- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 4, 2014

Mourners filed into the District’s city hall on Thursday to honor the late “mayor for life,” Marion Barry, praising him as a champion for youth, elderly, and black communities in the District.

“He helped out the young people and established these initiatives that push for jobs to keep young folks off the streets and to give them a start in life,” said Solangel Childs, 37, a D.C. Public Library employee, who got her first job through Mr. Barry’s summer youth employment program.

Mr. Barry, who served four terms as mayor in the District, and represented Ward 8 on the council, died on Nov. 23 at 78. His casket, draped in a West African kente cloth and covered with red roses, was delivered to the John A. Wilson Building at about 8 a.m. Among those in attendance were Mayor Vincent C. Gray; civil rights leader Jesse Jackson; Mr. Barry’s estranged wife, Cora Masters-Barry; and the late Mr. Barry’s son, Christopher.

The event was the first of three days of commemoration for Mr. Barry. A motorcade will carry the former mayor’s casket from city hall on Friday to the Temple of Praise church, where he frequently worshipped, and a memorial services will be held at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center on Saturday before a private burial at Congressional Cemetery.

Many of the mourners at the Wilson Building on Thursday said Mr. Barry had changed the lives of a generation by setting up employment programs for young people and housing for seniors.

“He was good to everybody, no matter who you were, and he gave the kids their first jobs — some kids their first paycheck they ever had,” said D’artois Davis, who has been living in the District for 69 years.

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Mr. Barry began his first term as mayor in 1979 and channeled resources to poor neighborhoods and offered government contracts to black businesses.

“I think he recognized that we are a part of this city, that the black community is as much a part of this city as anyone is,” said contractor Ronald McGowan, 60. “I think that no one has done that since then, no one did it before him. Marion decided that he was going to show that we could contribute to the community and be an active partner.”

But Mr. Barry’s reputation was tainted by a conviction for drug possession and a six-month stint in prison after police caught him on camera smoking crack cocaine in a hotel room.

“It’s a mixed legacy. It’s really a legacy for a lot of people of promises yet to be fulfilled, because he came in with such promise of being the person who was really going to create a government that was a model for the country and free of corruption and he got bogged down in all kinds of problems in the ‘80s and ended up with a control board in the ‘90s,” said Ken Cummins, who originated the Washington City Paper’s political gossip column, Loose Lips, and coined the term “mayor for life.”

“Yet he’ll be remembered for a long time as the spokesman for the people who feel left out in government, who are still waiting to get their seat at the table,” Mr. Cummins added.

Maryland native Frank Petty argued that Mr. Barry’s good deeds outweighed his personal challenges.

“I moved out of the city, but I used to tell people that I work with, through all of the things that went on in his life, I would say, ‘If I lived in the city, I would vote for him, too,’ because I knew what he was for,” Mr. Petty said. “Never mind his personal life. We don’t control anybody’s personal life. When you’re in government there’s a certain standard that you have to uphold, and he did that. He always did that.”

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