WASHINGTON — Marion C. Barry has been putting up signs for months throughout Ward 8 as he runs to fill the former District City Council seat his deceased father, Marion S. Barry, Jr.
As he walks through the southeast Washington neighborhood, almost everyone knows who he is. Many have known him since he was a child.
His notoriety, however, has worked in his favor and against him. Some say that he is riding on the name of his father, who served three terms as mayor and was on the council when he died in November.
Others say he has a unique connection with Ward 8 that makes him the perfect person to serve.
“It’s challenging when some of the people that I thought would be supportive aren’t,” Barry said, “but I have a passion for the people in this community.
“I grew up here, I’m from here. I know the people here, but at the same time, I’ve also had the blessing of having a father where I have been exposed to the government end.”
Barry has not held any elected or legislative positions. His opponents have held titles in the ward from chairman of the Advisory Neighborhood Commission to elected representative for the State Board of Education. Still, Barry has been able to stand and compete, say some.
“I was impressed, because I didn’t know what to expect from him,” said LaChett Landrum, after a recent candidate forum. “I have a higher respect for him after this. I just don’t know about his experience or if this is long term.”
Barry’s strengths lie in his relationship with residents, said Liz Matory, his campaign manager.
“The most rewarding part has been to watch him grow and watch how residents interact with Marion,” Matory said. “It’s like this organic connection that’s really inspiring”
Barry says that his impact is shown through his construction business, which has created jobs for hundreds of the residents. The most recent project was the new $142 million Ballou High School.
Barry said he is providing jobs in the ward with the highest unemployment.
“I am the only candidate that has built schools and rec centers in this area,” Barry said. “Ward 8 residents need opportunity and jobs, and I am the only one who has directly given residents jobs and built in this community.”
In conversations with voters and political pundits during candidate forums and debates, the criticism of Barry is summed up in the refrain “He’s just not ready.”
Barry’s foibles, have been documented, from run-ins with police for drug allegations and driving offenses to temper flare-ups, including a clash with his father that led to him being barred from a hospital.
In his most recent incident, Barry, who is currently on probation for an earlier offense, in January, allegedly threw a trash can at a bank teller window.
“I’m going to have someone waiting for you when you get off, you bitch,” he is alleged to have told the clerk.
This makes his critics concerned about whether he has the maturity to work with other members of the council. His campaign said Barry is at an unfair disadvantage, because the media and his critics don’t pay attention to the good that he does.
“He’s never been in the media for anything positive that he’s done.” said Carl Thomas, director of field operations for Barry’s campaign. “They always want to catch him in those ‘gotcha’ moments, when in between those ‘gotcha’ moments he’s been doing things that really are extraordinary and should be highlighted as well.”
“But I think that the people of Ward 8 really understand who he is, what he is, where he comes from, what his understanding is and his level of expertise as it relates to following this process, you know, because he’s been around this his whole life,” continued Thomas.
Barry said yes, he has had some bumps along the way, but he feels that he is the best to represent the ward given his background.
He said he plans to improve the school systems by investing more money into the extracurricular activities of school. It would also lower the crime rate among youth and they would have the resources to spend their time on more productive activities, he said.
“I want to make sure that they have a full school experience instead of just their report card,” he said. “I want to put more money into the band, athletic equipment, ROTC exchange programs, so that when the child wants to go to college, they actually have a resume.”
Barry said he also has a particular interest in public housing, a hot issue in Ward 8 with the imminent destruction of the Barry Farms public housing. It’s demolition will displace 400 residents to move.
Barry said he wants to create more job opportunities for the residents.
“This is where former slaves and the children of slaves established their first homes and businesses,” he said. “I would like to see Ward 8 stay predominantly black and at the same time, develop a strong middle class with black-owned businesses.”
Some who have been longtime observers of Ward 8 politics said Barry’s campaign is “a joke.”
“You know it’s bad when the people who changed your diapers won’t vote for you,” said an attorney who has worked in the community.
Barry counters that he has a unique experience, seeing the issues of the ward and how they are dealt with since he was child.
“I have love for this city and I understand the importance of maintaining this community and developing a strong middle class,” he said.
There will be early voting on April 21 at Malcolm X Elementary School. General voting is on April 28.