- - Thursday, December 4, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

In recalling the long and storied political career of late D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, nearly every obituary and news account has noted that he owed his political fortunes to the District’s poorest constituents. The implication is that he was the beneficiary of blind loyalty from those too unsophisticated to grasp the gravity of his personal troubles.

What isn’t captured is just how extensive the appreciation, admiration and love for Mayor Barry was. There are thousands of accomplished people — with multiple degrees and titled positions — who are indebted to him for his leadership, vision, intrepidness and perseverance. We are well aware of the problems he had, but are not willing to drown his incredible public achievements in the murk of his personal failures.

Mayor Barry stood up for the civil rights and civil liberties of District residents since the 1960s. His economic policies bolstered the middle class and ensured support for the poor. He insisted that our children are due a good education, safety, health and opportunity.

Political observers would be foolish to write off Mayor Barry’s electoral successes as the function of an unenlightened electorate. They should instead examine the qualities and achievements that won irrevocable loyalty from the populace. And they should pay attention to what can happen when politicians exploit a popular figure’s failures and scandalize him without regard to public sentiment.

We won’t remember him for scandal. We’ll remember him as a public servant who loved his people, promised to make life better for them and delivered.



ROSA WHITAKER

Former U.S. trade representative for Africa

Washington

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