He stood before a crowd of his supporters in the heart of Southeast last night, his easy smile growing broader as he basked in thunderous applause.

For Marion Barry, it was another improbable victory in a political career that has defied expectations and dominated the District's civic life for more than a generation.

As he climbed out of his sport-utility vehicle, his supporters, who were assembled in front of his headquarters, spilled onto Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue. With a bodyguard forging a path, Barry made his way inside, where he hugged a crowd of campaign workers that included his former wife, Effi.

When he emerged a short time later, he beamed as his son, Christopher, introduced the winner in the Ward 8 Democratic primary as "our coach, our professor, our general and our councilman."

"This is a victory not only for Marion Barry but for God and the people of Ward 8," the 68-year-old former mayor told the crowd. "There's a new Ward 8 a-comin'."

His supporters roared.

"Resurrection!" shouted Desiree Walker, 44. "He's just like Jesus, and he's back, and now it's time for Ward 8 to be resurrected."

Bertha Evans, 65, a retired federal clerk, raised her arms toward the evening sky.

"Because of God," she exclaimed.

Referring to Barry's past troubles, Evans said: "We all have things in our lives we don't want people to know about. I believe the Lord has forgiven him, and we should, too."

Few politicians anywhere have shown more resilience than Marion Barry. He has faced down health problems, domestic problems and legal problems to once again win an election in the city where he has long been a popular and polarizing figure.

A civil rights leader in the 1960s, he was elected to the school board in the early 1970s, before winning a council seat. He served three consecutive terms as mayor, a reign tarnished by his arrest and subsequent conviction on a drug possession charge. After serving a six-month prison term, he came back, capturing the Ward 8 council seat in 1992. Two years later, he was back as mayor.

Barry has undergone surgery for prostate cancer. He has diabetes and high blood pressure. Two years ago, he set aside plans to seek office after U.S. Park Police said they found him with traces of marijuana and crack cocaine in his parked car at Buzzard Point -- an account he has challenged.

Nevertheless, his future has always seemed secure, at least in Ward 8. Yesterday, his long-standing ties to voters were obvious as he traveled between polling places, crisscrossing streets lined with dilapidated storefronts and modest homes.

At 7 a.m., he showed up to vote at an elementary school on Pomeroy Road, wearing a wide-brimmed straw hat and a small "I Voted" sticker upside down on his African print shirt. A handful of supporters waved signs and chanted, "Barry! Barry!" as he emerged slowly from his milk-white SUV.

If he appeared at moments fatigued or even fragile, Barry exuded confidence as he was trailed by an entourage that included an adviser, a driver, a bodyguard and a documentary crew that has spent two years chronicling his life.

Outside Birney Elementary School, Barry encountered several workers from competing campaigns, including one, James Ridley, 54, who held up a Sandy Allen sign.

"Time for Barry to sit down!" Ridley shouted, unfazed as the former mayor stood a few feet away. "Put Barry in a wheelchair!"

"Time for a change!" a woman chanted.

Barry tilted his head back and smiled. He invited the group to his campaign party, then turned to greet Gwendoyn Stevenson, 59, who sat in her wheelchair, waiting to shake his hand. "You got my vote. You know you got it," she told him.

But even some of Barry's admirers voted against him this time.

Inez Frazier Randall, 66, a retired communications operator, said that she owns photos of Barry posing "with my grandchildren and great grandchildren" and that she has voted for him in all his past campaigns.

This time, she said, she voted against Barry because she believes he is not healthy enough to serve. "I truly love him," Randall said. "I want to see him get stronger."

By early evening, a crowd had formed outside his headquarters. Just after 9 p.m., the crowd erupted when an aide announced that Barry was leading Allen, the incumbent, by a more than 2-to-1.

"Black power! Black power!" chanted a man wearing a black beret and a military-style suit.

After Barry spoke, he disappeared back inside his headquarters. Supporters jammed the front window, hoping for a glimpse of him as he sat in a leather chair talking to friends. Just after 11:30, he emerged, his straw hat in place, smiling as people grabbed his hand.

"We want our city back," shouted a passerby, who wore a baseball cap backward on his head.

Barry didn't respond, saying he was going home to go to bed. Then he climbed into his vehicle, and his driver sped off, leaving a cluster of supporters behind to carry on with the celebration.

Staff writer Martin Weil and Metro researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report.

"There's a new Ward 8 a-comin'," Barry told supporters in his victory speech.