Signs of enroaching baldness and the speckled gray hair blur the memory of who he was. A paunch now pushes against the buttoned vests of his dapper three-piece suits, which long ago replaced the brightly colored African dashikis and broad-brim Panama hats. The voice is softer, more subdued, like the colors of his suits.
Mayoral candidate Marion S. Barry Jr. is trying to shed his lingering image as a rabble-rousing street militant whose uncompromising criticisms of the city's business community and pre-home rule government angered the District's conservative black and white establishment in the 1960s.
Today he openly courts and flatters those sectors of the Washington community he derided a decade ago. The reasons are the essence of American politics - campaign funds, volunteer workers and, more importantly, voters on election day. But memories die slowly.
"One (black) woman told me recently at a meeting, until she had met me that night, that she thought I was a thug, a street nigger," said Barry during an interview in his City Council office. "She told me, 'I didn't know you were so educated,'" a reference to his master's degree in chemistry.
Ten years ago he was outside the fabric of Institutional Washington and could do what he wanted. "I really didn't care what people thought," he said. "I was trying to represent a (poor black) constituency and I tried to articulate their feelings" in a city without an elected government.
"When you're an elected official, you've got to try to deliver what the people elected you for, to represent them," Barry added. "Therefore, (as a politician) I'm not a free agent. I have to represent a cross-section of people and interests."
Marion Barry, 42, the militant activist turned politician, has worked on expanding his base of popular support since his election seven years ago to the school board.
He has subsequently been elected twice-by widening margins - to the City Council, and Barry feels his re-election to that body as an at-large candidate demonstrated a citywide candidate. After he was returned to the Council in 1976, he did not discourage speculation that he would run for the city's top elective office. Today he is running hard.
What remains unclear is how broad his constituency actually is. A Washington Post poll done last November that showed him with a surprisingly large number of middle-income white supporters. Barry says the poll is inaccurate, but acknowledges that he has some white supporters. His broadest constituency, he feels, are black residents aged 18 to 35 and the city's poor.
There are five months remaining before the Democratic primary, and on recent [WORD ILLEGIBLE] THREE BARRY - L TUS D. Aldrich.
There are five months remaining before the Democratic primary, and on recent campaign stops Barry solicited support and money at an exclusive men's club smoker - complete with strip tease show - breakfasted in the fashionable homes of Georgetown, spoke to conservative business groups, visited public housing projects, went on extensive handshaking tours and delivered spiritual messages in churches.
A ruggedly handsome, tall, broad shouldered man, Barry is personable and aggressive, combining joking banter and tough seriousness. He has a standard speech and he tailors some of its specifics to groups with different interests.
In that speech Barry leads on with the specific legislation he introduced to soften the impact of rising property tax assessment on individual home owners. Mayor Walter E. Washington, who is also expected to run for re-election, and City Council Chairman Sterling Tucker, who recently announced his mayoral candidacy, also have made tax relief proposals.
Barry also touches on the city's need for money subsidized housing, the large, unused reservoir of city-owned boarded-up housing, his support for a commuter tax on non-District residents, the development of a land use plan and more economic development to create jobs for the unemployed. Mayor Washington and Tucker discuss similar issues.
Barry has been attempting to over-come this obstacle by tying Mayor Washington and Tucker together as a team. Both the mayor and Tucker endorsed each other in 1974. "They ran as a team," Barry says, adding that they are both responsible for the "bumbling and bungling in an inefficiently run city government."
In all his talks, Barry constantly repeats that he will "fire two-thirds of the present administration's department heads who are responsible for mismanaging the city." High on his list is Lorenzo Jacobs, the city's housing director, and Ben Gilbert, the mayor's city planner and a former editor of The Washington Post.
His campaign schedule has a fast pace, and Barry portrays himself as a decisive, knowledgeable, tough candidate who has matured and mellowed since his days as an activist. Around the District building his finance and revenue staff (he has chaired the committee since 1975) is considered to be one of the most competent, a claim Barry himself repeatedly makes.
During that chairmanship Barry has gained the reputation of being readily accessible to members of the Washington Metropolitan Board of Trade, the city's powerful businessmen's organization. Barry said he remains accessible to anyone who wants to talk to him, not just the board of trade members.
"They are just another constituency," Barry claimed. "They will not be a major source of campaign funds for me."
As of April 21, Barry had collected $57,000 in campaign funds for what is expected to be a hard-fought Democratic primary race.
Barry began his campaign effort, ironically, in the city's mairly white Ward 3 west of Rock Creek Park, an area of the city where he would have been greeted with open hostility during his activist days. Since February he has courted the upper income residents of Chevy Chase and the inhabitants of Georgetown, the northern and southern extremities of the ward, respectively.
At a recent Georgetown breakfast in the home of one of his fund-raisers, Barry told the group of 12 white men in response to questions that there "is too much emphasis on only low and moderate income housing. I think there should be more emphasis on home ownership," he said.
A Georgetown minister, who said he had a fearful image of Barry years ago, wrote out a check for him immediately after the question and answer session. "He's good on his feet," the minister said. "I'm impressed."
A reporter was allowed to attend the meeting only after agreeing beforehand with the hostess not to name any of the people who attended or ask any questions. "All of the people coming have not yet agreed to support Barry and they would be upset with you there," she said.
During a similar question and answer period at a public meeting in the Potomac Gardens public housing project's recreation center on Capitol Hill Barry emphasized the need for low and moderate income housing.
The people who have been pushed out of the District in recent years, Barry said, were wage earners making $12,000 and $25,000 a year. "There was no housing available for them so we have to develop a plan for low and moderate income housing," he added. "The city will have to subsidize housing for sale or rent" he told the 40-odd members of the audience.
Barry later told a reporter that he purposely tailors his standard speech to suit his audience. "I try to focus in on areas each group would know a little more about or would be interested in."
On the night of April 19, Barry attended the annual Pigskin Club smoker at the Capitol Hilton Hotel where he passed out his campaign literature and shook hands during a before-dinner reception. The Pigskin Club was created 40 years ago when blacks were excluded from joining the Touchdown Club, said retired Army reservist Col. John W. Posey, the Pigskin's president.
Besides football films, a magic show, and off-color jokes the night's entertainment included three strippers who danced on a stage to disco music to the delighted howls of the men.
Barry, who is not a member, was invited to the smoker by Baldwin Whitlock, the husband of his Ward 7 campaign coordinator, Lorraine Whitlock. The club's member include some of the top leadership in the city, including Mayor Washington and Tucker, neither or whom attended the smoker.
On his walking tours, Barry has recently shifted his campaign efforts to the Capitol Hill area of the city where he lives.
As part of a four-hour handshaking walk on a bright but cool Saturday afternoon, Barry plunged into the throng of people clogging the aisles of the Eastern Market. "Hi, I'm Marion Barry and I'm running for mayor," he smiled while shaking hands and kissing women on the cheek.
"I think you're going to make it," said Jack Miller, who has run a meat counter in the market for the past nine years. Miller chuckled as he read one of Barry's campaign pamphlets - "Marion Barry, What he stands for. (And what he won't stand for)."
"He's a down to earth fellow, no bulljivin'," said Miller. The other (mayoral candidates) are sweet talkers. I've followed Barry in the newspapers since he was with pride. He's grown a lot since then. He used to have a 'ew rough edges."