A defiant D.C. Council Member Marion Barry told a packed Baptist church in Southeast Washington on Tuesday night that despite the decision of the City Council to censure him and strip him of his committee chairmanship, he doesn't plan to fade away.
"I have no intentions of going anywhere," said Barry, speaking to a crowd of several hundred who were there for his State of the Ward address, which he said had been scheduled long in advance.
"I want to fight for you, still. ... I want to uplift you, still. ... More importantly, I want to do all I can to put some money in your pockets," Barry said to applause. "They may take my committee chair. They can't take my dignity."
Barry's remarks were a departure from the subdued tone he exhibited earlier Tuesday, when he pleaded with Council members to spare him the latest in an infamous string of political embarrassments.
The Council also referred allegations of public corruption to the U.S. attorney's office for possible prosecution. Those allegations stem from an investigation by Washington lawyer Robert S. Bennett, who concluded that Barry took a cut of a $15,000 contract he awarded to his then-girlfriend, Donna Watts-Brighthaupt. Barry violated conflict-of-interest rules and impeded the investigation, the report said.
At the church, Barry looked more like a king before his subjects than a politician facing possible criminal investigation. As pastors laid hands on him and prayed, anointing him with oil and shouting of the power of God to heal the afflicted, the crowd of several hundred lavished praise on the man who they say has always supported the
young, old and downtrodden among them.
At one point in the night, Bishop C. Matthew Hudson asked everyone in the audience at Matthews Memorial Baptist Church who had gotten something from Barry--a job, a promotion--to stand up. At least three quarters of the crowd of several hundred rose to their feet.
"We love you, Marion!" shouted one man later on.
It's not that Barry can do no wrong in the eyes of his supporters. On the contrary, they say they recognize that he has stumbled repeatedly, but that only makes him more human, easier to relate to, easier to be salvaged by the Christian rhetoric of forgiveness that filled the sanctuary for hours.
To many supporters Tuesday night, Barry was something better than innocent: He was redeemed.
"The Bible says judge not lest you are prepared to be judged!" cried Hudson. "Our mayor has a sickness that all of us have--yours is just not public!"
Many in the audience agreed.
"Everybody in this world makes mistakes," said Jerome Brown, 36, a maintenance worker at a local church. "I'm pretty sure he's a good, spiritual person. ...If somebody else goes in the seat they might have their own issues."
"I still would vote for him," said Katrina Blakeney, 35. "No matter what he did, he was a good man. ...Everybody's entitled to mistakes."
Of course, his support does not stem simply from the compassion of his constituents. Barry--who was referred to throughout the night as "Mayor"--is also seen as having brought home the bacon over the years through efforts to find jobs for youths, assist the elderly and
promote upward mobility for underprivileged Ward 8 residents.
It's a record he sought to highlight in his remarks.
"When I came here some 45 years ago, Washington did not have a mayor, didn't have a city council, didn't have an elected school board, didn't have any voting rights except for president. But I got busy. Went to work," Barry said. "I'm telling you all this because you're not going read this in the Washington Post. You're not going read this in the Washington Times. ...My leadership transformed downtown... I don't care about the credit. I just want the results."
Throughout his speech, Barry also continually played on an us-versus-them theme, often blaming the woes of the ward, and his own troubles, on an unnamed "they" who he vowed to keep fighting.
"They may take my committee chair. They can't take my dignity," Barry said, riding a wave of applause. "They make take my committee chair, but they can't take away he solid, black middle class that I helped build. .....They can't take the Giant up the street from me where we got 200, 210 employees from Ward 8. ...They can't take my hard work.
They can't take my successes. They can't take the summer job program from me..."
"Look at the income of Ward 3, and the income of us over here--the gap is as wide as this church. That has to stop," Barry said. "We're not going to be disrespected in Ward 8. ...It reminds me of segregation. When I was brought up we used to get the last of everything. And so here in Ward 8, we get the last of everything. No more. No more. No
He went on to call for boarded up buildings to be revitalized, for ravaged roads to be repaved and for a "massive" new job training program.
"26,000 families, 75,000 people, are without adequate housing. Isn't that a shame?" he asked. "We tried to get Mayor Fenty to do something; he wouldn't do anything. We [aren't going to] wait on him. We're going try to do it ourselves, as much as we can. I'm gonna try to find ways in the budget to fund some of that."
The question now is whether Barry, in his diminished political capacity, can really bring home the bacon anymore.
-- Jonathan Mummolo