The rituals of politics in Ward 8 have little in common with those in central Texas, but here stands Marion Christopher Barry, in a vacant lot in a notorious housing project, wielding a pole saw and clearing brush like George W. Bush down on the ranch.

Years of detritus — chip bags, tequila bottles — covers the lot on Wade Road SE. Barry, 34, and about a dozen campaign supporters known as the “Barry Brigade” are here to clean it up. And the more the candidate cuts back the kudzu, the more trash is revealed.

This is not how Marion S. Barry Jr. campaigned.

When that name appeared on a Ward 8 ballot, there was never much drama about how the race would end: with Barry in office for four more years. His campaigns revolved less around community cleanups than languid street caravans and impromptu appearances at Players Lounge.

Barry died Nov. 23 at the age of 78, but Ward 8 voters will again get to choose the name Marion Barry come April 28, when the only son of the late, legendary former mayor will try to replace his father on the D.C. Council.

In this May 21, 1998, file photo, then-Washington Mayor Marion Barry hugs his son, Christopher. (Brian K. Diggs/The Associated Press)

Victory, however, is far from assured for a son who wrestles with some of the same demons as the father: drugs, the law, the wrong kind of media attention. And the reservoir of goodwill, political favors and campaign support from which the elder Barry drew to overcome his own troubles does not run so deep for his son.

Told publicly at his father’s funeral that he was “ready to assume the mantle,” the younger Barry has found his moment slipping. On Friday, he stood before a judge on charges related to an alleged outburst at a Chinatown bank branch that may not be resolved before the election. His fundraising has been dismal, and key supporters of his father have allied themselves with other candidates.

“The people you thought would be there the most are absent, you know,” Barry says. “But that’s good, because I can build my own base and my own team. This is my thing. I never was one to ride his coattails.”

Yet a central argument of Barry’s campaign is the notion that his father’s seat is his to claim. In brief comments outside D.C. Superior Court after his hearing Friday, Barry said: “I’m going to stay the course and work hard to finish my father’s term in office and continuing the Barry tradition of being the voice for the people of Ward 8.”

Barry’s campaign rhetoric has tended not to dwell on particular policies but on familiar Barry themes: being a voice for the voiceless, an advocate for the underclass in a city leaving it behind. It’s Marion Barry’s words that come out of Marion Christopher Barry’s mouth.

Barry says he has a more focused outlook on life after the deaths of not only his father, but of his mother, Effi, in 2007, and close friend A.J. Cooper last year. (Barry said the death of Cooper, who died suddenly in December of a heart ailment just days after Marion Barry, affected him more profoundly.) He’s pledging to overcome the setbacks with hard work.

Underneath his overalls, the tall and slender Barry wears a 50-pound weight vest as he pulls tires out of a gully.

Timeline: Barry’s arrests and charges

“Get a little workout while I’m walking around, you know?” Barry says. “I ain’t a young stud no more. I’m starting to hit that middle age, man, putting some weight on. And not getting high no more, man. So, really, you know, I’m getting my real health back and weight back.”

Several of those who were close to his father, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, doubt that the campaign trail or public office is the best place for Barry to get his life on track. Phone calls have gone unreturned, they say, meetings unscheduled. The doubts were amplified by the bank incident, in which Barry, told that he could not make a $20,000 withdrawal from his account, allegedly threatened a teller, then threw a trash can, destroying a security camera.

Cora Masters Barry, his stepmother and gatekeeper to the elder Barry’s personal and political network, said in a brief interview that she is “supportive” of her stepson but not intimately involved in his campaign.

Upon his father’s death, Chris Barry quickly became, in the words of those around him, Marion Christopher Barry. The son moved into the father’s home, outside of which the elder Barry had collapsed early on the morning of Nov. 23. The son uses his father’s cellphone number, so old friends and associates see calls seeming to come from beyond the grave. And a publicist politely reminds a reporter, it’s not Chris, please — it’s Marion C. Barry.

The shift represents “transitioning from just living for myself to now living for the people,” Barry says. “I was a child, I was Chris. . . . As a man, with him being gone, the way to best honor him and serve what he believed in is to step into his name and claim my name. That’s my name, too.”

Politically speaking, the Barry name alone may not be enough — especially in a low-turnout special election, where field work matters more than name recognition.

Barry is facing candidates with significantly more resources, starting with LaRuby May, a nonprofit housing executive who has the backing of Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) and more than $170,000 in the bank. Also running are Sheila Bunn, a top aide to former mayor Vincent C. Gray (D), Natalie Williams, president of the Ward 8 Democrats, and Eugene D. Kinlow, a longtime voting rights activist.

And it’s not only the bank incident that has dogged Barry since entering the race. Two newspapers published items on Barry’s thin voting record, which shows he has voted in the District only once, in 2012. His campaign missed the first campaign finance reporting deadline, filing a sloppy report three days late showing no significant fundraising and a $4,438 loan from the candidate.

A campaign manager with experience in D.C. campaigns left in the operation’s early weeks. Elizabeth Matory, a childhood friend who recently made an unsuccessful run for Maryland state delegate, is running the Barry Brigade.

Matory took a different path through life than the boy she attended Tots nursery school with — Sidwell Friends, Columbia, Howard Law. But she is here with him in Ward 8, targeting the same “last, least and lost” voters that Marion Barry talked about nearly every time he spoke.

“What do we have?” she asked. “We have the love, we have the support, we have the second-chance mentality.”

As Barry plucks trash out of the vacant lot, his phone rings. “My other father,” he says, putting the caller on the speaker. The voice rings as powerfully from the iPhone as it had from the podium at the father’s funeral two months earlier.

“I just called to tell you that I am here for you and with you, and any time you need me, I’ll be there for you,” Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan tells Barry.

“You have name recognition that others have to pay to get,” he continues. “You have the love of the people from the work of your father that they put on your shoulders. And now you have to be careful, too, because his enemies will also be yours.”

Barry grew up mixing with titans of the African American community, the D.C. political scene and the world at large. And he could read his name in media accounts frequently as he grew up — often figuring into controversies surrounding his father.

He was 9 years old when his father was arrested in a federal drug bust, whisked away from the family home that night by Carlise Davenport, who had founded the nursery school he and Matory had attended. In 1993, his parents had divorced and he was living with his mother, Effi.

As he emerged from adolescence, the younger Barry began making headlines in his own right, but rarely in flattering ways. In 2005, he was charged with punching a police officer who, after smelling marijuana, had entered an unlocked apartment Barry was visiting.

After Effi Barry died of cancer in 2007, Barry gave a widely praised eulogy at her National Cathedral funeral. But afterward, Barry made headlines with greater frequency — often for drug-related arrests.

“She was his stable force when he couldn’t feel good about himself or trust other people,” said Frederick D. Cooke Jr., a lawyer and longtime Barry family confidant. “She was there for him. When she was gone, he was really at sea.”

The day that Effi Barry died, her only son began life as a small businessman — starting his first job as owner of Efficiency Contracting, the firm he started with his mother’s encouragement and her name.

“I just went straight from the hospital, straight to work,” Barry said. “That was the last thing she told me: ‘You’re going to get your business together, I believe in you, and you’re going to help people.’ ”

Barry takes pride in putting young black men like himself to work, many of them his old neighbors at the Wellington Park apartments, many of them with criminal records. But he said lately his business — largely dependent on subcontracting work on D.C. Public Schools renovation projects — has been unfulfilling. Work has been scarce. The jobs have been small. Invoices have gone unpaid.

“It’s starting to get to the point where it’s not fun anymore,” he said. “It’s political. . . . It’s not just going to work and doing your thing and coming home.”

Now Barry finds himself in the family business. When his father was 34, he was still more than a year away from holding political office, but he had led civil rights protests in Memphis, chaired the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, moved to Washington and set up a group devoted to offering jobs to disadvantaged black youths.

The younger Barry has stayed at the fringes of his father’s professional life — even as the elder Barry, in his last years, frequently mentioned his high hopes for his son to colleagues and associates.

Former D.C. Council member Jim Graham, who spent a decade on the council with the elder Barry, said he approached him last year: “He said, ‘Jim, if I don’t complete the next term, I want Christopher to run, and will you support him?’ . . . I said, ‘Sure.’ ”

Barry said the last conversation he had with his father, at Howard University Hospital the evening before his death, surrounded his future in politics: “When he gets out of the hospital, we were going to start going through the ward and meeting the people he knows.”

Graham met with Barry last month. “I told him the only person who can beat him in this race is himself,” he said. A recovering alcoholic sober for 38 years, Graham said Barry is attending meetings to deal with his struggle with substance abuse.

“I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have a demon in life, and I think Christopher is dealing with his fairly well,” he said. “Him sitting out this election, I believe would not be a good move. This is his father’s seat.”

While his father is a constant presence in Barry’s campaign — on Friday, for instance, he hosted a screening of a documentary about his father’s life at Howard University — it’s his mother’s voice that rings in his head.

“She’d always say, ‘A mother’s dream is that the son be better than his father,’ ” he said, sitting outside his old apartment at Wellington Park. “That’s what she wanted me to be: a better man than he was.”

By that measure, “I’d say I have a lot of work to do,” he said. “But I thought I made my own mark. I’ve got that foundation. I’ve just got to build on it.”