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City Hall, and Step On It

"I love you, man," the man says, throwing his arms around Barry's neck.

Barry is bobbing as he makes his way to the stage, which is actually someone's balcony overlooking the parking lot. The music is loud and Barry is swaying with the kids. He glances to see what's hissing on the grill. Weiners and burgers.


Former Washington mayor Marion Barry, campaigning in Ward 8 for votes, is running for a D.C. Council seat in Tuesday's Democratic primary. The winner is likely to sail to victory in November. (Ricky Carioti -- The Washington Post)

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"I love you, man," the inebriated man says again, keeping in lockstep with Barry.

"Love you too," Barry finally says.

Barry is on the stage-balcony. One of the singers hands him the microphone. Earth Wind & Fire's "Devotion" is playing. It was hot a long time ago, when Chocolate City was humming. When Marion Barry was the best known piece of chocolate.

"I been down, but I been up," Barry says, becoming a part of the video. "When you fall down, do like me, fall on your back. That way you can see up. If you can see up, you can get up. Now, I'm No. 4 on the ballot, got a good candidate in me. Good people around me. Thank you. God bless."

There's sweat on his neck and a bounce in his step as he strolls through the smoke of the grills into the parking lot, heading for the SUV.

A woman wants to offer her sentiments about Barry.

"When we had him in office, we got respect. I was raised right here in Anacostia," says Debra Harris, 40. Barry is standing inches away, listening to her endorsement.

"Debra," he says. "You cute. You married?"

"Yeah."

"Where your husband at?"

"Right here," she says, grabbing the arm of a man who has come up behind her.

"Oh," says Barry. "Hi, husband."

He's moving on now, having traveled the length of the parking lot, to get to the SUV.

He's rolling past Matthews Memorial Baptist Church. The Rev. John Henry Kearney preached there for years. "I spoke there not long ago," Barry begins. "Rev. Kearney said, 'I don't want you to run, Marion, but if you do, I'll run with you.' The place went wild. Four weeks later, he died. Now that's a powerful story."

Minutes later the former mayor has nodded off. But at Minnesota and 16th he snaps awake. "I'm going to double the schools' athletic budgets when I get in office," he says. "You know something? Baltimore does a great job with their school athletics."

A woman is walking up to the SUV.

"How you doing, baby?" Barry says.

"I finished a school training program and you sent me a certificate," she says, beaming. "I'll never forget it. Thank you."

"See," he says, rolling away, "it's the little things. People don't forget."

Here comes a girl with a tattoo on her arm. Cameo Ooten is 29, a student at U-D.C. She's right in Barry's face. "I didn't get pregnant. Didn't have no kids. Didn't do all that wild stuff. But I can't get free food or a free apartment. What you gonna do for me?"

Barry starts to raise his hand, to answer.

"You don't have to answer now," Ooten says. "Just think about it."

Minutes later, A.D. Marshall, the advance man who has been riding in the caravan, comes walking back to the SUV. He's found a block party, fire trucks blocking the street off. "Oh, I done told them about you, Marion. They waitin.' "

"Let's go," Barry says.

Folks are coming up to him the moment he alights. A lady says he helped her get her nephew out of jail and on the right track. Another woman says he helped with a job. Another woman wants a picture. Barry is kissing cheeks, hugging children, walking like a wounded athlete.

"They try to hit him with everything they can," says Abdullah Muhammad, leaning on a fence, watching. "Call him a crack addict. All kinds of stuff. Well, there ain't no angels out here."

It's hot and the music is blaring. The politician doesn't wilt, but the advance man does. "My blood pressure," Marshall says, walking his wide body to a seat. A firefighter rushes to the truck and comes back with an oxygen mask.

Barry is leaning on a fence, chatting. A woman walks up to him, joining the cacophony.

"What's your name? Where you live? You married? I need your vote now."

Someone tugs him into the street where they're dancing the Electric Slide, one of those dances so popular a long time ago, when Marion Barry was bewitching the populace of his Soufeast, his Chocolate City.

Doing the time. Raising an arm, snapping his fingers. Grinning the country grin.


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