I admit, I could and should have said it differently.But the facts are still very present in our daily lives here.— Marion S. Barry, Jr. (@marionbarryjr) April 5, 2012
UPDATE, 4:40 P.M: Faced with a torrent of criticism from his colleagues and other city residents, Marion Barry apologized Thursday afternoon for his Election Day suggestion that Asian business owners in his ward “ought to go.”
Barry said via his Twitter account that he is “very sorry for offending the Asian American community” with an “admittedly bad choice of words” but remains concerned about the conditions of some restaurants in Ward 8.
“I admit, I could and should have said it differently. But the facts are still very present in our daily lives here,” he tweeted. “We are tired of sub-standard treatment, tired of being kept [at] arms length distance, tired of the lack of community engagement.”
Barry said in a telephone interview that the apology was heartfelt: “It is as solid as Marion Barry can make it, and believe it, because I have a history of not doing anything to purposely disparage any group of people.”
ORIGINAL POST: Marion Barry is mostly refusing to back down from remarks Tuesday that Asian business owners in his ward “ought to go.”
Barry made the comments Tuesday night, at a party celebrating his landslide victory in the Democratic primary race for the D.C. Council seat he’s held since 2005.
WRC-TVcameras caught the remarks: “We’ve got to do something about these Asians coming in, opening up businesses, those dirty shops. They ought to go, I’ll just say that right now, you know. But we need African-American businesspeople to be able to take their places, too.”
Since then, outrage has mounted.
One Facebook page appeared Wednesday, demanding that Barry apologize to the Asian community. By 1 p.m., it had more than 72 “likes.” One of his D.C. Council colleagues, Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), took to Twitter late Wednesday to decry the remarks as “deplorable.” Five suburban Maryland lawmakers of Asian descent — Democratic delegates Sam Arora, Kumar Barve, Susan Lee, Aruna Miller and Kris Valderrama — also called on Barry to apologize.
“At best, Mr. Barry’s attack on Asian Americans is deeply troubling, and at worst it is race baiting,” they said in a statement.
Barry isn’t apologizing. Rather, he said, in an interview, he suggested his critics “get to know Marion Barry and his stellar record on civil rights.”
”I’ve spent the last 50 years of my life fighting for justice and equality of all people,” he said. “Those five people don’t know Marion Barry at all. They know my name; they don’t know my record.”
That, he noted, includes establishing a sister city relationship with Beijing, helping to erect the Chinatown Friendship Archway and establishing the city Office of Asian-Pacific Islander Affairs during his four terms as mayor.
But Barry renewed his critique of Asian-owned businesses: “Let me make it clear, I’m not castigating any group of people. I’m not doing anything except trying to have a renaissance of our community and get some respect. A number of these restaurants serve high caloric food, bad food, et cetera, but the more important thing, they don’t participate in the community. . . . That’s what I object to, I don’t care who it is. “
Asked why he singled out Asians in his remarks, Barry said, “Because that’s reality. Who owns these little restaurants? Who owns them? You know, Asians. . .Ninety percent of all the small restaurants in Ward 8, at least.” It is difficult to verify that claim.
He added, “We’re spending our money there, and we demand respect. We demand they participate in community affairs. We demand they give jobs to Ward 8 people regardless of their cultural situation. That’s as American as apple pie.”
Barry also tweeted Thursday:
WE can do a better job.I do NOT disparage the Asian community, but the fact is there r some bizs that can do better! twitter.com/marionbarryjr/…— Marion S. Barry, Jr. (@marionbarryjr) April 5, 2012
He attached photos of the facade and interior of the dilapidated facade of a Congress Heights carry-out and added, “Funny how folk expect us to sit down, shut up and expect lower standards than what they enjoy in their communities.”
A worker at the restaurant, the China Inn Deli, said its owners were not immediately available to comment. It is not clear whether the business is Asian-owned.
One prominent Korean entrepreneur criticized Barry for lumping all Asian business owners together, but said he understood the root of his concerns with “dirty shops.”
”He shouldn’t have said Asians,” said Gary Cha, who owns the Yes! Organic grocery chain. But he added that “any of those people running a dirty store that have an adverse impact on the community should go. And sometimes I am ashamed some of the Asian business owners don’t spend the time to keep the stores in a respectful manner.”
He added, “I do go around and say, look, if you clean your store, your business will probably go up by 65 percent, no-brainer. I’ve probably said that a thousand times to people, but it doesn’t work. ... In that sense I am with [Barry], but just like saying things about African-Americans — not all African-Americans do certain things.”
Cha — who said relations between Asian businesses and the black residents they serve are “a sensitive issue” — has opened an east-of-the-Anacostia store on Pennsylvania Avenue SE, in Ward 7, but has no locations in Ward 8. He is a past president of the Korean-American Grocers Association, which lobbies on behalf of Asian small-business owners.
Like many of the city’s Asian leaders, Cha fondly recalls steps Barry took as mayor to involve them in the city government. He also noted Barry’s advancing age — he’s 76 — in saying, “I think we should just let it go.”
”I’m sure a lot of people will disagree with my view, but that’s what makes this country such a great place to live and work,” Cha said. “You can disagree with people and still be friends, and I totally disagree with him, 100 percent, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to be my enemy or I am his enemy.”
UPDATE, 2:35 P.M.: Top District leaders have responded to Barry’s comments in statements this afternoon.
Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) said he is “deeply disappointed” by the remarks: “There is no room in this wonderfully diverse city for comments that disparage anyone on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, disability or sexual orientation. Our energies are better spent focused on building everyone up rather than tearing anyone down.”
Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown (D) said he “strongly disgree[d]” with the remarks: “Statements like that are divisive, destructive, and have absolutely no place in our city. The District’s character is enriched by the wonderful diversity present throughout our communities.”