- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 26, 2012

D.C. Council member Marion Barry struck an unyielding tone in defending himself Thursday against criticism over his contentious remarks about Asian-owned shops and the number of Filipino nurses in the District — comments that prompted one man to say he had rooted for the mayor-for-life for years, only to have his heart broken.

Witnesses at a hearing before the Committee on Aging and Community Affairs openly confronted Mr. Barry, Ward 8 Democrat and committee chairman, about the remarks in which Mr. Barry talked about Filipino nurses. He said the city should “grow our own nurses” rather than “scrounging in our community clinics and other kinds of places, having to hire people from somewhere else.”

The comments might have passed unnoticed, but they came weeks after another controversy over remarks he made mere moments after a landslide victory in the Democratic primary election on April 3. Mr. Barry said “dirty shops” run by Asians in Ward 8 “ought to go” and be replaced by stores with black owners.

Rosetta Lai, executive director of the Asian American LEAD, decried Mr. Barry’s “disenfranchising and race-baiting statements” on Thursday, while the District’s nonvoting member of Congress said Mr. Barry should “target issues, not race.” The Philippines’ ambassador to the United States called the comment about nurses “deplorable.”

Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown, a Democrat, sent Mr. Barry a letter on Wednesday to address the issue.

“It is critical that we choose words carefully in talking about our hardworking civil servants and District residents,” Mr. Brown said in the letter, which does not amount to a formal reprimand. “Unfortunately, such comments, taken out of context or not, are divisive and reflect poorly on your distinguished record, as well as that of the Council as an institution.”

Mr. Barry, whose committee includes oversight of the Office on Asian and Pacific Islander Affairs, said he has been misunderstood in his attempts to bring business owners and jobs to his predominately black ward east of the Anacostia River. From the dais, he repeatedly chided a “divisive” media for fanning the flames of controversy.

“My fight is for jobs, jobs, jobs,” he said, noting that his constituents suffer from one of the highest unemployment rates in the country. “I represent a ward that needs someone to fight for jobs. We welcome each and every kind of business into Ward 8, regardless of your ethnic grouping.”

One witness evoked the detention of Japanese-Americans in the 1940s and the Los Angeles riots of the early 1990s, which hit hard the Koreatown section of the city.

Mr. Barry’s comments “add a new chapter to this long and painful history of bigotry against Asian Americans,” D.C.-based choreographer Dana Tai Soon Burgess said.

Mr. Barry leaned on his record as a civil rights leader and a four-term D.C. mayor. He said his comments were taken out of context and that his critics did not consider his desire — above all else — to find jobs for the city’s poorest residents.

“Do you know of my great works?” Mr. Barry asked Mr. Burgess at one point.

But witnesses like David Chung, chairman of the Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander Affairs, said Mr. Barry’s prior efforts made his comments all the more befuddling.

“My father is actually one of those dirty store owners you were referring to,” Mr. Chung said, explaining how his father turned around a store on Minnesota Avenue and he, personally, had been a “fan” of Mr. Barry‘s. “When you made those statements, you broke my heart.”

Yet Mr. Barry did not offer an apology or directly address the comments he made on Monday at a budget hearing for the University of the District of Columbia.

“In fact, it is so bad, that if you go to the hospital now, you’ll find a number of immigrants who are nurses, particularly from the Philippines,” Mr. Barry said in remarks captured on videotape by WTTG-TV (Channel 5). “And no offense, but let’s grow our own teachers, let’s grow our own nurses, and so that we don’t have to go scrounging in our community clinics and other kinds of places, having to hire people from somewhere else.”

Yet even after the day’s controversy, Mr. Barry continued to beat the drum at a hearing upstairs in the John A. Wilson Building. He told the Committee on Small and Local Business Development that he disapproved of the firm that has been picked to renovate an elementary school in Ward 8.

“Not only is it not a District-based company, it’s a white company based outside of the District,” Mr. Barry said. “That shows how backward we are.”

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