POLITICS

Marion Barry profile: Council staple says he has more clout than as mayor

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Barry and Gray have known each other for three decades and worked together frequently. And Barry said he considers himself a mentor of sorts to Brown.

Once dubbed D.C.'s 'Mayor for Life,' Barry is getting ready to run for a third term representing Ward 8. (Photo: DDOT)

Asked about his clout, Barry said: "I've got more now than I've had since 1995, before the control board came in."

Barry was referring to his fourth and final term as mayor, when Congress seized control of city government following years of poor fiscal stewardship, much of it under Barry. He stepped down after that term ended but staged a comeback in 2004, winning the Ward 8 council seat. He was re-elected in 2008.

Councilmember Jack Evans said Barry "has more opportunity to make his voice heard" with Gray in office. At least so far, that hasn't translated into notable legislative accomplishments. While Evans considers Barry a friend and agrees with him on some issues, Evans said much of the legislation Barry introduces "is very costly, and as a consequence there's no way to pay for most of it, and it does not get passed for that reason alone."

Barry is quick to offer advice to Gray and Brown.

"He's somebody who's got a lot of experience," Gray said. "If he's going to talk to me about something, I'm going to listen, but at the end of the day, I'm going to make my own decisions."

Brown is more blunt about the limitations of Barry's influence. He has occasionally distanced himself from Barry's public statements and feuded with him on the council dais.

"Everyone wants to automatically - because I'm young and black - assume that I'm just Marion Barry," Brown said.

Last week, Brown sent Barry a letter warning him that he may have violated the council's code of conduct by using government resources to issue a news release criticizing Natalie Williams, one of his opponents.

Barry said he understands the political considerations that factor into city leaders' treatment of him. Barry served six months in prison for cocaine possession following his 1990 arrest, and controversy continues to dog him.

In 2006, he was sentenced to probation for failing to file tax returns for several years, and he still hasn't paid all the debts and penalties he owes. Last month, the IRS filed a lien against him for $3,200 in unpaid 2010 taxes. Barry makes $125,000 a year as a councilmember, and unlike some of his colleagues, he has no outside income.

In 2009, he was arrested for stalking a former girlfriend. The charges were dropped but drew attention to a $15,000 city contract he had steered to the woman. The following year, the council - then led by Gray - censured Barry and stripped him of his committee assignments. City ethics officials ultimately concluded Barry hadn't broken any rules.

Barry's time in exile lasted less than a year. After Brown became council chairman in January 2011, he tapped Barry as chairman of the Committee on Aging and Community Affairs. Barry now sits on five other committees - as many as any councilmember.

Meanwhile, current city leaders have faced ethical questions of their own.

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