funded program to provide job training to unemployed black men. The group employed hundreds of teenagers to clean littered streets and alleys in the District. Barry and Treadwell had met while students at Fisk University, and they later met again while picketing in front of the Washington Gas Light Company. Barry and Treadwell married in 1972. They separated five years later.
Barry was active in the aftermath of the 1968 Washington, D.C. riots, organizing through Pride Inc. a program of free food distribution for poor black residents whose homes and neighborhoods had been destroyed in the rioting. Barry convinced the Giant Food supermarket chain to donate food, and he spent a week driving trucks and delivering food throughout the city's housing projects. He also became a board member of the city’s Economic Development Committee, helping to route federal funds and venture capital to black-owned businesses that were struggling to recover from the riots.
When President Richard Nixon declared July 21, 1969, National Day of Participation in honor of the moon landing by Apollo 11, Barry criticized Nixon for honoring the moon landing with a holiday when Nixon had previously opposed a holiday for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. following his assassination. Said Barry, "Why should blacks feel elated when we see men eating on the moon when millions of blacks and poor whites don't have enough money to buy food here on earth?"
D.C. Board of Education (1971–1974)
In 1971, Barry announced his candidacy for at-large member of the school board, running against the incumbent, Anita L. Allen. Barry said he wanted to steer the school board back to the "issues of education" and away from problems of personalities. Barry defeated Allen, with 58 percent of the vote to Allen's 34 percent.
After being seated in 1972, the members of the board unanimously elected Barry president of the board. He served as Board president for two years, reorganizing the school system's finances and building consensus on the board.
In response to the 1972 blaxploitation film Super Fly, Barry quickly formed a protest group named Blacks Against Narcotics and Genocide (BANG). Barry said the film was harmful to black youth, that it glorified drug abuse. BANG called for a boycott of the film.
Barry advocated for a larger budget for education and raises for teachers. Barry also supported the appointment of Barbara Sizemore as the city’s superintendent, the country's first major city with a woman in that role. When the Senate held up annual payments to the District because of debate over whether the federal government should continue to pay for holding the District's partisan elections, Barry called for public hearings on the matter. He also commented, "Since it is a known fact that the majority makeup of an elected government will be black, the conferees' agreement indicates to me that some members of Congress are saying that black people cannot be fiscally responsible, and therefore, have to have a predominantly white Congress overseeing how our monies are spent."
D.C. Council (1974–1979) and shooting
Upon establishment of Washington's Home Rule in 1974, Barry was elected an at-large member of Washington's first elected city council, and while serving as a council member became chair of the District of Columbia Committee on Finance and Revenue. He was re-elected in 1976.
While serving on the D.C. city council, Barry was shot on March 9, 1977, by radical Hanafi Muslims (from a breakaway sect of the Nation of Islam) when they overran the District Building. Barry was shot near his heart during the two-day 1977 Hanafi Siege in which hostages were held by the terrorists and which was finally defused by the FBI and Muslim ambassadors.
1978 mayoral election
Having credentials as an activist, legislator, and "hero" in a hostage crisis, as well as an early endorsement from the Washington Post, Barry followed in Washington's mayoralty when its first elected mayor, Walter Washington, fell out of political favor in the 1978 election. In the Democratic primary—the real contest in this heavily Democratic, black-majority city—Barry ran with the campaign slogan “Take A Stand” and the promise to improve the “bumbling and bungling” Washington administration. He won the Democratic primary election against his main rivals Mayor Washington and council chairman Sterling Tucker in a vote so close that final tally was in doubt for over two weeks. He went on to defeat his Republican opponent Arthur Fletcher and two other minor candidates in a landslide general election in November. He was only the second person elected to the position.
Washington, D.C. Mayor (1979–1991)
Barry’s first four years in office were characterized by increased efficiency in city administration and government services, in particular the sanitation department. Barry also instituted his signature summer jobs program, in which summer employment was made available to every school-age resident. At the same time, Barry straightened the city’s chaotic finances and attacked the deficit by introducing spending controls and laying off ten percent of the city’s workforce. Each year of his first term saw a budget surplus of at least US$13 million. District of Columbia political reporter Jonetta Rose Barras characterized the first Barry administration as "methodical, competent, and intellectually superior."
However, unemployment rose dramatically during his first administration, as did crime rates, in part because many of his layoffs were centered in the police department (1,500 terminations by 1981). Barry's campaign promise to "take the boards off" public housing – i.e., to rehabilitate dilapidated and condemned public housing units – was slow in fulfillment. The city's debt was a constant problem as well: Barry had recalculated the Washington Administration's claim of a $41 million surplus and found that the city was actually $285 million in debt, a long-term accrual that even his annual surpluses were unable to surmount by the end of his term. In addition, graft and embezzlement among Barry appointees, such as Employment Services Director Ivanhoe Donaldson, began late in Barry's first term, although it would not be discovered for several years. Barry was personally touched by a number of "mini-scandals", including travels whose finances he often kept secret, and the first reports of his cocaine use at downtown nightclubs.
In 1982, Barry faced re-election against a challenge from fellow Democrat Patricia Roberts Harris, an African-American woman who had served in two cabinet positions under President Jimmy Carter, as well as from council members John L. Ray and Charlene Drew Jarvis. In the primary election held September 14, 1982, Barry won by a landslide, with over 58% of the vote, then went on to win 82% of the vote in the November 11 general election against Republican candidate E. Brooke Lee.
Barry’s second term was much more troublesome than his first. Though Washington experienced a massive real estate boom that helped alleviate the city’s fiscal problems for a time, government spending skyrocketed; the administration managed to post a fifth straight budget surplus, but the next year struggled with a $110 million deficit. Much of the disparity was caused by Barry's policy of combatting unemployment by creating government jobs; The city government’s payrolls swelled so greatly that by 1986 nobody in the administration knew exactly how many employees it had.
Wasteful contract spending also became a problem in the second Barry administration; in his first term Barry had made a point of insisting that any firm wishing to do business with the city have minority partners, and shepherding legislation requiring 35% of all contracts to go to minority-owned firms. The policy was modified in his second term such that the administration gave contracts to Barry’s political connections and high-end campaign contributors to the tune of $856 million, but without any oversight from the city. As such, the cost of services such as heating oil for the public schools inflated 40 percent, without any guarantee that the goods and services were being provided. City councilman John A. Wilson commented that “What started out to benefit the minority community at large has meant some politically influential blacks can move out to posh suburbs.”
Major scandal caught up to the mayor in his second term. Several of his associates were indicted for financial malfeasances, including former administration officials Ivanhoe Donaldson and Alphonse G. Hill. Barry also began to be plagued by rumors and press reports of womanizing and of alcohol and drug abuse; in particular, stories abounded of his cocaine use in the city’s nightclubs and red-light district. In 1984, Barry’s onetime lover Karen Johnson was convicted of cocaine possession and contempt of court for refusing to testify to a grand jury about Barry’s drug use. Nevertheless, Barry’s second four years in office had some high points, including the District’s entry into the open bond market with Wall Street’s highest credit rating, and Barry’s nomination speech for Jesse Jackson at the 1984 Democratic Convention.
Barry sought a third term as mayor in 1986. By this time, his dominance of city politics was so absolute that he faced only token opposition in the Democratic primary in the form of former school board member Mattie Taylor. Barry dispatched Taylor easily and defeated Republican city councilwoman Carol Schwartz almost as easily in the November 4 general election. For the third time, Barry received the endorsement of The Washington Post but “with far greater reservations and misgivings” than at any time in the past.
By this time, however, Barry was openly suffering from the effects of longstanding addictions to cocaine and alcohol; he would later admit that he lost control of his drug habit soon after being sworn in for a third term. His public appearances were marked by glassy eyes and slurred speech. His aides began scheduling all of his daily events later and later in the day as he began arriving to his office as late as lunchtime, and nodding off to sleep at his desk. His ability to function as mayor had become so impaired that even his closest associates urged him not to run again, going so far as to attempt to instead create an endowed professorship for him at the University of the District of Columbia. In the wake of Barry's inattention, the city declined badly. Notoriously, Barry was watching Super Bowl XXI in Pasadena, California when a winter blizzard struck Washington in January 1987, leaving city crews to badly mishandle the road clearing.
In 1987 crack exploded in the city, as did territorial wars among drug dealers; 1988 saw 369 homicides in Washington, D.C, the most ever in the city. That record was broken again when the next year had 434 homicides, and it was broken yet again when 1990 had 474 homicides, making Washington's murder rate the highest in the nation. The Washington, D.C. government's employment and deficits grew even as city services suffered; in particular, there were frequent press reports of deaths occurring because police lacked cars to get to crime scenes, and EMS services responded slowly or went to the wrong address.
1990 arrest and drug conviction
See also: List of federal political scandals in the United States and List of state and local political scandals in the United States
By late 1989, federal officials had been investigating Barry on suspicion of illegal drug possession and use; that fall, they were able to make cases against several of Barry's associates for cocaine use, including Charles Lewis, a native of the United States Virgin Islands who was implicated in a drug investigation involving Barry and a room at Washington’s Ramada Inn in December 1988.
On January 18, 1990, Barry was arrested with a former girlfriend, Hazel Diane "Rasheeda" Moore, in a sting operation at the Vista Hotel by the FBI and D.C. Police for crack cocaine use and possession. Moore was an FBI informant when she invited Barry to the hotel room and insisted that he smoke freebase cocaine before they had sex, while agents in another room watched on camera, waiting for Barry to accept her offer. During the videotaped arrest, Barry says of Moore, "Bitch set me up...I shouldn't have come up here...goddamn bitch".
Barry was charged with three felony counts of perjury, 10 counts of drug possession, and one misdemeanor count of conspiracy to possess cocaine, even though the cocaine belonged to the government informant. The criminal trial ended in August 1990 with a conviction for only one possession incident, which had occurred in November 1989, and an acquittal on another. The jury deadlocked on the remaining charges. Six or seven jurors (of whom two were white and the rest black) believed that the evidence against Barry was overwhelming and that he had displayed "arrogance" during the trial. Against these, five black jurors were convinced that the prosecution had falsified evidence and testimony as part of a racist conspiracy against Barry, and even disputed factual findings that had not been contested in court. After scolding the jurors for not following his instructions, the judge declared a mistrial on the remaining charges.
As a result of his arrest and the ensuing trial, Barry decided in June 1990 not to seek re-election as mayor. After his arrest and through his trial, Barry continued as mayor. He even ran as an independent for an at-large seat on the council against 74-year-old incumbent Hilda Mason. Mason, a former ally who had helped Barry recuperate after the 1977 shooting, took the challenge personally, saying, "I do feel very disappointed in my grandson Marion Barry." Mason was endorsed by a majority of the council members and by Jesse Jackson, who was running for shadow senator.
Barry was sentenced to six months in federal prison shortly before the November election, which he lost – in the only electoral loss of his career – despite doing well among the voters of Ward 8. His wife and son moved out of the house later that month. In October 1991, Barry surrendered himself at a correctional facility in Petersburg, Virginia. While serving his time, Barry was accused of letting a woman perform oral sex on him in a prison waiting room, a charge Barry denied. Barry was transferred to another federal prison in Loretto, Pennsylvania. Barry was released in April 1992.
In May 2013, after Toronto mayor Rob Ford was allegedly videotaped smoking what was reported to be crack, parallels were made with the similarity to the 1990 incident. Barry denied any similarity, stating: "Unless he was entrapped by the government, it’s not similar.”
Political comeback (1992–1994)
Barry was released from prison in 1992, and two months later filed papers to run for the Ward 8 city council seat in that year's election. Barry ran under the slogan "He May Not Be Perfect, But He's Perfect for D.C." He defeated the four-term incumbent, Wilhelmina Rolark, in the Democratic primary, winning 70 percent of the vote, saying he was "not interested in being mayor", and went on to win the general election easily.
1994 mayoral election
Despite his earlier statements to the contrary, observers of Barry's council victory expressed beliefs that he was laying ground for a mayoral run in 1994. Indeed, Barry fulfilled expectations when he formally announced his candidacy for mayor on May 21, 1994 and was immediately regarded as a serious challenge to the unpopular incumbent mayor, Sharon Pratt Kelly. Despite much opposition, including an abortive effort to recall his 1992 council election, Barry won a three-way Democratic primary contest for mayor with 48% of the vote on September 13, pushing Kelly into last place. The victory, coming after Barry's videotaped crack use and conviction, shocked the nation, carrying front page headlines in newspapers such as the Los Angeles Times and Boston Globe.
An oft-repeated Barry quote came in the aftermath of his victory in the Democratic primary election, in which he counseled those voters who opposed his mayoral campaign to "get over it."
Though facing a credible challenge from Republican councilmember Carol Schwartz, who received the endorsement of the Washington Post and captured 42% of the vote, Barry was victorious in the general election with 56%. This was the only time since the restoration of home rule that a Democratic candidate for mayor had dropped below the 60 percent mark, until Muriel Bowser won the 2014 general election with 54% of the vote.
D.C. Mayor fourth term (1995–1999)
Barry was sworn into office on January 2, 1995, and was almost immediately confronted with a financial crisis. The budgetary problems of his previous administrations had only increased during Kelly's term, with city officials estimating a fiscal 1996 deficit between $700 million and $1 billion. In addition, city services remained extremely dysfunctional due to mismanagement. One month into his term, Barry declared that the city government was "unworkable" in its present state and lobbied Congress to take over the areas of its operation that were analogous to typical state government functions. Wall Street, which Barry had convinced just after his election to continue investing in municipal bonds, reduced the city's credit rating to "junk status." Instead of implementing Barry's proposals, the newly Republican Congress (who had come to power on promises of decreasing federal spending) placed several city operations into receivership and created the District of Columbia Financial Control Board to assume complete authority over the city's day-to-day spending and finances, including overrule of the mayor's fiscal decisions.
The next two years were dominated by budgetary and policy battles between Barry and the Control Board — along with Chief Financial Officer Anthony A. Williams — for power over the District of Columbia's operation. The conflict was ultimately settled when in 1997 the Clinton Administration and Senator Lauch Faircloth agreed on legislation that rescued the city from its financial crisis but stripped Barry of all authority (including hiring and firing) over nine District agencies, making them directly answerable to the Control Board. Barry was left with control of only the Department of Parks and Recreation, the public libraries, and the Board of Tourism, as well as the ceremonial trappings of his office — a condition he characterized “a rape of democracy.”
Barry declined to run for a fifth term in office in June 1998, stating his belief that Congress would not restore full home rule while he was mayor. He was succeeded by city CFO Anthony A. Williams.
D.C. Council (2002–2014)
After leaving office, Barry performed consulting work for an investment banking firm. On March 6, 2002, Barry declared his intention to challenge at-large council member Phil Mendelson in the Democratic primary. Within a month, he decided against running, after an incident in which U.S. Park Police found traces of marijuana and cocaine in his car.
On June 12, 2004, Barry announced that he was running in the Democratic primary for the Ward 8 council seat, a position he held before becoming mayor. Barry received 58% of the vote, defeating the incumbent council member, Sandy Allen, on September 14, 2004. Barry received 95% of the vote in the general election, giving him a victory in the race to represent Ward 8 in the Council.
During the 2006 mayoral election, Barry endorsed Adrian Fenty despite Linda Cropp hiring many members of Barry's former political machine. Barry has publicly clashed with Fenty over D.C. United's proposed soccer stadium in Barry's Ward 8. Barry is the stadium's most outspoken supporter on the council, whereas Fenty has attempted to distance himself from his initial support for the project.
In July 2007, Marion Barry was chosen as one of fifty wax statues to debut in the Washington D.C. franchise of Madame Tussauds Wax Museum. Barry was chosen by a majority of Washington residents and tourists from Tussauds' "Top 10 Wish List," in a contest that pitted him against Cal Ripken, Jr., Al Gore, Denzel Washington, Carl Bernstein, Halle Berry, Martin Sheen, Marilyn Monroe, Nancy Reagan and Oprah Winfrey.
Barry ran for re-election in 2008 and easily held off all five challengers in the Democratic primary: Ahmad Braxton-Jones, Howard Brown, Chanda McMahan, Sandra Seegars and Charles Wilson. No Republican orStatehood Green candidates filed to run in the Ward 8 council race.
Vote on gay marriage
In May 2009, Barry voted against a bill committing Washington, D.C. to recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere. During his 2008 reelection campaign, Barry had told members of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the city's largest LGBT political group, "I don’t think you should make [supporting the bill] a litmus test. But if a bill like that were to come up, I would vote for it." Following his May 2009 vote against recognizing gay marriages, Barry was criticized for what activists believed to be an apparent flip-flop. Councilman Phil Mendelson said he was surprised by the vote because Barry had signed on as a co-introducer of the marriage bill. Barry said his position had not changed and warned that the council needed to move slowly on this issue. Citing his belief that the local African American community is overwhelmingly opposed to gay marriage, "All hell is going to break loose", Barry said. "We may have a civil war. The black community is just adamant against this."
Failures to file tax returns and pay taxes
On October 28, 2005, Barry pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charges stemming from an IRS investigation. The mandatory drug testing for the hearing showed Barry as being positive for cocaine and marijuana. On March 9, 2006, he was sentenced to three years probation for misdemeanor charges of failing to pay federal and local taxes, and underwent drug counseling.
In 2007, federal prosecutors sought to have his probation revoked for failure to file his 2005 tax return. U.S. Magistrate Judge Deborah Robinson refused, saying that prosecutors had not proved that the failure was willful, even if Barry was aware he had missed the deadline. According to Judge Robinson, sentencing Barry to jail without proving that he willfully failed to file his taxes would contradict precedent set by the United States Supreme Court.
On February 9, 2009, prosecutors filed a motion in federal court to revoke Barry's probation for not filing his 2007 tax return, which violated his probation. According to one prosecutor, Barry has not filed his taxes eight of the last nine years. Barry said the reason he did not file his taxes is because of distractions from his medical problems, although he noted that there is "no excuse" for not filing. In an interview, Barry said he has been undergoing four-hour dialyses three times a week as treatment for a problem with his kidney. At that point, a kidney donor had been identified, but the operation had yet to be scheduled. On February 17, WTOP-FM reported that, according to Barry's attorney, Barry had filed his federal and District tax returns for 2007. The same day, Barry was admitted to Howard University Hospital to prepare for a kidney transplant the next day. Barry was released from the hospital on February 27, but he was readmitted on March 2 due to large amounts of air in his abdominal cavity and also due to Barry's complaints of serious pains, both of which were caused by the combination of medications Barry was taking after the operation. Barry was released from the hospital on March 6. On April 17, 2009, the prosecution withdrew their request to revoke Barry's probation.
On September 9, 2011, the Internal Revenue Service filed a notice of federal tax lien against Barry because of $3,200 of unpaid federal income taxes for 2010. Barry attributed the lien to poor communication between the Internal Revenue Service and his representatives.
Alleged traffic violations
On September 10, 2006, Barry was stopped by Secret Service Uniformed Division police officers after stopping at a green light and running a red light. According to a Secret Service spokesman, the police officers pulled over his car, smelled alcohol, and administered a field sobriety test. Barry was then taken to the U.S. Capitol Police station for a breathalyzer test. The Secret Service said that the Breathalyzer test did not give an accurate reading, but Barry later said that it gave a successful reading of 0.02%, which is less than the legal limit of 0.08%. The police officers asked Barry to give a urine analysis, which Barry refused. The officers gave Barry a ticket for running a red light and failing to submit to a urine analysis. He was also charged with driving an unregistered vehicle and misuse of temporary tags. Barry pled not guilty to the charges. Prosecutors offered Barry a deal to drop the charge of driving under the influence in exchange for a guilty plea from Barry; he declined. A judge found him not guilty of the charges.
On December 16, 2006, the Park Police pulled over Barry for driving too slowly, which Barry later said was because he was trying to figure out where to enter an elementary school's parking lot for a nonprofit foundation's event. After looking up Barry's record, the police officer told Barry that his license had been suspended and ticketed Barry for operating a vehicle on a suspended license, despite Barry's insistence to the contrary. Two days later, the D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles confirmed that Barry's license had not actually been suspended and said a computer glitch must have caused the error.
On August 2, 2014, Barry was in a traffic accident in the District, which his spokesperson blamed on a "hypoglycemic attack" due to his diabetes. At the time of the accident Barry had $2,800 in unpaid tickets for speeding and parking violations accumulated since 2012.
Conflict of Interest: Personal benefit from contract to girlfriend
On July 4, 2009, Barry was taken into custody by the Park Police after political consultant Donna Watts-Brighthaupt, his ex-girlfriend, claimed he was stalking her. Barry was arrested and charged with "misdemeanor stalking". Following an interview with authorities, he was released on citation and told he must appear before the Superior Court of the District of Columbia on July 9. However, all charges were dropped on July 8.
An investigative report by Special Counsel said that Barry had personally benefited from a contract that he had awarded to his then-girlfriend Donna Watts-Brighthaupt. The report stated that Barry had awarded a contract to Watts-Brighthaupt, who then repaid money owed to Barry with the proceeds of the contract. When interviewed by the Special Counsel, Watts-Brighthaupt admitted plagiarizing substantial portions of her study from a publicly available study by the United States Department of Education. The Special Counsel report also said that Barry had requested 41 earmarks in 2009 worth $8.4 million, some of which were paid to organizations "rife with waste and abuse." The report also said that Barry had impeded the investigation by refusing to respond to questions and by telling witnesses not to respond to questions and not give subpoenaed documents to the Special Counsel.
Barry responded to the Special Counsel report by claiming he had violated no written rules or procedures on such contracts and that there was no conflict of interest. Barry apologized for his "very, very poor judgment."
In response to the Special Counsel report, several council members said they would like to hear a response from Barry before considering a censure. On March 2, 2010, the Council of the District of Columbia voted 12–0 in favor of stripping Barry of all committee assignments, ending his chair of the Committee on Housing and Workforce Development, and removing him from the Committee on Finance and Revenue.
Asian American racist remarks controversy
At a party celebrating his primary victory for his D.C. council seat on April 3, 2012, Barry said, "We've got to do something about these Asians coming in, opening up businesses, those dirty shops. They ought to go, I'll just say that right now, you know. But we need African-American businesspeople to be able to take their places, too."
Several other council members, Mayor Vincent Gray, and Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton criticized Barry's comments. Five Asian American members of the Maryland General Assembly also called on Barry to apologize in a statement saying, "At best, Mr. Barry's attack on Asian Americans is deeply troubling, and at worst it is race baiting."
Barry apologized for his comments, saying in a written statement, "It is to these less than stellar Asian-American businessmen in Ward 8 that my remarks were directed, not the whole of Asian businessmen in Ward 8 or the Asian-American population."
Marion Barry married Effi Slaughter, his third wife, just after announcing his candidacy for mayor in 1978. The couple had one son, Christopher Barry. The Barrys divorced in 1993, but she returned to Washington and supported him in his successful bid for a city council seat in 2004. Effi died on September 6, 2007, after an 18-month battle with acute myeloid leukemia.
Marion Barry died at United Medical Center in Washington, D.C., on November 23, 2014 from cardiac arrest, aged 78.
Main article: Electoral history of Marion Barry
In the midst of a contentious mayoral race in Newark, New Jersey in May 2014, Rutgers University professor and Newark city historian Clement A. Price cited Barry along with Jackson, Mississippi's Chokwe Lumumba as his own "role models" as mayor. The citation came in an April 2014 public discussion. Professor Price had not taken sides in the 2014 contest.