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A Vote for Mr. Ex

Politically, at Least, Effi Barry Is Back With D.C.'s Former Mayor and Her Former Husband

By Ann Gerhart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 27, 2004; Page C01

The image of Effi Barry that people remember is from the front row of D.C. federal court in 1990. The prosecutors play the 83-minute sting videotape. On it, the mayor of the capital of the United States, her husband, is smoking crack in a hotel room, fondling an ex-model named Rasheeda Moore and begging her to have sex with him. The first lady of Washington sits impassively in the front row, regal and refined, calmly hooking a rug.

Poor, poor Effi. Who was behind that mask?

Effi Barry has re-teamed with her ex-husband, who recently won the Democratic primary for a Ward 8 seat on the D.C. Council, to help his resurgent political career. (Bill O'Leary -- The Washington Post)

She stood by her man, got through his trial, got out of her marriage and got out of town. When Bill Clinton got caught in his sexcapade, Mrs. Barry No. 3 was the expert witness on "Oprah," testifying about public humiliation. Politics, she said, was anti-family. It certainly had ruined hers.

But here she is on election night earlier this month at Marion Barry for Council headquarters, big oven mitts over her lovely hands, a cross dangling from her neck, serving chicken wings to volunteers before the man gives his victory speech. The prince of D.C. politics -- or the clown prince, depending on how you see him -- with his elegant onetime consort nearby. Not at his side, though, until Marion demands it. And she consents, moving to stand with him and their son, Christopher.

She's back in the picture, literally and figuratively.


She knows the question: Sister, have you lost your mind? She picks up her glass of chardonnay and holds it to her ear, as if it were a telephone receiver. "Girl, did you see -- ?" she says, mimicking the gossip about herself, and she permits herself a ladylike little laugh.

She has agreed to an interview and picked the restaurant, Cafe Mozu, in the luxurious Mandarin Oriental Hotel. Effi likes its serenity and quietude. She is early for lunch and waiting in the lounge, one long arm draped along the banquette, the Potomac glistening through the window behind her.

Nearly six feet tall and slender, she looks perfect. She always has. Sometimes, appearances are all that one has.

She wears a simple navy two-piece dress, with a boat neckline that shows off her pretty collarbones, and a slender gold chain caresses one ankle under her hose. Her lips are coral. Her cheekbones, at 60, are chiseled. She speaks slowly, carefully composing long paragraphs of description and explanation, which are at turns poetic and platitudinous and hazy.

She supported her ex-husband's bid for office for his sake, she says, and the sake of their son.

For Marion, "his history and his legacy should be that he always fought for other people," says Effi. "It pains me that people think he's a gargoyle, a troll under the bridge." Without politics, which she defines as public service, Marion Barry, 68, diabetic, hypertensive, recovering alcoholic, isn't fully alive. "It's in his blood," she says. "Working hard for other people -- it's fuel for him."

For Christopher, who is 24, "I want my son to know and love his father, warts and all. " And for herself? "The right thing for me is to support my son's father," she says, almost as if it were penance, though she wasn't the one who committed the sin. "It's what my Christian ethic calls on me to do."

Of course she has heard the word on the street, she says. One stream of speculation has her hurting for money and hopeful of finding work once Barry, without any significant Republican opposition, rolls back into that sweet part-time job that pays $92,500 a year, representing the disenfranchised east-of-the-river residents of Ward 8. The other stream has her positioning Christopher to essentially inherit the gig from his daddy, whose various ailments caused many of his old friends to withhold their support of Barry's bid. Many of them, and even campaign workers, don't think he'll make it through his four-year term.

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