The Washington Post

Marion Barry officially embraces ’mayor-for-life’ title

Barry in 1995, when he wasn’t so fond of the ”for life” title. (Juana Arias/The Washington Post)

That’s been an unofficial title for Barry (D-Ward 8) ever since the last of his four mayoral terms. But today, for the first time in this reporter’s experience, Barry used the sobriquet in an official news release

The release, touting his effort as a “jobs czar” to negotiate D.C. resident employment guarantees into city contracts, referred to Barry as “mayor-for-life” not once but three times — including in the title: “Mayor-For-Life Marion Barry Achieves Unprecedented Jobs Commitment.”

The term — rooted in an unflattering comparison to the many dictators who deemed themselves “president for life” — has been increasingly embraced by Barry and his fans over the years.

Ken Cummins, who coined the title in the early ’90s as the original Loose Lips columnist for Washington City Paper, chuckled when told that “mayor-for-life” appears now to be part of Barry’s official brand.

“When I first started using that name for him, he was amused and joked about it,” he said. “When I didn’t stop, he got irritated. And now every time I see him, he says, ‘You know, when you first called me that, I hated it. Now I love it.’ ”

“I guess it’s come full circle,” added Cummins, who is now a private investigator. “If the title fits, use it.”

Barry, for his part, says he indeed used to smart at the notion of being identified with the likes of Papa Doc Duvalier or Idi Amin. Now, he says, “I’ve gotten way past that. To me, it’s an honor.”

As for using the term in a news release, Barry said he is following well-established Washington custom: “I’m doing what other politicians do — use your highest title. Like President Clinton or President Bush.”

Mike DeBonis covers Congress and national politics for The Washington Post. He previously covered D.C. politics and government from 2007 to 2015.


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