It's no surprise to find Marion Barry T-shirts popping up around the city. T-shirts are a barometer of popular sentiment that can be produced overnight. And while the men and women on the jury at the federal courthouse will decide the mayor's fate, the T-shirt vote swings according to the news of the moment.
The most recent shirt to emerge is also the first pro-Barry shirt produced since the trial began. It turned up Saturday in reaction to Thursday's courtroom showing of the Vista videotape: The front of the shirt says, "I saw the tape and ..."; and on the back, "That got damn 'bitch' set Barry up."
"People were standing in the rain trying to get the shirt," said a vendor near Howard University. "It's definitely the hot shirt."
But T-shirt shops in the District and the suburbs were already selling shirts that gave a much more cynical view of the mayor:
The "Just Say Yo" design, which was in the stores just after the mayor's arrest, has sold 1,700 shirts, accordingto the manufacturer, M.T. Enterprises of Gaithersburg. The shirt looks like the cover of a video movie with the words "The Federal Bureau of Investigation presents Mayor Marion Barry in 'Just Say Yo.' " Barry is pictured saying, "I don't do cocaine. I just like how it smells when you burn it."
"Late Night With Mayor Barry," a takeoff of David Letterman's logo, shows the mayor standing in front of the Vista Hotel wearing a "Virgin Islands" cap. The back of the shirt lists the "Top Ten Reasons to Support Mayor Barry," including "He can communicate to crowds in sign language" and "Has the experience to handle the city's drug problem."
The "Mayor Wanted" shirt, designed to read like a classified ad, does not mention Barry by name but reads, "Washington D.C. has immediate opening for qualified candidates. Honest, faithful, law abiding citizens only. Experience not necessary. Miracle worker a plus. Clean nose a must."
Another shirt shows a picture of Barry on the front, along with the words "Rebel Without a Job."
"I don't think you want a T-shirt that depicts him as a total sleazeball," said Danny Gainsburg, the owner of the Dallas Alice national chain of T-shirt stores. After the trial began, Gainsburg designed the "Mayor Wanted" and "Rebel Without a Job" shirts, which arrived in stores last week.
"I think it's a tragic story, but I think a sense of humor is necessary to get through it," he said. He designed the "Mayor Wanted" shirt because "Let's face it. He's not going to run again. We need a new mayor."
At Dallas Alice in the Shops at National Place downtown, the T-shirts are selling well to both locals and tourists, said Denise Bushyhead, the manager.
"Some people laugh," she said. "Some people say it's terrible. It's very controversial."
The "Just Say Yo" design is carried by stores throughout the region -- in Potomac Mills, Georgetown, Tysons Corner -- and store owners report that the shirt is selling equally well to blacks and whites. A clerk at Living Color in Tysons Corner has been selling the shirt to customers who identify themselves as police and government workers. Sheila's Hallmark in Georgetown, which displays "Just Say Yo" in the window, said tourists are buying the shirts as a souvenir of their Washington trip.
"Every time I try to stop printing the shirt, I get more orders for it," said Marc T. of M.T. Enterprises, who started with an initial printing of 144 shirts. "I don't think it's a racial thing, because when Meese messed up, there was stuff all over the city. People make fun of Quayle, of all politicians -- especially when they mess up."
While people are paying up to $15 for T-shirts making fun of Barry, they're not very visible -- at least on the streets of Washington. But there haven't been many pro-Barry shirts spotted either. Before yesterday's rally for Barry at Freedom Plaza, a spokeswoman in the mayor's office said that she was not aware of any T-shirts supportive of Barry since the trial began.
But at the rally, the Open Air Merchants Association was selling a T-shirt with a picture of Barry with the words "How Soon We Forget" and "He Created Summer Youth & Senior Citizens Programs."
"We thought we had to do something," said the association's president, David Williams, who said all profits from the sale of the $8 shirts would go to the mayor's legal defense fund. Williams said the shirt would be distributed to street stands this week.
But some vendors are steering away from any Barry T-shirts -- period.
"I wouldn't sell Marion Barry T-shirts -- pro or con. I wouldn't touch it," said Don Folden, who operates a stand near the federal courthouse.
"From a financial point of view, it's a double-edged sword. If you get a T-shirt that knocks him, then you could lose a lot of business. If you get a shirt that is in support of him, there are repercussions too. People will say, 'Why do you want to support a drug addict?' "
Cozette Washington, the owner of Paper Trail in Union Station, also refuses to carry any Barry designs. "I think selling the T-shirts is playing up something that most of us don't want to believe really happened." And T-shirts, she said, last for years and "will remind people of something that should die down."
In the window of of Leslie's in Congress Heights in Southeast Washington, there were Mandela, Simpsons and Teenage Ninja Turtles T-shirts -- but no Barry shirts for sale.
"I haven't seen any of them -- positive or negative," said owner Elbert Robertson. "But I'm thinking the time is ripe for them after the trial is over."
"In predominantly white communities, you're going to find negative T-shirts about Barry," he said. "In black communities, you're going to find some negative and some that are going to make a hero of him."