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Amid Rumors, Queries, Barry Soldiers On

Comeback Bid Draws Support, Skepticism

By Yolanda Woodlee and Monte Reel
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, August 9, 2004; Page A01

First thing in the morning, commuters stepped off their buses and trudged toward the Anacostia Metro station. A thin man in a straw hat intercepted them, a politician angling for votes.

"You live in Ward 8? You 18?"

Barry, vying for the Ward 8 council seat in the Sept. 14 Democratic primary, speaks at last month's candidates forum. (Bill O'leary -- The Washington Post)

An Aug. 9 profile of Marion Barry incorrectly described his service on the D.C. Council. Barry served as an at-large member, not a Ward 8 representative, before becoming mayor. He was elected to the council from Ward 8 before his return to the mayor's office.

_____The Barry Legacy_____
Under Barry, Promise Unfulfilled
Barry Reviews His Term
A Turbulent Era That Defined D.C. Comes to an End
Mayor Says He Won't Seek Another Term
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Agent Says Supervisors Backed Barry Sting
FBI, Police Planned Barry Sting
Barry Arrested on Cocaine Charges in Undercover FBI, Police Operation
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Outspoken Spokesman Is Leaving (The Washington Post, Aug 12, 2004)
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Full Coverage: 2004 D.C. Elections
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Some continued to trundle past that July morning, but one woman -- a 64-year-old named C. Kennedy -- saw something familiar in the man's face and gave voice to the double takes happening around her: "It's Marion Barry."

Barry draws a lot of double takes these days. He gets them when he's working on a T-bone steak at Players Lounge in Southeast Washington, or when he's shaking hands outside his campaign headquarters on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, or when he's pushing a shopping cart through the Safeway on Alabama Avenue SE. He looks more frail than the last time he was in the public eye, the waistline of his pants cinching under his belt, his swagger slowed by age and circumstance.

Since leaving the mayor's office in 1999, he has been free of the prostate cancer he fought in the '90s, watched a return to politics derail amid allegations of a drug relapse, separated from his fourth wife, battled diabetes, earned an uneven living in investment banking and turned 68.

At the Metro station, Barry carried himself like a local folk hero, and the commuters treated him like one. He was, after all, the man who started as a civil rights pioneer, then won a seat on the D.C. school board in 1971, then served on the D.C. Council representing Ward 8 and then became mayor. Even after falling from grace as mayor in a 1990 drug sting, he engineered a political comeback as mayor that once again thrust him into the national spotlight.

The past five years have amounted to his longest retreat into private life since his twenties, and now he's trying to get back into the public sector, again to represent Ward 8 on the council. The Metro riders he talked to assured him that he had their votes, and he assured them that he has their interests at heart. But this campaign -- against longtime ally and incumbent Sandy Allen -- is unlike any he's waged.

Questions about his health crop up. Whispers of personal financial problems prompt suspicions about his political motives. Some longtime supporters keep their distance, and he bitterly cut ties with a new campaign manager this summer. Endorsements have been few and have not come easily.

"There comes a time when a great fighter thinks that he or she is winning the fight, but the trainer can see what the fighter can't," Dion Jordan wrote to Barry after a brief stint as campaign manager. "You're that fighter and I'm your trainer, and I am throwing in the towel for you, because your pride will not let you." Jordan said he wanted to end the campaign because he believed Barry had become a shadow of his former self. Barry shrugged him off as a disgruntled former employee, just as he's discounted advice of others who counseled against running.

"He makes his mind up, and that's it," said Cora Masters Barry, Barry's fourth wife, who separated from him in 2002.

"He's not going to ask others. If that's what he wants to do, he's going to do it."

Instead, Barry listens to people such as Kennedy, whose eyes locked with his as she told him: "You're the Moses of your people."

Speculation After No-Show

The sun was baking protesters outside the Sudanese Embassy on Massachusetts Avenue NW. Protest organizers had announced that Barry would be there, and the small crowd that waited for him spoke to the fascination he still can provoke in this city. But he never showed.

He was in his apartment in Ward 8 with thick gauze on his right foot. He explained later that he had pulled at the skin on his toe, causing it to bleed so profusely that he had to go to Greater Southeast Community Hospital for help in stanching the flow. For diabetics, circulatory problems of the feet can turn serious, although this one proved to be relatively harmless.

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