Marion Barry, D.C.'s "Mayor for Life," Remembered at Community Service - NBC 7 San Diego
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Marion Barry, D.C.'s "Mayor for Life," Remembered at Community Service

Huge turnout for Barry at Convention Center

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Remembering Marion Barry

    Dignitaries, politicians, and District residents pack D.C.'s Walter E. Washington Convention Center to say goodbye to four-term Mayor Marion Barry. News4's Molette Green reports. (Published Saturday, Dec. 6, 2014)

    D.C.'s "Mayor for Life," Marion Barry, was remembered Saturday in a huge community memorial service.

    The event, at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center that Barry championed, brought together many people to commemorate the life of one of D.C.'s most fascinating, troubled, and irrepressible political figures.

    The Rev. Willie Wilson, who lead the services, called Barry an icon, a consummate politician, and an elder statesman.

    "He was a fierce fighter for the downtrodden and the disposed and the disinherited," Wilson said. "And he was our friend and our brother."

    Wilson briefly reflected on a troubling part of Barry's life -- the arrest at the Vista Hotel -- and other events that the former mayor regretted in his past. But Wilson said with that recognition, Barry grew stronger and more determined.

    "He said, in his own words, 'I identify with the fallen, whoever they may be. Everybody, at some point in life, is going to get knocked down. I don't care who you are. How rich you are. How poor you are. If you fall down, fall down on your back and look up. And if you can look up, you can get up. And if you can get up, you can go up.'"

    Christopher Barry, Marion's son, took to the podium to offer words of encouragement to others who looked up to his father and his works.

    "Marion Barry will never die because he taught us to stand up," Christopher Barry said. "There's thousands and millions of Marion Barrys out there."

    The Rev. Louis Farrakhan roused the crowd with a story about a visit he made to Washington years ago and a reporter asking him about Barry's legal transgressions.

    As the reporter built up Farrakhan as a moral pillar, he said, "'What do you think,' she said, 'of a man who broke his marital vows and used drugs?' I said, 'Who are you talking about? John Fitzgerald Kennedy?'"

    The crowd erupted in laughter and applause.

    Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) spoke about Barry's dancing, his youth as a worker in the cotton fields of Mississippi, and the roots that shaped him.

    "A man can choose to escape and forget childhood poverty and merely reminisce about his early years in the movement," the congresswoman said. "Instead, Marion joined his childhood poverty and his life-changing years in the civil rights movement to form his world view."

    Mayor Vincent Gray, a longtime friend and political ally of Barry, said Barry stood up for people with intellectual disabilities long before it was politically popular to do so.

    Gray, who directed an organization for the intellectually disabled, recalled how Barry dealt with a wealthy resident who didn't want a group home in his neighborhood.

    "Mayor Barry said, and I quote, 'You really don't want any answers, do you? If you want to talk about how we will make this work, I will stay with you all night. Otherwise, I have nothing else to say to you.' That was vintage Barry,'' Gray said. "The home opened and was a huge success.''

    Some mourners arrived at Barry's memorial wearing their Sunday best, while others sported T-shirts with Barry's likeness.

    Charles Wilson, of northwest Washington, said he got his first summer job as a 13-year-old from Barry's youth employment program and owes his career as a city social worker to Barry. He said Barry is justly beloved by many city residents and people who have negative associations "don't understand at all.''

    Barry's widow, Cora Masters Barry, said her husband's common touch prevented him from completing ordinary household errands.

    "I stopped letting him go to the gas station, because he would spend all his money, not on gas but on people asking him for money,'' Masters Barry said. "I stopped letting him go to the grocery store, because we couldn't get out of the grocery store.''

    In his eulogy, the Rev. Jesse Jackson called Barry, who came to Washington as the first chairman of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, a "freedom fighter'' who joins the pantheon of civil rights leaders who died before him.

    "Marion was one of the architects of the new South and the new America,'' Jackson said. "Marion Barry emancipated Washington.''

    Thousands of citizens have expressed their affection for Barry since his death Nov. 23. His grasp of populist politics led Barry to four terms as mayor -- and a virtual lock on his Ward 8 seat on District council.

    "Whatever happened in his personal life, he's always been committed to this city," third-generation Washingtonian Delia Davis-Dyke said. "I work in a Ward 8 school. As a council member, he's been very committed to ensuring my students are taken care of and not forgotten."

    Barry was buried after the memorial service Saturday, in a private ceremony at historic Congressional Cemetery on Capitol Hill, which Barry picked himself.

    Saturday's events follows days of commemoration.

    Friday evening, a church Barry frequently attended in southeast D.C. hosted a community memorial service.

    Friday morning, D.C. residents chanted Barry's name while a procession for the "Mayor for Life" traveled through the District.

    The procession left the Wilson Building at 9:30 a.m., traveling through downtown and into Ward 8, the section of the District where Barry lived. Barry also represented that portion of the city on the D.C. Council.

    As the procession approached the Big Chair sculpture in Ward 8, residents lining the sidewalks along Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue chanted Barry's name and swarmed around the hearse carrying his body.

    Barry's widow, Cora Masters Barry, and son Christopher got out of their SUV and greeted residents with handshakes and hugs. Masters Barry said she wanted to hear from and feel the people, News4's Mark Segraves reported. 

    At Ballou High School, students chanted "Ward 8," and the drumline of the school's marching band joined the procession. Barry's casket was transferred to a horse-drawn caisson at United Medical Center for the last leg of the procession to Temple of Praise, a church in southeast D.C. that Barry regularly attended.

    The city's memorial events for Barry began Thursday, when his casket was brought to the Wilson Building to lie in repose. Family members, politicians and the public filed by the casket for the next 24 hours to pay their respects.

    Barry died Nov. 23 at age 78. He served four terms as mayor and three terms as a District council member. But along with that huge political success, many personal failures marked his turbulent life.

    He confounded critics who railed against his melodramatic life, even as he basked in the admiration of forgiving citizens who looked to him as their champion. Early on in his career, it was the Washington City Paper who dubbed him "Mayor for Life."

    The son of a Mississippi sharecropper, Barry emerged from the student and civil rights activism of the 1960s to serve on the elected D.C. school board and D.C. Council.

    Barry first came to D.C. with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. He later helped establish and run Pride, an inner-city help group. When Congress granted limited home rule to D.C., Barry won a first seat on the D.C. Council in 1974.

    Shot in the chest by Hanafi Muslims when they overran at the Wilson Building in 1977, Barry used the publicity to help launch his 1978 campaign for mayor. He was a brash reformer, equally eloquent on the streets and in boardrooms. He narrowly won a three-way battle after The Washington Post editorial page heavily and repeatedly endorsed him.

    In 1979, Barry began serving the first of three consecutive terms as D.C.’s second elected mayor. His pro-business policies helped spur economic development. He built civic programs for youth and senior citizens, and opened the city government to many African-American professionals, who previously had been shut out.

    But lackluster city services, like slow snow removal and lost city ambulances, dogged Barry's administration. He battled a soaring homicide rate among the worst in the nation, and vowed a war on illegal drugs even as rumors about his own drug addiction swirled around Washington.

    Barry's stature crumbled spectacularly in 1990, when an FBI sting videotaped Barry smoking crack cocaine in Washington’s Vista Hotel.

    Barry famously complained that he had been set up by former girlfriend Rasheeda Moore, an FBI informant.

    Barry’s federal trial turned into a drama of prosecution charges and persecution complaints. Out of 14 drug charges, a jury convicted Barry of a single misdemeanor possession charge. U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson sentenced him to six months in prison, the maximum punishment.

    Many thought the scandal would finish Barry's political career.

    But in 1992, Barry emerged from prison and began his comeback right at the prison gate. Just months later he won the Ward 8 council seat from longtime ally and four-term incumbent Wilhelmina Rolark.

    In 1994, he swept back into the mayor’s office for a fourth term, trouncing failed reform Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly. Congress reacted sharply to concerns over another term for Barry and Kelly’s massive debt by creating a five-member federal control board to run the city over Barry.

    Barry appointed then-obscure Anthony Williams as his chief financial officer. Acerbic and shy compared to Barry, Williams won the mayor’s office in 1998 when Barry chose not to seek re-election.

    Barry returned to the political limelight in 2004, winning Ward 8 over another former ally, Sandy Allen. Waving off criticism of disloyalty, Barry said it wasn’t personal — it was politics.

    In recent years, Barry easily won re-election in Ward 8. But he suffered from declining health, and received a kidney transplant.

    Other controversies endured: failing to file income taxes, being censured for steering a city contract to a girlfriend, and making insensitive remarks about Asian storeowners and Filipina nurses, to whom he later apologized after stinging public criticism.

    But of the six mayors who’ve served the city since home rule began in the 1970s, it was Barry’s Mayor for Life personality and rollercoaster career that helped define D.C. politics for decades.