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Amid Rumors, Queries, Barry Soldiers On

Even so, the little toe got people again asking a big question about his campaign: Is he fit for the job?

"I'm very concerned about his health," said Leonard "Hanif" Watson Sr., a council legislative assistant for Barry from 1992 to 1994. "I don't know if he has the energy to carry out a campaign, much less four years on the council."

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_____
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Mayor Says He Won't Seek Another Term
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Barry and spokeswoman Linda Mercado Greene acknowledged that he has diabetes and high blood pressure, but they tried to defuse the health issue. They peppered conversations with references to his healthy appetite, his energy, his personal sense of tranquility.

Barry blamed his weight loss on mis-prescribed diabetes medicine that impeded digestion and said he can't guess exactly how much he lost. He conceded that he's dropped "at least 15 pounds," one suit size and two inches from his waist.

"When you lose weight, people think there's one of three things wrong with you," he said last month. "You got cancer, you got AIDS or you're on drugs."

Given his history, speculation about the latter has entered the political discourse with the subtlety of a battering ram. Barry's bid for a seat on the council in 2002, after his having spent six months in prison in 1991-92 after an infamous 1990 drug sting in a downtown hotel, ended when U.S. Park Police searched his illegally parked car. They reported finding small amounts of crack cocaine and marijuana. No charges were filed. Barry said he was set up by police, but suspicions continued.

Recently, some addresses in Ward 8 -- including several businesses -- received an anonymous mailing raising questions, including, "Why does Barry look so frail?" and "Is he on crack?"

Barry answered questions about drugs by saying his recovery is personal, even if critics want to make it part of the campaign. He said that notoriety doesn't help someone trying to overcome dependence and that the benefits of a group such as Alcoholics Anonymous, which he joined in 1990, can be compromised if confidentiality is broken.

"Part of my handicap in an AA meeting is I can't talk about what I want to talk about because everybody in that room might not keep it in the room," he said.

The persistence of the issue seems unjust to many voters, and it sometimes engenders support.

"Everyone has an opportunity to mess up," said John Miller, 50, a 15-year resident of Ward 8 who said he planned to vote for Barry. "I messed up in my life, and everyone has a chance to pick themselves up and come back."

Barry's latest comeback, however, seems out of the blue to others. "He hasn't done a hell of a lot," said Ward 8 activist Don Folden. "What's he been doing since he got out of office?"

'Ain't Too Proud to Beg'

When Barry left the mayor's office in 1999, friends and political supporters knew his financial outlook was bleak. They quietly began efforts to land him a visiting professorship with local colleges, but a position never materialized.

An investment and financial advisory firm, M.R. Beal & Co., hired the former mayor, hoping to use his contacts to draw municipal business. With the help of an old friend and businessman, Joe Johnson, Barry set up shop in a Connecticut Avenue office near Dupont Circle.

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