Campaigning on a February Saturday, Barry finds his element. Of course, it doesn’t involve seeking votes for a measly council seat. Today, the city’s Democratic Party activists have gathered at University of the District of Columbia to pick delegates for this summer’s Democratic National Convention.
There are a several dozen people outside the school auditorium when Barry shows up. He immediately becomes the star attraction, slowly making his way through the crowd with his 22-year-old godson Dennis Harvey, who keeps a hand on Barry’s back. His girlfriend, Sandy Bellamy, is also here, and Barry gets snippy when she wonders off. “Now you stay with me,” Barry orders Bellamy, a bankruptcy lawyer in Prince George’s County.
Well-wishers and old friends greet Barry at every turn: “You’re my friend, Mr. Barry!” “I voted for you! You got me my first job and I voted for you!” “Can I introduce my daughter to you?”
I’m shadowing Barry for this article. At this point, he says he’s still undecided about whether he’ll cooperate with me (eventually he’ll say no, saying Washington City Paper has done him wrong too many times.) But when the praise from old friends gets to be a little repetitive and I stop paying attention, Barry notices. “You get that, Alan?”
Other reporters are there this time, too. Some try to provoke a reaction out of Barry by asking about the sordid mess of the last convention, when Barry’s then-girlfriend, according to a recording made by her husband, said he tossed her out of their hotel room after she refused to fellate him.
The Washington Post’s Tim Craig asks Barry if he’ll be taking a “female friend” to the convention in Charlotte if he wins.
“Man, go to hell,” Barry snaps back.
A group of Barry’s supporters cry foul, saying Craig is asking about “personal business.” A supporter, somewhat off-message, jokes that Barry is going to take 15 women. Barry tells Craig to go to hell a few more times before threatening to cut off future access if he “keeps that shit up.”
“Quote me on that,” Barry says.
There’s something about Barry that turns reporters into little boys who poke bears with sticks at the zoo. Later on, I can’t help myself, and join Craig in trying to wave over political consultant Chuck Thies, who has just written a scathing column about what an embarrassment it would be if Barry were a delegate. Barry ignores Thies, then scolds me and Craig for trying to cause trouble. “Are you crazy?” Barry says. “Don’t call him over here, dammit.”
Eventually, Barry makes his way inside the auditorium, where he gives a full-throated defense of his right to be a delegate.
“Many have asked me what do I have to do to convince people to vote for me,” Barry tells the crowd. “You got the wrong question; it’s what have I not done for the people of Washington and the people of this nation.” He easily wins a delegate spot.
As we’re leaving, Barry—who actually finished second to a well-organized young hopeful backed by the gay community—explains his win. “I’m a very brilliant politician,” Barry tells me. “I’m not being egotistical about it. It’s a statement of facts. Like Friday says, ‘Just the facts, ma’am.’ You remember that show? You’re too young for that.”
Barry’s star power isn’t limited to the group of hardcore Democrats who spend their Saturday morning electing convention delegates. Word broke late last year that HBO had bought the rights to Dream City, Tom Sherwood and Harry Jaffe’s book on Barry’s role in D.C.’s history. Spike Lee is said to be directing, with Eddie Murphy in the title role.
Closer to home, Barry’s fame—or his notoriety—make him a draw in even the most incongruous corners. Consider his reception a few years ago at a party featuring some of the country’s media elites. The event was a party celebrating Matt Labash’s book of profiles, Fly Fishing with Darth Vader, which features a mostly positive turn on Barry circa 2009. The party was held at the Palisades home of Tucker Carlson, the editor of the Daily Caller. Luminaries on hand included conservative talk show host Laura Ingraham and the late Christopher Hitchens. According to Labash, Barry was a hit among the normally jaded crowd.
After showing up 90 minutes late, Barry gave an impromptu speech and later started signing copies of Labash’s book for a grateful crowd, the author recalls. “They were practically speaking in tongues for him,” emails Labash. “To say he was warmly received would be a gross understatement. He immediately became the star attraction. I almost felt bad for crashing his party.”
Barry says what’s interesting about social events involving mostly well-to-do white people is how often the women want to hang out with him and have their picture taken. “If God gave it to you,” Barry says, laughing, “use it.”
Barry the star is clearly more fun than Barry the councilmember.