It is time to retire Marion Barry as the poster child for all that’s wrong with D.C. government.
It will be hard to do because the misdeeds of the mayor-for-life are so seared in the public conscience. Who, for example, can forget the scene — infamously captured on FBI videotape — of Hizzoner taking two long drags from a crack pipe in a room at the Vista Hotel on Jan. 18, 1990? Or, moments later when FBI agents stormed the room, Barry muttering over and over, “Bitch set me up. . . . I shouldn’t have come up here. . . . Goddamn bitch,” a reference to the woman who lured him to the hotel sting?
Barry’s conduct — as outrageous as it was and later compounded by his tax and traffic troubles — pales in comparison to the offenses of the city’s elected officials that federal authorities are currently scrutinizing. No question: Barry damaged the city, but the biggest victim of his drugging and womanizing was himself. The tragedy of Marion Barry is that his weaknesses so compromised what could have been his greatness. Perhaps I’m naive, but I believe Barry started out truly wanting to do good by the people who elected him.
Not so with the current crop of officials who find themselves in legal hot water.
Consider how Harry B. Thomas Jr., from the moment he took his seat on the D.C. Council, started scheming to steal city funds to fund his lavish lifestyle. The money he stole was intended to help the needy children he pretended to care about, which only heightens the outrage.
Then there is Kwame R. Brown, the just-resigned chairman of the council, whose interest in government seemed more to do with what kind of ride it could give him than what he could accomplish for the people who elected him.
So step aside, Marion Barry. Harry Thomas, with his motorcycle and Audi, and Kwame Brown, with his boat and the fully loaded Navigator, symbolize the sense of entitlement that is at the core of government corruption. They are the new badges of D.C. dishonor but, given the ferocity of federal investigators — whose inquiry includes the deplorable efforts to tamper with the last mayoral campaign — they too could soon be replaced.