When people die, religious leaders and preachers often speak of the dead as having shed the toil and troubles of this life. He has gone to his just reward. Never again will he suffer. These words are intended to bring comfort to family and friends who mourn the passing of a loved one.
In the case of Marion Barry, I don’t know if anyone else will say this, but there has to be a sense of relief for longtime observers of DC and Barry that he won’t be around to embarrass himself or the city any more. This isn’t a nice thing to say, but it is the truth.
During and after his years as mayor, you never knew what kind of trouble he was going to get into, where he was going to turn up late at night, drinking, chasing women, crashing his car, whatever. He was once found at strip club and dismissed it with an offhand comment: “What can I say, I’m a night owl.” He was once arrested at a local airport for going into a men’s room where an airport employee was cleaning. He either proceeded to urinate in front of her or shoved her when a dispute erupted. He had been stopped by the police so many times that people lost count. He was, at one time, so broke that he called trusted friends around town borrowing money (this comes from a personal friend of mine who was close to Barry).
The Barry excesses were doubly sad because he was the first person to come out of the grand Civil Rights struggle of mid-20th century America to be elected mayor of a major city. Barry was a symbol of black participation in the fullness of American life, a man who pushed his way into power, seemed to enjoy it immensely and proceeded to try, in every way possible, to help those who had long been ignored. To see such a man taken down by drugs, drinking and sexual excess was a sad procession that only got sadder and deeper has he aged, became chronically ill and continued, again and again, to get involved in sidebar controversy of a personal nature.
The Washington, DC, of the Barry era is long over. His fourth and final term as mayor was followed by the election of a bow tied technocrat, Anthony Williams, and the city now has a woman mayor elect, Muriel Bowser, soon to take office. Various types of corruption have not stopped in the city government, but DC is a far different place from the days when it was ruled by southern, racist congressmen into the 1970s because the city did not have the right, under the law, to elect its own government or, until the 1960s, even to vote for president. It is increasingly being turned into a city for the wealthy or the out and out big rich. New buildings are up almost everywhere around the city, it has a more youthful vibe and the focus, like New York, is on buying and spending and multimillion dollar houses and apartments. Poverty is out, not cool. Someone raising a small family now would need, minimum, 100 to 150 thousand a year just to have an ordinary middle class life the way it is lived across America in other less expensive cities and towns.
Barry has a place in the city’s history as the first mayor to be elected in his own right (the previous mayor had been first appointed to the job by the president, as was the rule then). A mayor who spends all or most of his or her time worrying about the oppressed and the underserved is never likely to be elected again. Things have changed, the dynamic has shifted. Barry will also be remembered, by long time residents of the area, for the excruciating nature of his long, troubled life. We, in the area, lived through it with him through various news reports and we are now relieved of the feeling that comes from, “Oh, no. What did Marion get himself involved in this time?” He, and we, will have no more worries of that sort.
Marion Barry. May he rest in peace.
Doug Terry, 11. 24.14