Barry Begins Run With a Celebratory Tribute

By Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 22, 2008

D.C. Council member Marion Barry launched his bid for a second term in Ward 8 yesterday with rousing sermons, gospel performances and a 45-minute biographical video.

The three-hour event at Temple of Praise church in Southeast Washington was advertised as a campaign kickoff, but it turned out to be a tribute to the 72-year-old Barry, who was repeatedly praised for his longevity in politics.

Barry could face seven challengers in the Sept. 9 Democratic primary. Nominating petitions to qualify as an official candidate are due next month. Most of the prospective candidates are community activists who say they want to offer new leadership. But yesterday, Barry supporters celebrated his decision to try to stay in public life.

"Mayor for life," said labor leader Geo T. Johnson, pausing and looking back at Barry, who was sitting with dignitaries in the pulpit. Barry, who served on the school board and council in the early 1970s, was mayor from 1979 until his misdemeanor drug conviction in 1990, and from 1995 to 1999.

Barry chuckled, peeking over the decorative plants that hid the pulpit from view to take note of the crowd of more than 200 -- most wearing campaign T-shirts with the slogan, "Marion Barry: Always Fighting for the People!"

It is a fight he does not want to give up, he said in an interview. "It demonstrates that my work is not in vain," he said.

Barry served as an at-large council member in the early 1990s, after his federal prison term for the drug conviction. He was out of office from 1999 until he won the Ward 8 seat in 2004.

At one point in the program yesterday, the lights dimmed and two screens were slowly lowered from the ceiling. Appearing on the screens was Barry, with the Lincoln Memorial behind him. The native Mississippian talked about picking cotton, selling pop bottles and waiting tables as he made his way from childhood to college to the civil rights movement to mayor.

A third-grade teacher had told him that he would not amount to anything, he said, adding, "If my third-grade teacher could see me now."

The video then featured two dozen interviews with friends, family and people Barry helped throughout his career, particularly black entrepreneurs who got their start with minority government contracting policies that Barry instituted.

Although the biography stretched from childhood to the present, it skipped Barry's years of drug addiction and legal troubles.

But in a fiery speech, the Rev. Charles Hudson touched on Barry's battles. "It doesn't matter how many times you fall. It matters how many times you get up," Hudson said. "He got up. Now you got to hold him up."

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