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Barry Needs To Cut Himself Some Slack

By Courtland Milloy
Sunday, September 19, 2004; Page C01

Marion Barry was tired and needed to rest, but the people who dropped by his campaign headquarters Thursday to congratulate him and, invariably, to ask for his help didn't seem to notice. Or if they did notice, they pressed on with their requests anyway.

That included me. I'd come for an interview. And when Barry's voice became nearly inaudible during our conversation ("I'm just a little sleepy," he told me), I simply pushed my tape recorder closer.

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"The key to my success is not just providing services to my constituents," said Barry, who had just won the Ward 8 Democratic primary, which all but assures him of a seat on the D.C. Council. "I'm out there. I was campaigning nine, ten hours a day. We were in every precinct, every neighborhood I could think of. And the people were ecstatic to see me."

In retrospect, I should have canceled the talk and urged Barry to go home and get in bed. At the very least, I might have reminded him of a conversation we had in 1996, when he telephoned from a spiritual retreat at the Skinner Farm in Maryland.

Barry had burnt himself out doing the very thing he was boasting about now.

Back then, Barry had said: "I'd find myself adding 30 minutes to my schedule here, another 30 there, until I looked up one Sunday, and I had been on the go from 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. . . . I started doing it my way, trying to control everything, to fix everything and be on top of everything."

Barry is now 68. He has hypertension and diabetes and has been treated for prostate cancer. Those who love him ought to insist that he take better care of himself. Instead, many of his supporters and fans are treating him as if he were some ageless wonder, full of the vim and vigor of old.

Barry appears all too willing to perpetuate the myth -- sprinting along the sidewalk after casting his vote Tuesday, even though at times he hardly has the strength to rise from a chair.

During our interview last week, Barry could not resist answering his cell phone, which rang constantly. "It's reflex," he explained, bringing the telephone to his ear as if under some spell.

"Take his cell phone away," Linda Greene, Barry's campaign spokesman, told Darrell Poston, Barry's bodyguard.

"Gimme the phone," Poston said, reaching for it. Barry pulled the phone back to his chest.

"Hey, hey, gimme the phone," Poston said again.

"Hey, hey? Horses eat hay," Barry replied, holding tight.

Barry eventually handed over the phone. But he still held forth with whoever walked through the door.


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