Last week, a buddy of mine called me, and he was rather apoplectic about the latest details in the saga that is DC pol Marion Barry. He couldn't understand how Barry's political ward could re-elect him considering all of the problems surrounding him, and he wanted to know what I thought about Barry (especially in light of his recent arrest for stalking his ex-girlfriend, charges which I believe have been dropped).
Barry was once a real reformist politician (he began on the DC School board, then City Council, and in 1979 became mayor) with a solid vision of what Washington, DC could be, and he started off quite strong.
By 2009, Barry had become merely a shadow of his past self. Who can forget the video of Barry smoking crack with that woman who was not his wife? Who can forget that Barry served time for those aforementioned drug offenses? Who can forget that as soon as he was done serving time that he was elected back to the City Council? Who can forget that Barry, to the shock of the nation, was re-elected mayor? Who can forget that Barry evaded his taxes, at least twice? And yet, Barry was re-elected as a member of the City Council, with solid support from the people of his ward once again.
Ward 8 is perhaps the most challenged and the least wealthy ward in the city. Maybe the people of Ward 8 see a little of themselves, or their loved ones, in Barry. Barry seems to have been embraced by his constituents both for his past political successes and his attempts at redemption following his personal failings.
What I see is a man who should have abandoned politics after serving time. The level of shame and ridicule that was brought to DC with his political resurrection was incredible. The reputation of the city is marred, yet he remains.
I don't think I will ever truly understand why Barry continues to garner support from the folks of Ward 8. Maybe it's just old fashioned politics and political patronage. Yet change is coming in the form of new residents. How long will Barry's reign last once the demographics of his ward reach the tipping point in favor of the newcomers?