Barry says he can still be effective force on D.C. Council

D.C. Council member Marion Barry.
D.C. Council member Marion Barry. (Linda Davidson/The Washington Post)
Buy Photo
By Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 4, 2010

D.C. Council member Marion Barry popped into a Southeast employment center Wednesday morning and talked with constituents about how to land jobs and other services.

Then he slipped into the Lincoln Theatre on U Street NW, where boxers Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Shane Mosley were promoting their May 1 fight in a media tour that included the District.

"I like boxing," said Barry (D-Ward 8) .

It was business as usual for the former four-term mayor, who was censured by the D.C. Council a day earlier. The council also stripped him of his chairmanship of the Committee on Housing and Workforce Development, removed him from the Committee on Finance and Revenue, and voted to refer allegations that he lined his pockets with taxpayer dollars to the U.S. Attorney's Office for investigation.

But the former four-term mayor shrugged it off, outlining how he can remain effective as a council member despite his lesser rank. "When you know more, you can do more. I'm not braggin'," said Barry, 73, who sat for an interview in his office while eating a chili turkey dog from Ben's Chili Bowl -- with a knife and fork.

Freshman council member Michael A. Brown (I-At Large) now chairs the housing committee, and he will get Barry's $350,000 annual committee budget. Brown, who has offered to take two of Barry's staffers to provide continuity, said he plans to push a jobs agenda that mirrors that of President Obama. "We're right here in his back yard," said Brown, son of former U.S. commerce secretary Ron Brown.

Privately, council members and aides assailed Barry's performance as committee chairman, questioning whether he pushed enough legislation on job creation, rent control, and other housing and employment issues. Legislative records show that Barry-authored bills out of those committees were often slow-moving or never made it to the full council for a vote.

But Barry said being an effective leader is about more than having a leadership position on the council.

"What people miss about me? You just can't be a legislator," he said. "My greatest work comes in the community."

When asked to name his most significant legislative accomplishment through the committee, he said: "I don't know. There are so many."

He pointed to the 2007 opening of a Giant Food store in his ward. Residents had been forced to shop outside the ward's borders after a Safeway closed in 1998. Barry said he secured jobs at the store for residents by meeting with executives, not through legislation.

"I sat with the regional manager to develop a plan to get a majority of jobs to Ward 8 residents," Barry said.

Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) said Barry is "knowledgeable about government, has contacts. He will be just as effective tomorrow as he was yesterday."

Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) recalled that he, Barry and Kwame R. Brown (D-At Large) were all freshman council members in 2005 and did not have standing committees, leaving no elevated representation for residents east of the Anacostia River. Now, Gray is chairman and both Kwame Brown and Yvette M. Alexander (D-Ward 7) chair committees. "There's no way we will allow the constituency of Ward 8 to be harmed," he said.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company