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Remarkable Victory Feels So Familiar

By Paul Schwartzman and Hamil R. Harris
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, September 15, 2004; Page A01

He stood before a crowd of his supporters in the heart of Southeast last night, his easy smile growing broader as he basked in thunderous applause.

For Marion Barry, it was another improbable victory in a political career that has defied expectations and dominated the District's civic life for more than a generation.

"There's a new Ward 8 a-comin'," Barry told supporters in his victory speech. (Marvin Joseph -- The Washington Post)

As he climbed out of his sport-utility vehicle, his supporters, who were assembled in front of his headquarters, spilled onto Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue. With a bodyguard forging a path, Barry made his way inside, where he hugged a crowd of campaign workers that included his former wife, Effi.

When he emerged a short time later, he beamed as his son, Christopher, introduced the winner in the Ward 8 Democratic primary as "our coach, our professor, our general and our councilman."

"This is a victory not only for Marion Barry but for God and the people of Ward 8," the 68-year-old former mayor told the crowd. "There's a new Ward 8 a-comin'."

His supporters roared.

"Resurrection!" shouted Desiree Walker, 44. "He's just like Jesus, and he's back, and now it's time for Ward 8 to be resurrected."

Bertha Evans, 65, a retired federal clerk, raised her arms toward the evening sky.

"Because of God," she exclaimed.

Referring to Barry's past troubles, Evans said: "We all have things in our lives we don't want people to know about. I believe the Lord has forgiven him, and we should, too."

Few politicians anywhere have shown more resilience than Marion Barry. He has faced down health problems, domestic problems and legal problems to once again win an election in the city where he has long been a popular and polarizing figure.

A civil rights leader in the 1960s, he was elected to the school board in the early 1970s, before winning a council seat. He served three consecutive terms as mayor, a reign tarnished by his arrest and subsequent conviction on a drug possession charge. After serving a six-month prison term, he came back, capturing the Ward 8 council seat in 1992. Two years later, he was back as mayor.

Barry has undergone surgery for prostate cancer. He has diabetes and high blood pressure. Two years ago, he set aside plans to seek office after U.S. Park Police said they found him with traces of marijuana and crack cocaine in his parked car at Buzzard Point -- an account he has challenged.

Nevertheless, his future has always seemed secure, at least in Ward 8. Yesterday, his long-standing ties to voters were obvious as he traveled between polling places, crisscrossing streets lined with dilapidated storefronts and modest homes.

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