D.C. Council member Marion Barry was elected Saturday as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention, easily overcoming critics who fear he will embarrass the District and is stifling opportunity for younger talent within the party.
At a daylong vote to choose 15 delegates to support President Obama in Charlotte, Barry (D-Ward 8) teamed with Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) to muscle into the top tier of vote getters after they bused dozens of supporters to the polling site.
Barry, who turns 76 on Tuesday, arrived at the University of District of Columbia auditorium to cast his ballot shortly before noon, saying he had little doubt District Democrats would reward him for his decades of service to the party and city.
“I don’t have to make my case, cause my work speaks for itself,” Barry said. “Thirty-one years of solid service to this city, as an elected official.”
In the days heading up to the vote, Barry had to fend off concerns that he should be disqualified from attending the convention after he got into a high-profile spat with his former girlfriend at the Democratic National Convention in Denver in 2008. The episode resulted in an infamous Washington City Paper cover story about the exchange between him and Donna Watts-Brighthaupt.
Writing in the Georgetown Dish on Thursday, political consultant Chuck Thies pleaded with District Democrats not to elect Barry, calling him a “walking public relations disaster for the District” and Obama.
When Thies tried to greet Barry at the polling site on Saturday, the former mayor turned his back and walked away, saying he didn’t want to be distracted by “crazy stuff.”
In initial results, Barry and Evans secured the number two and three delegate slots reerved for men from District 1, which included voters from wards 1,2,6 and 8. Evans said he teamed with Barry because of his reputation as a proficient vote getter.
The top male vote getter from District 1 was Gregory Cendana, 25 a gay rights activist who is also executive director of the Asian-Pacific American Labor Alliance.
Jeffrey Richardson, who heads up the city’s Office of GLBT Affairs, was leading for the fourth District 1 male slot, but officials caution that result could change because some ballots from same-day registration were not slated to be counted until Monday.
Among females from District 1, the top voter getter was Sheila Bunn, an aide to Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D). Bunn also teamed with Evans and Barry on what they called the “D.C. for Obama slate.” According to the initial results, Lateefah Williams, Lillian Perdomo and Susan Meehan were leading the field, according to Bill O’Field, executive director of the DC. Democratic State Committeee.
In all, 87 candidates sought the 15 delegate seats up for grabs on Saturday, creating a carnival-like atmosphere at the polling site as they lobbied for support. The election was open to any registered Democrat.
“We had an enormous turnout,” said Anita Bonds, chairwoman of the local party.
Party officials were still tabulating the results of the balloting in District 2 - wards 3,4,5 and 7 - on Saturday night.
Barry’s apparent victory will likely renew debate within the party about whether the local Democratic Party is doing enough to create opportunities for a new generation of political leaders.
Veronica O. Davis, 32, a delegate candidate in District 2, said she was hoping that Democrats elect “fresh faces who can represent the District with dignity.”
“I think when we want to send our delegates, we want them to be regular citizens,” Davis said. “It’s not that I am against Mr. Barry or Mr. Evans, but those are seats that should be reserved for regular citizens. I think we need to spread the leadership wealth.”
Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) also appeared uneasy over Barry’s decision to run. Wells noted he plans to attend the convention as an elected official so he didn’t want to snatch an official delegate slot that can go to someone else.
“I wanted to support my residents who have a chance to go to the convention,” Wells said. “We have so few elected offices, I really thought it would be better for others to run.”
But Barry argued he’s been nearly every Democratic Convention since 1972. Barry noted he gave a nomination speech for former presidential candidate Jesse Jackson at the Democratic Convention in San Francisco. Barry said it was important for him to attend this year’s event because Obama “is walking on Jackson’s shoulders.”
Reflecting a broader split within the city about how residents feel about Barry, many older Democrats appeared to support Barry on Saturday, despite the stories about his behavior in 2008.
“There are those who are thinned-skinned about one’s personal life,” said Diana Robinson, 60, who live in Ward 8. “I’ve embarrassed my family many times, but they still love me…He’s paid his dues. He’s a legacy.”
Barry agrees. “I’m very popular all over America because I work so hard for the people, ” Barry said as he was surrounded by well wishers as he left the polling site.