former DC mayor dead at 78
Divisive and flamboyant, maddening and beloved, Marion Barry outshone every politician in the 40-year history of District of Columbia self-rule. But for many, his legacy was not defined by the accomplishments and
failures of his four terms as mayor and long service on the DC Council.
Instead, Barry will be remembered for a single night in a downtown Washington hotel room and the grainy video that showed him lighting a crack pipe in the company of a much-younger woman. When Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents burst in, he referred to her with an expletive. She "set me up", Barry said.
Barry died Sunday at 78. His family said in statement that Barry died shortly after midnight at the United Medical Center, after having been released from Howard University Hospital on Saturday.
The year was 1990, and crack cocaine had exploded in the district, turning it into the nation's murder capital. In his third term, the man known as the 'Mayor for Life' became a symbol of a foundering city.
Federal authorities had been investigating him for years
for his alleged ties to drug
suspects, and while he denied using drugs, his late-night
partying was taking a toll on his job performance.
The arrest and subsequent conviction - a jury deadlocked on most counts, convicting him of a single count of drug possession - was a turning point for Barry.
Barry's six-month term in
federal prison was hardly the end of his political career. But it
forever changed how it was
perceived. To some, he was a pariah and an embarrassment. But to many district residents, particularly lower-income blacks, he was still a hero, someone unfairly persecuted for personal failures.
Back in office
Barry returned to the DC Council in 1992, representing the poorest of the city's eight wards. Two years later, he won his fourth and final term as mayor. The electorate was starkly divided along racial lines, and Barry advised those who had not supported his candidacy to "get over it".
Barry's triumph, though, was short-lived. In 1995, with the city flirting with bankruptcy from years of bloated, unaccountable government, much of it under Barry, Congress stripped him of much of his power and installed a financial control board. Barry held authority over little more than the city's parks, libraries and community access cable
TV station. He decided against seeking a fifth term.
In 2006, Barry was given three years of probation after pleading guilty to misdemeanour charges for failing to file tax returns from 1999 to 2004. As part of a plea bargain, he agreed to file future federal and local tax returns annually, a promise prosecutors later said he had failed to keep.
In 2010, he was censured by the council and stripped of his committee assignments for steering a government contract to a former girlfriend. The council censured him again in 2013 for accepting cash gifts from city contractors.
He suffered numerous health problems over the years. In addition to kidney failure, he survived prostate cancer, undergoing
surgery in 1995 and a follow-up procedure in 2000. In late 2011, he underwent minor surgery on his urinary tract. In early 2014, he spent several weeks in hospitals and a rehabilitation centre
battling infections and related complications.
In a statement yesterday, current Mayor Vincent C. Gray expressed deep sadness after learning about Barry's death. Gray spoke with Barry's wife, Cora Masters Barry, late Saturday and shared his sympathies with her. The couple was long estranged but never divorced.
Barry was married four times and is survived by his wife, Cora, and one son, Marion Christopher Barry.