- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 9, 2006

Sometimes I feel like I’m stuck in that recurring-nightmare movie “Groundhog Day.” Only in my version, every morning I wake up, I see myself standing before Marion Barry, the District’s premier politician, with my pen and pad in hand, scribbling wildly as he excuses himself yet again for the same-old personal misdeeds.

Yesterday was barely different.

Yet again, the now-frail former mayor, in all his brashness, skirts the worst sentence possible. This time he is “pleased” to receive probation instead of imprisonment for a negotiated misdemeanor plea of failing to pay federal and local income taxes in the tidy sum of a quarter-million dollars.

Happy birthday to Mr. Barry, who turned 70 on Monday.

Yet again, the current Ward 8 member of the D.C. Council slurs a string of “sorry” standards as he stands in front of the all-too-familiar federal courthouse backdrop.

For the umpteenth time, he slyly seeks “redemption” for his “addiction.” Predictably, he raises his “40 to 50 years of service to this community” as a deflecting shield.

Never mind that Hizzoner imposed taxes as a public official and then didn’t pay them. Or, that as a high-profile role model, he implored youths not to take the same drugs that have visibly wracked his body, his brain and his bank account.

Do as I say, not as I do. The mounting debt for such unaccountable logic is always more costly when the final bill comes way past due.

About the only new feature of the soundtrack played yesterday after Mr. Barry’s sentencing were the unfamiliar voices of another fresh crop of reporters. They have yet to be afflicted with the been-there-done-that Barry “disease.” Concededly jaded, I watched the “live” rerun on cable.

“Is this your last time at the courthouse?” someone shouted. Stay tuned. True to form, Mr. Barry said of his demons, “I’ve run them out of here, and they’re gone.” As usual, he is “being responsible and being responsive.” I don’t know how the People’s Prodigal Prince feels, but I’m among those who want to wake up from this redundant dream. Marion, please write yourself, and us, a new script.

Last month, at an entertaining and enlightening Ward 8 Democrats’ candidates’ forum, Mr. Barry creepy-crawled over to speak to me. (This after reports that he failed a court-ordered drug test.) I attempted another heartfelt admonishment. “Can you just behave yourself?” I asked, like some Sunday school teacher chastising a fidgety 7-year-old.

“You know that addiction is a rough thing,” he whispered, again evoking sympathy.

Indeed, but I don’t want to be walking in a daze behind your coffin any time soon, I offered for what I’m certain is another friendly warning that got tossed in the Anacostia River with countless others.

However, Mr. Barry’s history has taught me time and time again never to count out a hardheaded man with more lives than 10 cougars.

“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,” one supporter has told me.

Yes, but the likable Mr. Barry has had more than his share of support and bad-boy breaks.

At the press conference, he said he believes in giving folks a chance to redeem themselves “the first, the second, the third and the fourth time.” And, a fifth, a sixth, and so on, and so on? The Bible, Mr. Barry reminded the court, says “70 times seven.” Prosecutors, in turn, said he had been “recalcitrant.” Clearly, Mr. Barry’s handlers must make him understand that receiving probation is not like getting a pass to party. He had better take good care of this latest gift of grace.

It may be a blessing in disguise, after all, that Mr. Barry was put on three years of probation and that he must make restitution for the still-to-be-negotiated taxes he owes, all under the supervision of court officers.

Facing the prospect of unannounced and random drug tests may do more than keep him on the straight and narrow than the stern looks or words of a Sunday school teacher or frustrated friends.

“I’m very concerned that he understands that probation means probation and that drugs are no longer a part of his life,” a longtime supporter said yesterday.

Let’s not forget that tax evasion is no passing personal fancy either. Though we might not agree on the imbalanced tax structures of our government, or who benefits most from their collection, the failure to pay our tax bills presents dire consequences for all. Mr. Barry, more than anyone, knows the result and should be “embarrassed.”

Granted, he experienced financial and “physical” challenges, as his attorney Fred Cooke told U.S. Magistrate Deborah A. Robinson during his hearing yesterday. Granted, we all experience human frailties and failures, as Mr. Barry points out often. However, the hope is that we learn from our mistakes rather than repeat them relentlessly.

Still, the habitual question must be called again and again: When will Mr. Barry “get over it,” as he has instructed his detractors and critics to do countless times in the past? When will he take all these shenanigans seriously?

More importantly, when will he honor the love and care of his loyal supporters and come clean? How many times does Mr. Barry think he can stand before the crowd and the cameras, proclaim his Christianity, and beg for “forgiveness”?

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