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Sometimes toes get stepped on when Barry takes a stand
Marion Barry doesn’t quit — ever.
Nor is the former D.C. mayor about to take back remarks that rubbed some people the wrong way as he forges ahead with a mission to protect ex-offenders from discrimination in the nation’s capital.
In the past two weeks, Mr. Barry — a Democrat who represents Ward 8 on the D.C. Council — openly criticized his fellow city lawmakers, dispatched a letter that calls out a key business leader and appeared on the Rev. Al Sharpton’s radio show in his push for a law that prohibits employers in the nation’s capital from discriminating against job applicants solely for having a criminal record.
Mr. Barry, who says he will try to pass his measure at the council’s final legislative session on Tuesday, is making his case at the end of a tumultuous year — one that forced the legendary politician to play both offense and defense when it came to discrimination.
In April, he had to apologize to the Asian community after he used the spotlight during a resounding victory in his ward’s Democratic primary election to say “we got to do something about these Asians coming in and opening up businesses and dirty shops.” He also said “we need African-American businesspeople to be able to take their places, too.”
“That was not discrimination,” Mr. Barry said in a recent interview at his city hall office. “I mean, I could have said it a little bit better, but these places are dirty and nasty and people shouldn’t eating at them. How do you call it discrimination?”
Instead, the former mayor sees discrimination in the plight of ex-offenders in the District, which sees 2,500 felons being released into the city’s communities each year, according to a legislative report on Mr. Barry’s bill. The report also noted that more than 90 percent of all inmates in the city are black.
Mr. Barry, who openly touts his political abilities and track record as a four-time mayor, failed to enlist enough of his colleagues to pass his anti-discrimination measure earlier this month amid misgiving from the business community and controversy over how it got through the Committee on Aging and Community Affairs.
But that hasn’t stopped Mr. Barry from going down swinging, a reflection of the populist vigor that drove him to renown during the civil rights movement and to a startling comeback as mayor despite his 1990 arrest for crack cocaine possession in an FBI sting.
“As we all know, historically Mr. Barry has been a defender for the underserved and those whose voices are not heard,” said Albrette “Gigi” Ransom, an advisory neighborhood commissioner in Ward 5 who supports “the spirit” of multiple ex-offender bills before the council.
Through multiple channels, Mr. Barry has accused his colleagues this month of failing to address what is keeping ex-offenders from finding work. He brazenly denounced council Chairman Phil Mendelson, a Democrat, at a council breakfast and in a series of messages on Twitter, after Mr. Mendelson said he could not support the ex-mayor’s anti-discrimination bill.
The 76-year-old Mr. Barry —or at least one of his aides — is a frequent user of the social media site. In a string of online messages, Mr. Barry said he is “appalled” that Mr. Mendelson and six other council members “voted to continue discrimination against returning citizens this week.”
He used more traditional means to blast Barbara Lang, the president and CEO of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce whose organization called the Barry bill “unworkable,” by sending off a Dec. 7 memo to his colleagues that questioned her dedication — as a black woman — to fighting discrimination.
The chamber said Mr. Barry’s letter “was well beneath the stature of the position he holds.”
© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
About the Author
Tom Howell Jr. covers politics for The Washington Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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