Marion Barry was more than 500 miles from the District on Friday, attending an Atlanta campaign rally with former president Bill Clinton, but he most certainly took his opinions on the upcoming D.C. elections with him.
Asked whether the mayoral candidate he endorsed, Muriel E. Bowser, would prevail against unusually spirited competition for a Democratic nominee, the former four-term mayor and current D.C. Council member did not hesitate: “Oh, hell yes,” he said, before rejoining a crowd of civil rights and political royalty at Paschal’s Restaurant.
Barry’s support for Bowser has been steadfast since at least late May, when he declared at a
post-primary fundraiser, “We’re gonna kick David Catania’s ass,” referring to the council member and independent mayoral candidate.
In the past week, however, Barry (D-Ward 8) has also sought to flex his political muscle in other competitive races. The 78-year-old’s blessing remains a sought-after prize, both for his influence among thousands of city voters and his reputation for backing winners, which was slightly tarnished by Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s loss in April’s Democratic primary.
On Monday, Barry announced his backing of at-large D.C. Council candidates Anita Bonds and Elissa Silverman. On Thursday, he endorsed Karl A. Racine in the city’s first attorney general race.
His backing of Bonds, the Democratic incumbent, came as no surprise. Bonds ran Barry’s 1986 campaign and the constituent services operation in his mayoral office for many years. Barry’s pick of independent Silverman, however, raised some eyebrows.
Not only is Silverman, 41, one of the rare white candidates to receive Barry’s blessing, but as a political columnist for Washington City Paper a decade ago, she routinely laid bare unflattering details about his personal and political life as he mounted a comeback five years after leaving the mayor’s office.
On Friday, Barry acknowledged that the reaction to his Silverman endorsement has been “mixed.”
“Some of my political supporters asked what am I doing, but they trust me,” he said. “They shouldn’t question me. My judgment has been sound over the years.”
In a statement backing Silverman, Barry said that during her stint as a city hall reporter, “never in a million years did I think I’d be supporting her today.” But, he added, “I know she was only carrying out her duties as a journalist” and praised her “progressive agenda” and “deep understanding of D.C. politics.”
The endorsement by Barry, whose run-ins with authorities during a 50-year political career are many and legendary, may be complicated for Silverman, who is running on a good-government platform.
In a statement, she hailed their shared commitment to the city’s poorest residents: “He knows that I have been a tireless advocate for his constituents and that I am the best candidate for anyone who cares about poverty in our city.”
Barry’s backing of Racine, 51, comes as a snub to the four other Democrats in the attorney general race, including Edward “Smitty” Smith, a 34-year-old Ward 8 native who has won the backing of several large labor unions that are usually simpatico with Barry.
Racine’s work as a public defender in the early 1990s was key in gaining the nod, Barry said. “He understands poor people. Most of my constituents are poor, and he has a great program on juvenile justice. He and I are both tired of the city locking up all these young people for minor offenses.”
Bowser, Bonds, Silverman and Racine have something else in common: They are either favorites in recent polling or are in good position to prevail Tuesday — and it’s not the first time Barry has swooped in to endorse a front-runner shortly before Election Day.
He backed Adrian M. Fenty (D) just a week before he won the 2006 mayoral primary, then switched his allegiance to Gray four years later, never formally announcing his endorsement before Gray’s victory.
Barry, who has been frail since a health scare earlier this year, has kept most of his politicking to the mayoral race. He appeared at get-out-the-vote events for Bowser last weekend, including one where he repeated his threat toward Catania’s hindquarters, and he said Friday that he plans to record a robo-call for Bowser that will reach targeted households before Election Day.
“I play to win,” Barry said. “I don’t play to lose.”