Learning from Marion Barry

DC politician Marion Barry died yesterday at the age of 78. He had served four terms as mayor, three consecutively between the years 1979 and 1991 and then again from 1995 to 1999. From 2005 until his death, he was a DC City Council member, a position that he had also held from 1993 to 1995.

Immediately after the news of Barry’s death, there was a great outpouring of grief, in DC and all over the country. And I’m surprised by the glorified remembrance, for two reasons: the first is that he obviously became fairly corrupt over the course of his political career. The other is his really problematic history with women.

First off, though, let me deal with Barry and drugs. As most people know, Barry was the focus of a video-taped FBI sting in early 1990, which is why he didn’t run for his fourth term as mayor at that time. Until reading his obituaries in the Washington Post and New York Times, I thought that’s why he had gone to prison (for six months spanning 1991-1992). But apparently the jury was hung on that and several other charges, and he was instead convicted on a separate charge of cocaine possession.

I don’t care whatsoever that the man used cocaine and crack, or whatever else. I don’t care that he did it while mayor, or even if he did lines or took tokes before heading off to his office in the morning. Granted, doing so probably wouldn’t be the brightest thing in the world, but some mornings a cup of coffee just doesn’t cut it. It’s not like he was operating heavy machinery. So whatever. As an adult human being, Mr. Barry should have been able to get high however he liked.

What is actually relevant is how he used his political office, and it seems like it got worse over time. Barry sounds like a pretty awesome person when he was younger – he was a civil rights activist, the first chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, started a jobs program for young unemployed black men in DC, and entered politics advocating for black people, the poor, and DC’s right to govern itself. But during his first terms as mayor, he was accused of political patronage – giving out government jobs to those who supported him. In 1983, his ex-wife was convicted of embezzling funds from the antipoverty organization they had founded, and after her release from prison, he found her a city job. In 2010, he was censured by the council for steering a city contract to a “sometimes girlfriend.” In 2013, he was fined and stripped of a committee chair for illegally accepting gifts from contractors.

Regarding Barry and the many women he was involved with, he was married four times and seems to have cheated frequently on at least his last three wives. The Washington Post said that at the time of his 1990 arrest, “The public had known of his womanizing for years […].” (Side note: how is “womanizing” still a term being used?) The FBI sting was the result of the married Barry meeting up with a woman – whom he fondled on tape – at a hotel room. The cocaine possession charge he was actually convicted of was based on the testimony of a different woman he was doing coke with in a different hotel room in 1989. In 1991, he reflected on his behavior, telling a local DC magazine that “Womanizing had become an integral part of my lifestyle.” Ten years later, he accepted a plea deal of probation and community service and later paid $35,000 in civil suit damages for allegedly shoving and then exposing himself to a female janitor at BWI airport in 2000. In 2008, he threw his employee/girlfriend(?) out of his Denver hotel room during the Democratic National Convention for not blowing him. Though the charges were later dropped, in 2009 he was arrested and charged with stalking the same woman, at the time his ex-girlfriend, and the same one he would later improperly steer a city contract towards, resulting in censure by the city council.

These are the things I could dig up fairly quickly online; I’m sure there’s much more. The point is, this is all fairly well known. And yet, progressives are tripping over themselves to talk about how great Barry was, even if they are mostly just focusing on his early career.

Just imagine what he could have done if he had continued his work as an organizer, the politicians he could have worked over. Perhaps the power wouldn’t have gone to his head, and he wouldn’t have been trying to fuck every woman in sight.

Instead, he went inside and got swallowed up.

UPDATE, December 3, 2014: Regarding progressives tripping over themselves, here is an interesting article highlighting Barry’s support for cooperatives, which briefly states that “Barry succumbed to a lifestyle that included drug abuse and behavior unbecoming of a leader of the people.”

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