- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 18, 2012


Dub this the Year of the Marion Barry Watch.

D.C. voters are gearing up to hit the polls on several occasions this year, the first being the presidential primary in April.

But before that, they will become more familiar with Democrats trying to grab two seats on the D.C. Council.

One of those races will determine whether the inimitable Mr. Barry survives to be sworn in for the umpteenth time, while the other will determine who gets to warm the Ward 5 seat vacated by the disgraced Harry Thomas Jr.

The most interesting of the races is the one being waged in Ward 8 against Mr. Barry, who rode into Washington in the 1960s as a firebrand and rarely has run a haggard campaign because his charisma usually wins the day.

This election could be different, as Mr. Barry is clearly “in survival mode,” a longtime supporter said Wednesday.

Unlike all of the other elections since he won his first in 1971, Mr. Barry isn’t battling the white man, Jim Crow, voter apathy or even a Republican.

No, this time, Mr. Barry, 75, is in a war with an incumbent: himself.

See, Mr. Barry has been on the wrong side of several political and class skirmishes recently.

The one that stands out is a NIMBY issue.

Mr. Barry supported a 50-bed homeless shelter for women on prime Southeast real estate, while very vocal middle-class and working-class residents opposed the site but embraced the cause.

And who could reasonably argue against either of the voters’ stances? After all, there were at least a half-dozen other sites the city could have chosen in Southeast.

What’s astonishing here is that the fight in and of itself illustrates that the great Marion Barry — who would stand naked as a jaybird to battle on behalf of the least, the last and the lost — has now positioned himself in the midst of a class war.

To be sure, black folks stand on both sides. Thing is, they are the same blacks who, every time Mr. Barry asked, gave him another four years to deliver them from overwhelming violence, poor schools and poor schooling, economic underdevelopment and downright abandonment as it relates to the distribution not of wealth.

Indeed, while much of the power in city hall is held by four elected officials who live east of the Anacostia River — the mayor, D.C. Council chairman and the Ward 7 and Ward 8 council members — Ward 8 residents have begun asking, “Mr. Barry, what have you done for me lately?” Consider this too: It’s not that Mr. Barry hasn’t fought a good class-warfare fight before. It’s just that blacks rarely posed a serious threat to victory.

This year, they are staring him down.

So remember these Democrats’ names:

• Jacque Patterson, former chairman of the Ward 8 Democrats.

• Natalie Williams, who had Mr. Barry’s support to run the Ward 8 Dems but lost.

• Jauhar Abraham, whose credibility was ensnarled in an anti-crime contracting scandal.

Mr. Barry soon will turn 76, and there’s no doubt there will be many a tear shed around the city if he loses.

And you know why? Marion Barry is an educated civil-rights leader, former school board president, former mayor, council member and doyen of the black underclass, and he helped to breed the solid black middle class that now inhabits Washington (and nearby Prince George’s County as well).

To know they have turned on him must be very painful.

To know they have learned from him is of utmost importance, however.

Let the Barry Watch begin.

Deborah Simmons can be reached at [email protected]

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