- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 29, 2004

Former D.C. Mayor Marion Barry yesterday brought his campaign for the Ward 8 council seat to a community picnic in Southeast, where he was swarmed by children and parents seeking autographs and handshakes.

The reception demonstrated the folk-hero status enjoyed by Mr. Barry, 68, a Democrat. His fame alone might be enough to beat D.C. Council member Sandy Allen in the Sept. 14 primary election and advance his third political comeback in a decade, despite concerns about his faltering health and speculation that he is using drugs again.

“I got a lot of good ideas, a lot of vision and a lot of energy. I’m ready to roll,” Mr. Barry said as he worked the crowd at the seventh annual free picnic and school-supply giveaway sponsored by Martin Luther King Grocery & Carry Out in the 2400 block of Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue in Southeast.

Mr. Barry said he would not discuss his recovery from addiction, keeping within the tenets of the 12-step program Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous. He dismissed questions about his health, saying, “What does that mean? I do have a brain and a vision. … People in wheelchairs serve. Blind people serve.”

A prostate cancer survivor who has diabetes and high blood pressure, Mr. Barry appeared thin and walked with the labored gait of an elderly man. He wore his trademark straw plantation hat, a blue print shirt, khaki pants, sunglasses, snakeskin sandals and a gold Rolex watch.

“I got my summer beach outfit,” he said.

A man wearing a straw hat similar to Mr. Barry’s pushed through the crowd to shake the candidate’s hand.

“Glad you’re back,” he told Mr. Barry, who has made a career of political curtain calls.

However, many of the ward’s political heavyweights who backed Mr. Barry in the past, including the Rev. Willie F. Wilson of the Union Temple Baptist Church, have endorsed Mrs. Allen.

“I don’t know what [the voters’] feelings are about the former mayor,” said Mrs. Allen, 60, who is in her second term representing Ward 8. “My focus is making sure my base of support is in place. … There are several candidates in the race, and I’m really not worrying about [Mr. Barry’s] challenge.”

Mrs. Allen, who was Mr. Barry’s campaign manager when he won the Ward 8 seat in 1992, said this race was akin to a crusade.

“This is my home. This is my life. We are in the communities talking to people and getting their vote,” she said.

Mr. Barry’s first three terms as mayor ended with a 1990 crack cocaine arrest and six months in federal prison. He returned to win the Ward 8 council seat in 1992 and then the mayor’s office in 1994 for his fourth term. However, Congress in 1995 sapped most of the mayor’s powers by instituting a control board to run the city. Mr. Barry declined to run again in 1998.

Mr. Barry attempted a comeback in 2002 with a bid for an at-large council seat. He abandoned the race after U.S. Park Police found the candidate sitting in his Jaguar in a Southwest park and a search revealed traces of crack cocaine and marijuana. No charges were filed.

Still, many Ward 8 residents remain staunch supporters of Mr. Barry. They don’t believe or care about rumors that Mr. Barry is using drugs again, and they think he is healthy enough to do the $92,000-a-year job of council member.

“I would like to see him win it,” said Harold Watts, 49, a security guard at the Department of Labor who was working his part-time job yesterday, providing security at Campbell African Methodist Episcopal Church in the 2500 block of Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue in Southeast.

“He does a lot for the kids and the elderly people in this area,” he said. “This area needs some help, and he can do that.”

Carolyn Young, a 48-year-old homemaker living in one of the new duplexes in the Henson Ridge development, said Mr. Barry always helped the community, even when drugs apparently were a problem for him.

“He hurt himself. He didn’t hurt us,” she said.

Miss Young, who has struggled to raise her 13 children, said she didn’t believe the new drug rumors and discounted the health concerns.

“As long as his mind is functional,” she said.

Andrew Cho, the owner of the grocery store that sponsored the community picnic, said the race between Mrs. Allen and Mr. Barry was a fight for the hearts of residents.

“They still love Marion Barry, of course, but they also like what Sandy Allen is doing,” said Mr. Cho, whose customers steep him in local politics even though he doesn’t live in the ward. “It’s going to be a tight race.”

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