- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 11, 2006

D.C. Council member Marion Barry yesterday downplayed concerns about his health while citing legal advice in refusing to discuss whether he has tested positive for cocaine.

“My spirits are high,” the former mayor said upon his release from Howard University Hospital, where he received treatment for diabetes and hypertension. “God has blessed me with a good spirit and a good brain.”

Mr. Barry, Ward 8 Democrat, declined to comment on a report yesterday in The Washington Post that said he had tested positive for cocaine during a drug test after his guilty plea on federal tax charges in October.

Mr. Barry, 69, failed to pay taxes on the bulk of at least $534,000 that he earned between 1999 and 2004, according to federal prosecutors. He will be sentenced Feb. 8. Defendants in federal court are routinely tested for drugs as a condition for release.

A positive drug test could hurt Mr. Barry’s chances to avoid imprisonment. He faces a maximum 18-month sentence on the tax charges.

Prosecutors said they will have no comment on other potential charges until after next month’s hearing.

The city charter does not require him to surrender his council seat if he is imprisoned because the tax charges are misdemeanors — not felonies, the Associated Press reported.

Mr. Barry served six months in prison in 1991 for a misdemeanor after he was caught smoking crack cocaine.

Yesterday, his physician, Dr. Robert H. Williams, said Mr. Barry had been hospitalized for hypertension and diabetes.

Dr. Williams said he had no knowledge about any illegal substances in Mr. Barry that could have worsened his medical condition. “I know nothing about that,” he said.

“He’s improved,” Dr. Williams said, referring to Mr. Barry’s hypertension and diabetes. “I truly expect him to be back at work.”

Mr. Barry said he “absolutely” would return to work today at the D.C. Council, which has no scheduled public hearings.

His attorney, Frederick D. Cooke Jr., declined to comment on how a positive drug could impact Mr. Barry’s sentencing.

“There’s not much we can say,” he said. “We’re better off addressing any question that the judge or others might have in the court.”

Leaders in the Southeast neighborhoods that Mr. Barry represents say the council member is on solid political ground despite his court troubles.

“In Ward 8, he’s going to be just fine,” said Sandra Seegars, who ran against Mr. Barry for the Ward 8 seat in 2004. “People are going to say, ‘Well, there they go picking on him again, and he’s only doing it to himself.’”

“If he ran today, he would win,” Miss Seegars said.

Absalom Jordan, a neighborhood advisory member in Ward 8, said he’s not sure whether the accusations against Mr. Barry are true. “I’m really skeptical at this point,” he said.

Mr. Barry remained popular as he left Howard University Hospital, where several people shouted words of support. “We love you, Marion Barry,” one man yelled.

Mr. Barry receives $92,605 a year in his council post.

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