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Barry Cites Health Woes

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By Marcia Davis, Bill Turque, Nikita Stewart and Hamil Harris
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, February 12, 2009

Marion Barry has been at the center of the news this week, with federal prosecutors asking a judge to put the D.C. Council member (D-Ward 8) in jail for not filing a tax return for 2007.

But Barry, 72, gave WUSA (Channel 9) an explanation Tuesday for his recent behavior.

The former mayor said the expectation of undergoing a kidney transplant has distracted him from filing the return.

He told the TV station that the health issues have been "consuming" and have dominated his mental state. He said there was "no excuse" for not filing the 2007 return, but "that's the reason."

Two years ago, prosecutors failed in their efforts to jail Barry over taxes.

This week started off much more quietly for Barry. Hours before the tax issues emerged, he was demonstrating that he can agree with an antagonist when it's the right issue. In this case, he was agreeing with Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee.

Barry has challenged Rhee on numerous issues, including the high rate of suspensions and what he has called her lack of respect for the council. But they were in harmony this week when he said he agreed with Rhee's proposal to close two elementary schools in Ward 8.

"It makes sense, educationally and otherwise," Barry said of a plan to close Birney and Draper elementary schools at the end of the school year.

Draper, which can hold 352 students, has 84 this year, with enrollment expected to drop further in the fall. Rhee said she wants to move the children to nearby Ferebee-Hope Elementary, which has 271 students and is operating at about 50 percent of its capacity. Birney has been accommodating students displaced by the remodeling of Savoy Elementary. All of its students would move there in August.

Rhee also proposed closing Webb Elementary in Ward 5, which has served as a receiving school for students from Wheatley Elementary. All Webb students would move to Wheatley.

Some community leaders said last week that Draper and Birney should remain open to support residential construction planned for the area. Barry said such development, should it come to pass, would not attract significant numbers of families with school-age children.

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