Marion Barry: 'I'm doing God's work'

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Local,DC,Alan Blinder

D.C.'s 'mayor for life' isn't fazed by latest controversy

Marion Barry says he isn't a political survivor. Through the convictions, a bundle of insensitive remarks, the D.C. Council's censure of him, a prison term and a 1977 shooting, Barry has remained the capital's most prolific -- and often derided -- voice.

But the Ward 8 councilman says he isn't a survivor. Instead, he describes himself as "one of the most successful elected officials in America."

Bouncebacks
Marion Barry has been an enduring figure in District politics for decades.
1978: Elected D.C. mayor; wins third term in 1986
January 1990: Videotaped smoking crack cocaine; charged with 14 counts, including perjury and cocaine possession
June 1990: Says he won't run for re-election in 1990
August 1990: Convicted of cocaine possession
October 1990: Sentenced to six months in prison
November 1990: Loses bid for council seat
1994: Wins fourth term as mayor of Washington
2002: Abandons run for council seat after police said they found traces of drugs in his car
2004: Elected as Ward 8 councilman
2005: Pleads guilty to federal tax charges; sentenced to probation in 2006
2008: Wins re-election as Ward 8 councilman
February 2009: Has kidney transplant
July 2009: Charged with stalking an ex-girlfriend; charges dropped days later
2010: Censured by D.C. Council for his role in directing a contract to his then-girlfriend
Tuesday: Defeats four opponents in Democratic primary; makes insensitive comments about Asian business owners at victory party
Thursday: Apologizes for remarks

"I'm doing God's work," Barry said in a Good Friday interview with The Washington Examiner. "I have made public service my ministry. God gave me a great brain, courage, charisma, vision and the kinds of things that make leaders."

And for decades, a sufficient number of Washingtonians have agreed enough to vault him into power and keep him there. He has won 11 of the 12 elections he has entered, and he captured more than 70 percent of the vote in the past two Democratic primaries in which he was a candidate.

Ward 1 Councilman Jim Graham said Barry has been successful because of how much he is loved in his Southeast Washington ward, the District's poorest.

"I think that deep connection he has with this city and other people has carried him along. And people really care about him," Graham said. "He's become a very emotional person for a lot of people."

His most recent turn in the national spotlight -- which came last week after Barry said the city "has got to do something about these Asians coming in" -- didn't daunt him. He said the barrage of criticism, his initial defense and his sudden about-face didn't make Thursday, the day with the most scrutiny of his comments, a difficult moment.

"It wasn't challenging to me," Barry said. "I've had far more challenging days. On the scale of challenges, that's probably, maybe a two."

He said the firestorm didn't compare to the one he faced in 1990 after federal authorities charged him with 14 counts, including perjury and cocaine possession, after a sting operation in which Barry was videotaped smoking crack cocaine.

"The biggest challenge I've overcome is the FBI setting me up," Barry said. "People in Washington understood what they were trying to do."

But the obstacles for Barry haven't merely been political or legal. His health has been fragile for years, a status made clear by a 2009 kidney transplant.

"The fact that I've been here 76 years is in itself almost a miracle," Barry said. Still, the man once deemed "mayor for life" said he has no plans to retire.

"I'm a big thinker. I'm bright," Barry said. "I'm probably one of the most courageous, committed, get-things-done people ... I'm always fighting."

Examiner Staff Writer Liz Farmer contributed to this report.

ablinder@washingtonexaminer.com

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