WASHINGTON — Friends, foes and the famous spent Sunday remembering Marion
Barry, the D.C. councilman and former mayor who died Sunday at 78.
Barry had been admitted Thursday to Howard University Hospital because he was not feeling well,
according to D.C. council spokeswoman LaToya Foster.
Foster says that Barry was discharged at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, and told her he
was in good spirits. He then went home, watched some TV and then left the
house to get something to eat. When he was returning home, he collapsed while
getting out of his vehicle.
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An ambulance was called and his wife Cora went with him to the United Medical
Center around 12:15 a.m. He was pronounced dead at 1:46 a.m. The
Associated Press reports Barry died naturally of heart problems caused by high
blood pressure, and his kidney disease was a contributing factor, according to
the D.C. medical examiner. Barry had a kidney transplant in 2009, suffered
from diabetes and was also a prostate cancer survivor.
Mayor-elect Muriel Bowser spoke at a press conference where she said she is
saddened and shocked at the loss of Barry. “He was an inspiration, fighter
and champion for the people of Ward 8 and he left a strong legacy.”
Mayor Vincent Gray ordered flags at all D.C. buildings to be flown at half-
staff in Barry’s honor. “Marion was not just a colleague but
also was a friend with whom I shared many fond moments about governing the
city,” said Gray in a statement. “He loved the District of Columbia and so
many Washingtonians loved him.”
Former City Paper columnist Ken Cummins coined the phrase “Mayor for Life,”
and says that Barry hated it at first, but came to love it, eventually using
it as the title of his autobiography, published in June.
Barry was first elected mayor in 1978 after building a political career as an
official of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and a local
activist in Washington. He was re-elected in 1982 and 1986.
He made national headlines in 1990 when he was convicted and sent to prison
for 6 months after getting caught in a sting smoking crack with a girlfriend
in a D.C. hotel room. His career has been fraught with financial scandal and
tainted by his drug abuse problems early on. But observers say his
contributions to the city will be remembered as substantial and varied for
years to come.
“There was the good Marion Barry and the bad Marion Barry, both in equal
measure,” recalled longtime congressional correspondent and WTOP reporter Dave
McConnell on air Sunday morning. “But I think as a larger-than-life figure
Barry will be remembered as bringing bringing power and focus to to the
Mayor’s office,” taking over in 1979 and heading the District’s redevelopment.
“He knew what he wanted to do and would do it by any means necessary.”
“He continued to get back up,” Cummins said, “and I think that was one of the
sources of his longevity and strength.” He adds, “If you look back, there is
no one who has dominated local politic s and government for the last 50
Washington Post columnist and WTOP contributor Clinton Yates says that Barry’s
legacy will be “a little bit better off than he thought it might be. But at
the same time there’s gonna be a lot of people who won’t turn their eyes to
what he did wrong.”
Yates says Barry’s durability stemmed from people’s ability to identify with
“All of us … don’t live as easily as some people choose to live. And he was
a guy who did not mind sharing that with the public.”
Barry was married four times and is survived by one son, Marion Christopher
UMC, the hospital where Barry died, mentioned in a statement Barry’s “long
history of social and political engagement in the
District and across the nation,” adding that Barry “maintained a strong and
resolve to keep United Medical Center open for the people east of the
“Without his involvement and continued work on our behalf we
are certain that this hospital would not be where it is today. Mr. Barry
taught us all so much about fighting for justice; fighting for the
people; fighting for the poor — it now becomes our responsibility to keep his
Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker III says that he, like so many,
got his first job through Barry’s summer jobs program, “and he would remind me
every time he saw me. …
“He was committed to making a difference in people’s lives – a visionary, who
saw the potential of the city and believed that everyone deserved a fair
opportunity to fulfill their potential.”
At Barry’s church, Union Temple Baptist Church, native Washingtonian Keith
Johnson told WTOP that he was particularly impressed by Barry’s minority set-
aside program, which he says “opened up the door for a lot of people who were
locked out of a lot of opportunities from here.” The program sets aside a
percentage of local government contracts each year to minority-owned
businesses, and Johnson says “There was a lot of folks who didn’t like the
program and the attacked it a lot. But under Barry that was a big program
helped benefit a lot of people.”
The tributes to Barry flowed in from local and national political figures
Councilman Jack Evans had the office next door to Barry, and said that it
was “like having an historical figure as well as a colleague right within your
“Marion really looked out for people who were down and out and he will really
be remembered for that.”
“His work on behalf of the Democratic Party has been second to none,” Ward 8
president Natalie Williams said early Sunday in a statement. “He
definitely has set the bar for all Democrats to work together on behalf of the
residents of the District of Columbia, and especially those who he has fought
for over the years here in Ward 8.”
“Mr. Barry will forever be an icon in D.C. for his deep commitment to social
justice and bold political leadership, as well as his personal generosity and
compassion,” said councilman-elect Charles Allen in a statement Sunday.
Sharon Pratt, who beat Barry in a 1990 election for mayor, told WTOP on
Sunday, “He represented a new voice in the city — a community of activists.”
She added that he sparked passions along “a racial divide, an economic divide
in the city.
“He was quite a political tour de force.”
She added that she didn’t think Barry ever got over her beating him —
whenever they went to lunch after that election, she had to pick up the check.
“Marion was a
political genius, community outreach expert, champion of the overlooked and
the left-out while emphasizing the inclusion of everyone,” said fellow
councilwoman Anita Bond.
“He was a warm
compassionate human being and proud public servant who was the only D.C.
politician with coattails.”
“As a longtime resident of Washington, D.C. I can attest to the fact that
former Mayor Barry was a consequential figure in the city that I call home.
His vision, and his hard work helped to transform Washington into the world-
class city it now is,” Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement.
President Barack Obama expressed his sadness over Barry’s death Sunday, also
lauding him for advancing the cause of civil rights as a
one-time leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.
“Michelle and I were saddened to hear of the passing of Marion Barry. Marion
was born a sharecropper’s son, came of age during the Civil Rights movement,
and became a fixture in D.C. politics for decades. …
“Through a storied, at
times tumultuous life and career, he earned the love and respect of countless
Washingtonians, and Michelle and I extend our deepest sympathies to Marion’s
family, friends and constituents today.”
The Rev. Jesse Jackson tweeted that Barry was “a great coalition politician”
who will “remain high on the honor roll of freedom
Barry released his autobiography, “Mayor For Life: The Incredible Story of
Marion Barry, Jr.,” in June. A segment on Barry aired on Oprah’s “Where Are
They Now” program Sunday.
And back at Union Temple, Malika Henderson said, “What can you say — he’s the
mayor for life even in death.”
Artists were putting the finishing touches on a tribute to Barry
on Sunday at 14th Street and Randolph Street NW.
Later in the day, a crowd gathered for a vigil organized in Ward 8.
Participants marched, some with drums in hand, in Barry’s honor.
Marion Barry, a
great coalition politician. He will remain high on the honor roll of freedom
fighters. RIP pic.twitter.com/iC3nbhnVOa
— Rev Jesse Jackson Sr (@RevJJackson) November 23,
I don't have
words that can express the full width and breadth of Marion's influence on
our city plus so many individuals including me
— Tommy Wells
(@TommyWells) November 23,
Henderson (@HendersonKaya) November