Marion Barry leaves medical rehab facility, pledges to serve out D.C. council term


D.C. Council member Marion Barry, center, arrives for a news conference Wednesday at MedStar National Rehabilitation Hospital in Washington. Barry talked about his recent health issues. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

D.C. Council member Marion Barry left an inpatient rehabilitation facility Wednesday after spending much of 2014 being treated for infections that he said “knocked me for a loop.”

”It really hit hard,” Barry (D-Ward 8) said of the recent maladies, including a blood infection, that have put him in and out of hospital beds since January. He was released from his two-week stay at MedStar National Rehabilitation Hospital a day before his 78th birthday.

The former four-term mayor appeared frail and required assistance getting into and out of a wheelchair during an afternoon news conference, which drew a throng of local reporters. But he spoke in a strong voice, if at a deliberate pace, for 20 minutes about his health and his political future.

He said he will return to work but did not give a date when he would be ready to resume his duties at the John A. Wilson Building. Since fall, Barry has been a scarce presence at council meetings, raising concerns among political watchers over whether he could close out his third term as the Ward 8 council member.

“I intend to serve out my full term,” he said, knocking down rumors that he was in grave condition when he was admitted to MedStar Washington Hospital Center for eight days last month after his infections flared.

His illness was “serious enough, but it wasn’t as serious as some people wanted to make it out,” Barry said, saying his “political enemies” had exaggerated his condition. “I was never in any grave, life-threatening, about-to-die kind of situation.”

Still, on Wednesday, Barry made rare mention of his own mortality, and while he has historically taken an indifferent view toward doctors’ orders, he said he was now going to put his health “at the top of the agenda.”

“I’m not going to be here forever, but while I’m going to be, here I want to be healthy,” he said.

Barry said his 2009 kidney transplant, which requires him to take immune-system suppressants, made him particularly vulnerable.

“The blood infection is something I haven’t had before,” he said. “I was weak. . . . It took about 10 days [at Howard University Hospital] to clear it up.”

He said he will continue to have outpatient physical therapy in the coming weeks to regain his strength before going back to work. Barry said he can climb the stairs, albeit with difficulty.

Robert D. Bunning, an orthopedic specialist who treated Barry at the rehabilitation center, said that Barry’s infections have cleared and that his other conditions — which include prostate cancer, diabetes and having a transplanted kidney — remain “under control.”

”You’re a fairly complex person,” he told Barry. “Both medically and otherwise.”

As for politics, Barry sought to assure his more than 70,000 constituents that he was still working on their behalf, even from his hospital beds.

Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) who spent hours at Barry’s bedside after he was admitted to Washington Hospital Center last month, said that Barry made phone call after phone call to friends and political allies.

“There’s nothing wrong with my voice and my telephone,” Barry said Wednesday. “People understand my health comes first, and the constituency in Ward 8 understands that.”

He also spoke in support of the marijuana decriminalization bill that passed a final council vote Tuesday, praising the bill’s introducer, Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), for bringing it to a vote. Wells is among those challenging Gray for the mayoralty, but Barry wouldn’t discuss the election.

“I’m talking about my health, and I’m not talking about the mayor’s race,” he said after WJLA-TV reporter Sam Ford asked his thoughts. “I’ll talk about that at the time I want to talk about it.”

Mike DeBonis covers local politics and government for The Washington Post. He also writes a blog and a political analysis column that runs on Fridays.
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