The first name of Effi Barry, ex-wife of Marion Barry, was misspelled in two articles about the former mayor's victory in the Democratic primary for the Ward 8 D.C. Council seat -- a Sept. 15 report on Page One and, in some editions, a Sept. 16 Style story. (Published 9/17/04)
Marion Barry was waving his manicured hands -- he got the manicure the day before the polls opened -- at well-wishers around his campaign headquarters in Southeast Washington yesterday. And his troubles seemed far, far away.
He was wearing a beige suit, maroon shoes, Panama hat, white shirt and paisley tie. A fine pair of cuff links peeked out from the suit jacket. With his victory in Tuesday's Democratic primary, the 68-year-old pol is all but assured of returning to City Hall in November as the D.C. Council member representing Ward 8.
"People underestimated my political knowledge and political awareness," he said, looking remarkably fresh and alert after a night of political rebirth. "The Vista Hotel [where Barry was arrested on drug charges in 1990] is probably still stuck in their minds. They can't think about anything else but that I went to jail. They're so blind."
Within minutes, lipstick had been smudged onto his white shirt from the hugs of women much shorter than the 6-foot-2 Barry.
He went on: "There's this phrase in the Bible, goes something like, 'Don't talk about the splinter in my eye if you have a plank in your eye.' "
"Amen," someone said, and Barry smiled and leaned back a little. In the cool air, he let out a croon.
"Victory is miiiiine," he sang, holding the note, sounding like an old-time doo-wop singer on a street corner, which is where he was.
After six years in retirement, Barry, a four-term mayor who served a six-month term in federal prison, who was hounded for years by rumors of womanizing, who presided over a city administration at times beset by cronyism and questionable competence, reclaimed his place among that category known as the political rascal. It is a crowd that numbers, among others, Jimmy Walker of New York, Harlem's Adam Clayton Powell Jr., Huey and Earl Long of Louisiana, and James Michael Curley of Massachusetts. All beset with scandals that, somehow, their admirers were willing to swallow like sorbet on a hot summer day.
Actually, it was hot in June when Barry announced he would run against Sandy Allen, a two-term incumbent. Many worried then, and still do, about Barry's mounting health woes, a catalogue of illnesses that plague black men: high blood pressure, diabetes, prostate cancer, anemia.
"God didn't bring me this far to leave me," he bellowed yesterday.
On Tuesday night, Barry sat in a chair in his campaign office eating crispy chicken wings. Carrots and celery sticks were on the tray, but he ignored them. "His Fred Sanford chair," aide-de-camp Linda Greene called his tattered leather maroon seat, referring to the role made famous by comedian Redd Foxx.
As aides made phone calls, Barry hardly moved. He seemed relaxed, a man ready for the limelight once again -- even if the bulb is not as bright as it once had been. He confessed yesterday that there had been one dark moment: Weeks after announcing his candidacy, he had to let his campaign manager go. But they forged on. He told staffers to buy T-shirts. They thought he wanted them as souvenirs for the campaign workers. He meant T-shirts as a form of advertisement. "People wanted my shirts," he said. "We gave away 3,000 T-shirts."
As Barry sat in his Fred Sanford chair, Effi, his third wife of four, stood behind a nearby table, serving up food on paper plates to the children of volunteers. The children walked by Barry -- eye-level with him in his chair -- and stared quizzically.
By 10 p.m., a crowd from the neighborhood had gathered out front. Carlton Pressley, a local minister and attorney, let his eyes roll over the scene. Pressley had had his eye on the Ward 8 council seat. Barry called him in for a little chat not long before announcing. "He said, 'I may not be as fast with my physical movements, but I still have a quick mind. So I'd like to use your strong legs to be a water carrier, if you will, and allow me to use my strong mind.' " Pressley didn't see it as condescending. He's 38. He'll have another day. "He's going to need strong lieutenants to help him shape policy," Pressley said, his own imagination suddenly set loose with Barry's victory being announced. "I hope to be one of those people."
Pressley took a walk down the street and peered inside the headquarters of Sandy Allen, Barry's vanquished opponent. There wasn't a soul in sight. With papers strewn about, it was as if everyone had simply stopped what they were doing, got up and walked out the door.
At 11 p.m. Tuesday, Barry rose from his chair. "When you claim victory, God gives it to you," he said.
Then he strolled outside to a throng. Darrell Poston, his driver and security guard, parted bodies. He needed help. There had to be nearly 200 well-wishers.
Standing beneath the tent, near a light bulb, Barry made a boisterous challenge to the status quo: "Tell 'em at City Hall we coming," he said, citing a list of grievances he vowed to take to the downtown power brokers. He talked about a need for better housing, safety in schools, jobs.
"Barrytown!" someone screamed.
Barry's son, Christopher, stood next to him. Effi was leaning on a tree, four yards away, holding some child's teddy bear. The breakup of their marriage had once played before the public like a sad soap opera.
"So what if he dies in office," someone said testily. "At least he'll be happy." It was hard to imagine Effi didn't hear.
"Someone," Marion Barry said, still talking, "once asked Helen Keller what's it like to not have vision. And she said, 'It's worse to be sighted, and not give vision.' "
He thanked more campaign workers. Then he said, "Where Effi? Effi. Effi. Where Effi?" She inched her way toward him, and when Marion and Christopher and Effi Barry all hugged, there were many who looked at them wistfully. The time tunnel. The way they were.
Yesterday, Marion Barry, less than 24 hours removed from his political comeback, saw none of it as miraculous. Divine, maybe, but not miraculous. "God gave me this kind of gift," he said softly. "How good God is."