POLITICS

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

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Gray, Brown and Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr. are all under federal investigation - Gray and Brown for alleged campaign improprieties and Thomas for allegedly diverting more than $300,000 in city funds for personal use. Barry has cautioned against any rush to judgment and argued that the controversies swirling around district politics are largely media-driven.

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

"In America, you're innocent until proven guilty," Barry said.

Barry has also suggested that black officials are scrutinized more heavily than their white counterparts are, and he blamed three white councilmembers for deepening the racial divide by asking Thomas to resign.

If Barry is viewed as a pariah in some parts of the city, many of his constituents see him differently: as a champion of the underprivileged who used city government to put district residents back to work.

"He empowered African-Americans," said Vincent Hopkins, 48, an insurance salesman who lives in a gated community in Barry's district.

Former councilmember Sandy Allen was defeated by Barry in 2004, but worked on his 2008 re-election bid and is now his campaign manager.

"Marion is one of the greatest politicians that I have ever known," Allen said. Ward 8 voters have forgiven his many foibles, she said, because "they feel that he is one of them. ... He has not gotten so far above them that he does not understand their plight."

There is some discontent with Barry in Ward 8, but it has yet to coalesce around a single candidate. Several are challenging him in the April Democratic primary. Barry's opponents say the ward needs a councilmember who will bring more energy to the job.

"The same problems people had before he came to the city, they still have ... jobs, housing, the same problems," said Sandra Seegars, a longtime community activist who's running against Barry. "Ward 8 has not really improved."

Barry doesn't seem worried about his chances. And he enjoys needling his critics, including The Washington Post, which endorsed Barry's first three successful campaigns for mayor but wrote in 1994 that it wished it could have the third one back. The paper has extensively reported on his missteps.

"They can't touch me politically," Barry said of his critics. "The more they jump on me, the stronger I get."

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