A few months ago, some of Barry’s supporters held a type of intervention with the councilmember. At issue was Barry’s lack of involvement in Ward 8 politics.
“We felt like he had taken our support for granted,” says the Rev. R. Joyce Scott, president of the Ward 8 Democrats. The group’s message to Barry was, “We love you, but we’re concerned about the way you’ve handled the community the last four years, or the lack thereof,” says Scott. “We felt like there was a disconnect.”
Barry remembers the meeting differently. He says the main topic of concern was whether Barry was going to serve out the rest of his term should he win this next election. Last year, Barry told a few people, including Jacque Patterson, one of his challengers in next month’s primary, that he was only going to serve two years and then cede his seat to his son, Christopher Barry. Once that plan became public, Barry denied it, saying he’d only told the story as “bait” to figure out whom he could trust and who would run to the media.
At the moment, Barry says he intends to serve a full term. “I can’t predict what God will do,” Barry says. “I might not even be around, but I’m going to work as hard as I [can].”
No one ever got rich betting on Barry’s mortality. But this year, his campaign is shadowed anew by questions of just how long he’ll be there. The impolite truth is that it’s amazing that Barry has lived this long. The 76-year-old has a history of drug and alcohol abuse, has had diabetes and hypertension for two decades, and is running on someone else’s kidney. His diet is poor. When lunch was served at one forum, I saw Barry ignore a plate of turkey wraps and grab three cream cookies and a fruit punch juicebox instead. Barry says his diabetes is responsible for a sometimes “insatiable appetite” for sweets.
At his 76th birthday party, he nursed an individual-sized bottle of pink Sutter Home. He regularly drinks wine, despite a history of addiction. Barry says every addict’s recovery is unique, and an occasional glass of wine is good for his heart.
Then again, Barry has proven himself to be a guy who can take a licking—even a self-imposed one—and keep on ticking. A few months ago, on the Tuesday after the Columbus Day long weekend, I got a tip from someone who spotted Barry having trouble negotiating the drive-thru of a McDonald’s on the eastern side of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. The witness, who asked to remain anonymous, said Barry pulled into the fast food joint at about 6:30 a.m. The car almost hit the menu board. He backed up and almost hit the car behind him, then almost hit the drive-thru again, the witness said.
A cashier at the store verified the witness’ account. She said she asked Barry, “‘Anyone ever tell you look like Marion Barry?’ He was like, ‘Yeah, I am Marion Barry.’” The witness’s description of the make, model, and license plate of the SUV matched that of the vehicle that belongs to Barry’s girlfriend, Bellamy.
After picking up his order, the witness said, Barry pulled into the store’s parking lot. The witness said Barry and the woman he was with switched places, with the woman driving. The witness said the SUV weaved onto Route 50 before pulling over, at which point, the witness continued, Barry vomited on the side of the road. The witness said she called the police. When I called to check, Queen Anne’s County police said they had a record of a call about a reckless driver matching the time when the witness said she called. But the officer I spoke with, Sgt. John Meyers, said the vehicle had left the area by the time authorities responded.
Barry says that story is an “absolute lie.”
Mistaken identity? A subpar McMuffin? A case of a witness and a McDonald’s cashier who don’t know good driving when they see it? Who knows. But the most notable thing is that, later that day, Barry attended a press conference on preventing teen pregnancy and asked pointed questions of witnesses at two different council hearings. So much for being lethargic.
At his 76th birthday party earlier this month, Barry certainly looks fit. The shindig is held at Georgene’s, a former strip club on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE where Barry has been a regular for years. Barry sings karaoke, complains about the “very mean” press, and dances to Steve Miller’s “Fly Like an Eagle” with two women, including Bellamy. Besides members of Barry’s council and campaign staffs, there isn’t a huge turnout. Council Chairman Kwame Brown is the only elected official to show. Fortunately the rest of the crowd, folks who’d turned out for Tuesday night karaoke, all appear to be big Barry fans.
“I ain’t going to call him councilman, he’s the mayor,” says one karaoker. “He’ll always be the mayor.”
“Somebody asked me the other day, ‘How does it feel to be 76?’” Barry tells the crowd. “I said, ‘It feels like it does when I was 50.’ Except I can’t walk as fast, I can’t see as far, but my mind is as sharp as ever. My mind is as sharp as ever. Sharp as ever. My vision is as clear as ever, as big as ever.”
After his speech, Barry introduces Christopher. It feels like a potential endorsement. “He’s a Wilson Tiger, played football. He’s good at everything, he is as good…” Barry stumbles, “…at everything he does.”
“He’ll never be as good as you are,” a woman behind me yells.
Christopher’s looks favor his late mother, Effi Barry, and he seems take after her more low-key personality as well. Last year, after Christopher pled guilty to drug charges related to PCP procession, his grandmother, Polly Harris told the Post that “all of my grandson’s problems are laid right at the feet of his so-called father, Marion Barry...He was never a father. He was never home.”
I ask Christopher if he’s interested in a career in politics. “Perhaps,” he says. I then ask if he ever sees his father retiring. “Nah,” he says. “This is his life.”