“I’m popular,” Barry told a reporter as he walked through the crowd at his party at Georgena’s in Southeast Washington, formerly known as the Players Lounge.
But when Barry sits down, after the “Barry, Barry” chants subside, the former mayor is an increasingly lonely politician.
Sure, Barry is often joined by former council member Sandra Allen, his campaign manager, as well as his son, Christopher, and godson Dennis Harvey. But Barry is relying on an increasingly shallow pool of core supporters to help him fend off four other candidates in the Democratic primary.
Only one of Barry’s council colleagues, Chairman Kwame R. Brown (D), showed up at his party. Anthony J. Motley, one of Barry’s closest friends and a former campaign manager, now says he is undecided about whether he will vote for him in the April 3 primary.
And Natalie Williams, a former Barry spokeswoman who helped guide him through his most recent, rocky, four-year term, is running against him. Williams said she decided to run because she was convinced that Barry is no longer up to the job.
“I care about his age, his health and his overall well-being,” Williams said. “I said to him: ‘I want you to enjoy the rest of your life. You’ve done enough, and to continue to work when your heart is not in it, it’s a disservice to the community.’ . . . I’ve seen him slow down.”
But there will be no coasting into retirement for the former four-term mayor, who proudly notes that he has won 11 of his past 12 political campaigns, losing only a 1990 at-large council race while he awaited sentencing for a drug conviction.
As Christopher Barry said in a recent interview, politics is in his father’s blood and is “his life,” and it’s “not something he can put on and off like a coat.”
“I’m 76 years of age. I’ve had prostate cancer. I’ve had a kidney transplant. I’ve been a diabetic for 23 years, but the key is my mind,” Marion Barry said in a recent interview. “My mind is as sharp as ever. I’m wiser than ever.”
Indeed, for a good chunk of voters in Ward 8, life without Barry would be like trying to live without the 11th Street bridge.
“The people outside the perimeter don’t have no idea,” said Sandra Lindsay, a Barry supporter. “He’s a man, not infallible, but the ultimate politician.”
Barry is still favored over his opponents in the primary — Williams; former Ward 8 Democratic Party head Jacque D. Patterson; and advisory neighborhood commissioners Sandra Seegars and Darrell Gaston — although few expect him to match the 77 percent showing he had four years ago.
Despite well-chronicled health problems that leave him weak, Barry remains a formidable campaigner and debater, able to woo crowds with his affable personality and his discourses about what he did for African Americans as mayor in the 1980s.