Marion Barry, Revealed


Marion Barry

Earlier this month, I mentioned that Marion Barry’s popularity is something I’d like to explore on DCentric. Half the city loves him, the other half is perplexed and occasionally angry at such affection. If you’d like to learn more about the “Mayor for Life”, you’d do well to get a cup of coffee and set aside some time for a long, but fascinating read from last year’s Weekly Standard. Titled “A Rake’s Progress: Marion Barry bares (almost) all”, it was penned by Matt Labash. I met Labash at a book release party held in his honor; while there, I met Marion Barry. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that he stole the show.

Supporting him, in spite of his struggles–even because of them–is almost a symbolic sacrament. Plus, he does something few other politicians in the District, even the city’s later black mayors, do: He shows up.

That’s exactly my answer, when people ask me to explain the popularity of Barry; he shows up.

Over the course of my time with him, he shows up to senior centers, where he gives 20 bucks to the oldest doll in attendance, which often takes some sorting out, what with senility. He shows up to the planning of the Labor Day picnic that he throws out of his own budget, overseeing details down to the hot dogs and what Go-Go bands are hired. The fact that he regularly gets raked over the coals by newspapers–which Barry tells me Ward 8ers largely don’t read–for tax evasion and traffic arrests and addiction issues and many of the pathologies that plague their community in such numbers might help him rather than hurt him.

Labash’s piece on Barry will appear in Best American Essays 2010. (h/t Mike Riggs)