Memo To Barry: Enough

By Marc Fisher
Thursday, January 12, 2006

For several years now, some of Marion Barry's friends have been concerned that he was back on the stuff. Off and on, they've told him they suspected and begged him to get help. When he spurned their love, some of them decided that the only thing they could do for him was to cut him off, walk away, stop letting him think he could handle it all, stop enabling.

He found himself without work, without his entourage. After the murky 2002 incident in which police found Barry sitting in his Jaguar with a small amount of crack cocaine, the four-time mayor knew well enough to back out of his candidacy for an at-large seat on the D.C. Council. After that, his wife left him and he ended up in a small apartment, alone.

About the best thing you can say about Marion Barry is that although he ran a government that handed out contracts to a whole lot of people who had never before had much money, he never took for himself. When he ran for council from Ward 8 in 2004, he needed the salary.

But when Barry launched that bid to return to elective office, many of those who had always stood by him absented themselves.

Of course, Barry won anyway, because he is a master campaigner, because despite his increasingly frail body, he still had some of the old magic, because a vote for Barry was still a poke in the eye to the powers that be, because Ward 8 in Southeast Washington is still home to thousands of people whose eyes sparkle when they talk about how Barry gave them their first summer job, back in the day.

And now he's gone and disappointed even those people, testing positive for drug use, sources told The Post's Yolanda Woodlee and Carol D. Leonnig. Cocaine, again.

We all know fakers, liars who are so brilliant and so attractive and so good at what they do that we suppress the evidence of their misdeeds and tell ourselves that everything will work out. And then they go and do something stupid and we pretend we didn't know it was coming. I had a friend who was much like Barry in his overwhelming charisma and dazzling mind. Everybody loved David, adored him so much that when he began spiraling into self-destruction, we assured ourselves that he could manage it. And then my friend killed himself, and too many of us made believe it was a surprise.

Now here's one of Barry's good friends, who decided a couple of years ago to separate himself from the man he'd worked with for four decades: "I tried everything. I tried being his friend, I tried being tough with him. I stopped giving him the money I'd been giving. He wouldn't listen. I finally had to admit to myself that staying connected with him was encouraging him to live that double life." Cutting Barry off didn't necessarily push him to face his addiction, but it let this friend carry on knowing that he was no longer enabling the ex-mayor.

In a warped, small way, we are all responsible for Barry's continuing addiction to risk. When we vote for this gaunt old man, when we write news stories about his escapades, when we share jokes about him, we are joining in the fantasy -- the ludicrous notion that he is a superman who can make things happen in this dysfunctional city even while he destroys himself with drugs. We did it again last month, when he staged a little stunt to "save" the D.C. baseball stadium and we hailed the return of the Mayor for Life.

Friends, colleagues, reporters, we've all dutifully listened and repeated his rhetoric about how he's clean now, he's found God, he drinks nutritious fruit juices, he attends his 12-step meetings. And he withered away before our eyes.

But now, even some of those who voted for him more times than they can recall say it's over, enough.

"The only time I was ashamed to say I was from Washington, D.C., was when he got reelected mayor," says Ray Moore, a retired head of the grounds department at Gallaudet University who now lives in one of the city's senior housing complexes, Harvard Towers. "I'm a recovered addict, so I know about what he's going through. But he had his chances -- better chances than anybody else had. He did it to himself. And the people let him get away with so much."


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