Barry is in a hurry. The Ward 8 Democrats straw poll last Saturday is almost over, and he has yet to vote. After filling out a form, Barry goes to pick up a ballot—but there aren’t any. “How are they out of ballots?” Barry snaps at Anita Bonds, his longtime aide who also heads the city’s Democratic Party. More ballots are found. Wearing a green campaign T-shirt inside out because the event’s rules forbid campaign T-shirts in the voting area, Barry heads to the ballot box.
A supporter, Democratic Party activist Daniel Wedderburn, tries to stop Barry to say hello. “Wait a minute,” Barry says, looking annoyed. He’s looked sour most of the afternoon, which involved a debate with challengers Patterson, Sandra Seegars, Natalie Williams, and Darrell Gaston. At one point, Barry got into an argument with the moderator, ABC7’s Sam Ford, over the format. Ford wanted Barry to ask one of his challengers a question. Barry refused. “I’m not going to waste my time,” he said. Instead, he delivered a self-praising soliloquy.
Ballot safely deposited, Barry now has time for Wedderburn, who hands him a check. Next up, a man asks Barry for some money. Barry reaches into his pocket and pulls out a dollar.
“Gimme five,” the man says, over and over.
Barry hands over two more dollar bills before shuffling off. The man yells, “Who voted for you, Marion Barry?”
When I ask the man his name, he yells at me. Barry tells me the man is homeless. He says he gets similar requests for money at least 10 times a day. Sometimes he gives, he says, other times he doesn’t. “Sometimes I think I’m contributing to the problem.”
Even with the man’s help, Barry still doesn’t get the 60 percent needed to win his home ward’s official Democratic endorsement. But his 40 percent or so still make him the winner. It’s hard to glean too much from a tiny-turnout straw poll. Maybe it means Barry won’t be winning the actual race with the high margin he expects.
All the same, Barry’s opponents have gotten little attention. And there’s no glut of money flowing into rival campaigns from local elites. So what if the TV cameras stay away from Barry’s rallies, or the new insiders of city politics wish he’d stay away from national conventions and out-of-state lobbying trips? It doesn’t matter. Like any good politician, Barry still has his base, and he doesn’t need your official endorsement.
Back at his birthday party, Barry was heading home at around 10 p.m. As I followed him out the door, his godson Harvey handed me a note. He told me that a woman told him to give it “to the white reporter.” The note read: “This is the DC ya’ll trying to get rid of. But we ain’t goin nowhere. Barry 2012!”