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Ex-D.C. Mayor Marion Barry returns to politics

Washington’s most infamous mayor, Marion Barry, stepped back into the political arena Saturday.
Former Washington Mayor Marion Barry, center, watches as supporters donate money during the announcement of his campaign for Ward 8 seat on the Washington, D.C. Council on Saturday.Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Washington’s most infamous mayor stepped back into the political arena Saturday. After weeks of publicly flirting with the idea, Marion Barry, a convicted drug offender dubbed “mayor for life,” officially announced his candidacy for the Ward 8 seat on the District of Columbia Council.

Barry, 68, spoke before a crowd of about 30 supporters outside his campaign headquarters in a rundown part of the city. Many of those on-hand still called him “mayor.”

“Yes, I’m running, running hard, fighting hard ... and we’re going to win hard too,” Barry said.

Legal difficulties
During his third term as mayor, Barry was captured smoking crack on an FBI video in January 1990. He was convicted seven months later of misdemeanor drug possession in another incident, and sentenced to six months in prison. After being released in April 1992 he ran for the Ward 8 Council seat and won. That race helped propel him to a fourth term as mayor in 1994, but Barry said Saturday he has no aspirations for a fifth term.

“I’m interested in the people of Ward 8 right now,” Barry said. When pressed by reporters he added, “Never say never about anything, but I don’t have any intentions to.”

Barry also said his drug days are behind him.

“I live a clean life now. I do right things that’s all I’m going to do,” he added.

Barry’s health has come into question. He was treated for prostate cancer in 1995 and suffers from diabetes and high blood pressure. He sat through more than a half hour of speeches, before standing up to speak, and later said he feels “great.”

“Someone asked me the other day if I’m up to it? Damn right I’m up to it,” he added.

Some residents express concerns
Some Ward 8 residents aren’t so sure.

“I really don’t know if Barry looks strong enough, physically,” said Karen Bey. She was undecided about who she would for in the Sept. 14 Democratic primary, which will pit Barry against Sandy Allen — a two term incumbent — and five other candidates.

Barry has until July 7 to collect the signatures of 250 registered Ward 8 voters to be eligible for the primary. Winning that primary all but assures victory in November in the overwhelmingly Democratic ward.

Barry said if elected his top priority will be to improve schools, which rank among the poorest performing in the country. He also supports a larger summer jobs program, cleaner streets, affordable housing and getting more supermarkets and sit-down restaurants in the Southeast Washington ward.

News of Barry’s announcement was no surprise to Allen, who said he told her of his plan a couple of weeks ago. Allen and Barry declined to directly criticize each other.

“He’s still my friend. He’s my friend today. He was my friend yesterday, and he’ll be my friend tomorrow,” said Allen, a former Barry campaign manager.

“It’s American society, everybody’s got a right to run,” said Mayor Anthony A. Williams, who succeeded Barry in 1999. “I think Sandy Allen is doing a good job,” Williams added, though he declined to answer reporters’ questions on Saturday about whether he would endorse Allen in the primary. Allen noted she has not asked for the mayor’s support.

“He’s a very compelling, energetic individual, knows a lot. So I think it’ll be a spirited campaign,” said Councilman Jack Evans, D-Ward 2, who was on the Council with Barry more than a decade ago.

“Sandy Allen’s a great councilmember,” Evans continued. “She’s done a good job representing her ward.” But Evans said he had no plans to endorse anyone.

A short time later, sharing a stage with Williams at a Northwest Washington charity event, Evans told a crowd that under the current mayor’s leadership, “The city has never looked better or worked better.”