- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 12, 2006

An enraged media colleague called the other day with a halfhearted joke:

“Marion Barry is the gift to journalists that just keeps on giving.”

Indeed, where would lots of D.C. folks be who have made their livelihoods, directly or indirectly, because of the never-ending antics and assistance of the District’s premier politician, Marion Barry?

Too bad that Mr. Barry, forever the People’s Prodigal Prince, cannot help himself as much as he has helped others.

Or, as it appears, that he simply doesn’t want to accept the loving help that is always available to him — support, by the way, that he should honor by acting like he has some good sense.

Even as he spoke of how frustrated he was with Mr. Barry, one longtime friend of his said: “He knows he can come to me for help. If he doesn’t, then I have to say he doesn’t want it.”

Even as the 69-year-old “mayor-for-life” left Howard University Hospital after yet another round of complications arising from hypertension and diabetes Wednesday, his die-hard supporters shouted: “We love you, Marion Barry.”

Even as Mr. Barry was awaiting sentencing for the tax-evasion conviction that lead to a routine court-ordered drug test that may have revealed cocaine use, his core constituents were preparing for a rally to be held at the federal courthouse next week.

Posters have been placed throughout the remnant pockets of Chocolate City seeking participants to criticize government agents who are “out to get” Mr. Barry again.

The supporters, led in part by community activist Anise Jenkins of Stand Up for Democracy in D.C. Coalition, contend that the government is harassing Mr. Barry because he stood up to Major League Baseball in the raw stadium deal that the Ward 8 Democratic council member called “the biggest stickup since the Great Train Robbery.”

“We are trying to do two things: One is to give support to someone who has stood up for those who are usually shut out of the system, and also to continue to the struggle for democracy for the residents of Washington, D.C.,” Ms. Jenkins said.

She noted that Mr. Barry is one of the founders of the Free D.C. Movement.

A few WOL-AM (1450) listeners were unwilling to believe the stories about Mr. Barry’s possible relapse. Those folks, who like most were not surprised by the news, said “MB” was doing an effective job on the council. None supported the calls for him to step down.

One Barry supporter said: “It is a testament to the intractable nature of drug abuse, that someone as gifted and talented as Marion, who has given so much to this city and still has so much to give, cannot overcome his addiction.”

Once, Mr. Barry’s closest friends took the tough-love approach of making sure that his bills and living expenses were paid but would not give him money in hand for fear of what he might buy with the cash. “And it worked,” one said.

While folks were happy that Mr. Barry’s re-election to the city council meant he finally would get enough years of service to qualify for a city pension, they also feared what he would do with a $90,000-plus salary.

People whom Mr. Barry represents in a part of the city that has been ravaged by drugs have fared much better in the recovery process with far fewer resources. Still, they provide him with much empathy.

And the only people who should decide his political fate are the people he represents, the voters of Ward 8. They elected him; only they can throw him out.

“This is an elected official elected by the people of Ward 8, and nobody should interfere with his continued service except for those who elected him,” Ms. Jenkins said.

About 16 years after Mr. Barry was caught on tape smoking crack cocaine in the Vista International Hotel in the District on Jan. 18, 1990, we still find ourselves asking: Why does Mr. Barry repeatedly behave so badly? Why is he such an embarrassment to some but a hero to others?

The answers lie, not so surprisingly, in your personal history and perspective.

Marion Barry continues to mine that deep racial wound in the dismissed, the disenfranchised and the downtrodden. No matter his personal problems, he represents a bold black man who stands up to the Man.

Only, he doesn’t stand so straight or tall any longer.

But how else can one explain how the brazen Mr. Barry could face a mob of reporters and cameras and act as if he still carried the keys to the city?

Boldly refusing to answer questions about the latest reports of drug abuse, the defiant Mr. Barry told the panting press: “I didn’t wish these things on me. I find it very disturbing that a person can’t have simple medical procedures without you all sensationalizing it. People suffer every day. I empathize with them.”

Well, he should for the problems he still refuses to acknowledge are of his own making.

Marion Barry is a very sick man with multiple disorders. You just have to look at his frail, limping body to see that it is failing him. With the news of his latest fall from grace, it appears that his mind and his spirit are breaking down, too.

“My spirits are high,” Mr. Barry insists. (That might not be all that’s high, others suspect.)

“God has blessed me with a good spirit and a good brain,” Mr. Barry boasts.

Yes, but would that the People’s Prodigal Prince finally put those amazing blessings and skills to better personal use so that he could continue to keep providing fodder for embarrassing jokes.

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