Ward 8 D.C. Councilman Marion Barry said Thursday that he was not trying to insult the city's Asian community during remarks at a campaign event this week.
“We got to do something about these Asians coming in and opening up businesses and dirty shops,” Barry said in remarks on Tuesday night first reported by WRC-TV. “They ought to go. I’m going to say that right now. But we need African-American businesspeople to be able to take their places, too.”
"I'm not ever going to condemn a group of people," Barry told reporters gathered in his Wilson Building office Thursday. "My history is complete. It's an excellent history with the Asian community."
Barry said his criticisms of Asian businesses in his Southeast Washington ward were rooted in what he perceives as disengagement in the community by those companies.
"I'm not going to allow a group of people to exploit people in Ward 8," Barry said.
He said he wants Asian businesses to operate in the area but he wants them to "come right."
Susan Au Allen, the president of the U.S. Pan Asian American Chamber of Commerce, said Barry’s comments concerned her.
“It’s regrettably inappropriate. I’m hoping he misspoke,” Allen said in an interview with The Washington Examiner. “We should be keeping our focus on how to make life better for everybody.”
Allen, who was a member of the city’s Minority Business Opportunity Commission while Barry was mayor, said Asians had sensed opportunity in Ward 8 when they chose to open their businesses.
“The Asian businesses are there because they see a place where there’s a need. They went in there to meet the demand,” Allen said. “They’re there to serve the needs of the residents.”
Roger Campos, the president and CEO of the Washington-based Minority Business Roundtable, said Barry’s comments were disrespectful to minorities beyond the city’s Asian-American community.
“That is totally insensitive. It’s kind of interesting because Asians and Hispanics are fueling the economy in business growth, and we ought to be inclusive of all minority groups, not just one,” Campos said. “He’s got one insensitive focus, and that’s on African-Americans solely and no other groups.”
Barry didn’t exactly have his fellow D.C. Council members lining up to support him.
“I strongly disagree with the recent remarks made about Asian American business owners in the District,” council Chairman Kwame Brown said in news release. “Statements like that are divisive, destructive, and have absolutely no place in our city.”
Ward 6 Councilman Tommy Wells took to Twitter to react.
“My colleague’s remarks about Asian businesses last night were deplorable,” Wells posted. “We are a great city, and we are a diverse city.”
Barry, meanwhile, blamed journalists for taking his remarks out of context.
"The media ought to apologize," Barry said. "I want an apology from you."