Early this week I saw my first Barry election posters tacked onto telephone poles in my Ward 3 neighborhood. "Barry" is printed vertically in white letters on an environmentally gentle leaf-green background -- a color specifically chosen, the campaign director said, "to denote freshness and newness."
Clearly there's an attempt to recast Barry in a fresh new light. There's no mention of "Marion," no harking back to "Mayor," and certainly no picture of the face you might remember as the Night Owl's, at 4 a.m. cruising for a party. Just the name "Barry" and the office he seeks, council-at-large. It's as if the intention is to delude us into believing this isn't Marion Barry at all, but some other Barry without quite as much baggage. Rick Barry, maybe. Or Barry Manilow. Like the Infiniti campaign that showed us woods, rocks and waterfalls, but nothing with wheels; you sell the idea by withholding the product.
The posters are thin and almost unobtrusive -- though not quite; virtually all of them were ripped down from the telephone poles within 24 hours of going up, which will tell you something about Barry's popularity inside Ward 3, where Saddam Hussein might beat him in a primary.
Barry didn't run in a primary. He's running as an independent rather than a Democrat. The accepted reason is because the party filing deadline passed while Barry was on trial, and that was hardly the time to announce he was running for office -- although it's possible he let it pass because he didn't want to put himself at risk in a primary election.
Even now, months after he declared, it's astonishing that Barry put himself on the ballot. You'd think when the trial was over and he was convicted only of one misdemeanor, he'd have knelt down and kissed the ground for his good luck -- and had the sense and humility to go quietly. Not seek tribute.
In any case, every registered voter in this city has the chance to vote for Marion Barry again (including bozos like me who didn't register as Democrats and were therefore ineligible for the Democratic primary -- the real mayoral election in this city). I'll give Barry a nod for having the brass to run for a citywide office after the strip-mining he went through on trial, but I won't give him my vote.
Barry claims he won a big victory by the hung jury. Maybe he did. With all the pretrial trolling he did for a renegade juror, it's remarkable he was found guilty of anything. Consider the courage it took for that panel -- especially black jurors, whose ethnicity Barry courted so assiduously -- to convict him of even one count.
Barry did his best to make the trial a polarizing referendum on race, to misrepresent it as a trial of all black men, and insinuate that white officials pursued him solely because he was black. To save himself, he willingly risked activating a race bomb in this city. This is worth rewarding with a job on the city council?
There's no doubt Barry loves the city and served it fervently. Even when so many of his appointees were discredited or indicted, Barry, like Ed Koch in New York, was able to dissociate himself from their scandals and remain popular. But after the Vista, conviction or no conviction, Barry was an embarrassment to most Washingtonians. Testimony about his string of girlfriends and his habitual use of cocaine went unchallenged; Barry's own lawyer, in summation, conceded the mayor was a drug user. Barry jokes became a nightly fixture in Johnny Carson's monologue. Those who'd dismiss Carson as a white man making cheap fun of a black man should consider that the black ensemble show "In Living Color" torched Barry too.
Yes, the bitch set him up.
And no, I wouldn't have found him guilty on the sting charges in the Vista. Like most of you, I didn't want Marion Barry to be sent to jail. But neither do I want him back in public office. This is Washington, D.C., not Delta House.
He's treating the council-at-large spot like a parking space where he can drive up, drop a couple of quarters in the meter and kill time until he can run for mayor again; you have to think he has grander designs than the council. Nervously, a majority of council members announced their intention to vote for Hilda Mason over Barry. Stunningly, so did old friend Jesse Jackson, whom Barry nominated for president at the 1984 Democratic convention.
Freshness? Newness? He's been in the same office 12 years. Where did he get this newness, from a catalogue? This is the man who's been mayor as the body count goes through the roof. We're hovering around 375, and it's not even November yet. "It's all getting out of hand," Barry said the other day. Hey, it's been out of hand. These troops he's calling for, are they to clean up crime, or to keep Barry in power like Papa Doc? When the voters chose a person whose campaign symbol was a SHOVEL, who did our mayor of freshness and newness think they were coming after?
People say he'll win; he has his 20-25 percent hard core support, and in a crowded field it's all he needs. But voting isn't like sitting on a jury where the public searches your face for a sign; it's a private, personal act of conscience. You can go into the voting booth and pull the curtain around so no one will see. You can feel glad Marion Barry isn't in jail without feeling obliged to keep him in office.