- The Washington Times - Monday, June 7, 2004

Yes, some still reverently call him “Tha May-ah.” There’s no question that the “People’s Prodigal Prince” parts the waters east of the Anacostia River. There’s also no doubt that former D.C. Mayor Marion S. Barry Jr. will rise like Lazarus from the grave in what is undeniably Barryland.

But for whom will “hizzoner“‘s proposed political rebirth sound a death knell? Most likely him.

About a year ago, I spent several hours with Mr. Barry in the intensive care unit of Howard University Hospital when he thought he was about to meet his Maker.

Watching him last summer trying to talk and cough through an oxygen mask, I realized that the larger-than life figure whom I had covered and often chided for decades suddenly appeared all too vulnerable.

“I was scared to death because I thought I was going to die,” he said while he was being treated for pneumonia, among other diseases. “Do you know what it’s like not to be able to breathe?”

Yes, but we all know that the District’s “mayor for life” would sooner choke to death than live without the limelight. All it appears he needs is an overdose of attention to survive. Even at death’s door in the No. 1 penthouse hospital suite, Mr. Barry was apparently contemplating a comeback.

When I asked about his plans, he responded: “I’m looking for a house in Ward 8 so I can keep my options open. I love Ward 8.”

Ward 8 is undeniably Barryland, but “I hope those options don’t include running for office,” I said.

“Why not?” he said, bristling.

“You’ve got to be kidding. Look at you,” I said. “You don’t need it, and we don’t need it either.”

I learned a long time ago never to count “M.B.,” as his closest confidants call him, down and out.

“Wait till they see this 175-pound [expletive deleted] come back,” he said.

Now 68, Mr. Barry will announce within the next two weeks whether he will seek election to the Ward 8 D.C. Council seat now held by Sandy Allen, his political protege. Trust me, judging from the telephone conversation I had with him last week, it will take another Vista International Hotel drug sting or another ICU-imposed stay to keep him from running.

No one — not a single one of his trusted friends, former wives, physicians or foes — has been able to convince Mr. Barry otherwise.

However, it’s not a matter of whether he can win but whether he should run.

A Barry campaign and victory will be unhealthy not only for the District but even more so for Mr. Barry. As much as he puts a pleasant spin on it, Mr. Barry is really in no shape to take on the task. He needs to pay full time and attention to his failing health.

As much as his voice is lacking in city politics today, he should not pick up the flickering flame himself but pass the torch to someone younger, fresher and healthier to revive his power-to-the-people mission.

“The big issue is whether I can be effective serving somewhere else, doing some other things,” Mr. Barry said in an interview after he had decided not to run for an at-large council seat two years ago.

All those who really care about Mr. Barry, especially the countless folks he made millionaires — like BET executive Bob Johnson — should hold a fund-raiser and establish a permanent teaching chair for the politician’s politician at a historically black college or university so he will have a guaranteed paying job training people-oriented public servants.

“Life is full of challenges, I’ve learned to turn stumbling blocks into steppingstones,” Mr. Barry said during another interview.

But Mr. Barry’s missteps deflect the spotlight from the issues of poor policing, poor schooling, poor job placement and poor housing that too many District residents feel are not being addressed by the current council or mayor.

His renewed political presence will only serve to open wounds that have yet to heal.

Some are surmising that Mr. Barry is running only to seek revenge against the carpet-bagging “Bow-Tie Bandit,” Mayor Anthony A. Williams.

Mr. Barry makes no secret about his “frustrations” with the lack of public programs and progress of his unpopular successor, particularly for the Barry-bound folks who have not yet been displaced by the unchecked gentrification supported by the Williams administration.

“Look how bad these schools are now,” he said last week.

Mind you, they weren’t much better when Mr. Barry was large and in charge. That minor fact is lost on those who relate to the former mayor as a symbol of hope and comfort.

Anyone who has attended any public function lately in certain sections of the District has seen folks who scream and shout and knock themselves out rushing to touch the hem of Mr. Barry’s garments. At a recent funeral, for example, “Tha May-ah” was cheered while the mayor was booed.

Make no mistake, without Tony Williams’ total lack of concern for Barryland, there would be no need for the People’s Prodigal Prince to return. Still, someone less volatile must stand in Mr. Barry’s stead.

“I know the District better than anybody else and I know what’s best for this city,” Mr. Barry said once. “I don’t want to fight those kinds of fights that don’t get you anywhere.”

Except a hospital bed? If he really meant that statement, then the aging, ailing Mr. Barry must give up this dead-end fight for the mythical May-ah’s revival.

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