dc is my home town, as you may know, and i grew up there during the emergence of the formerly alive marion barry. i recall him even as a young pseudo-blackpower leader. i wish i could say something other than that marion barry was a charlatan, a buffoon, and an embarrassment.
now, statistics show that 86.4% of the men who rose to political power during the golden era of patriarchy were in public service for the poontang and blow, so he was not alone in that, and definitely not alone in that in dc. and i can forgive someone for being an addict; i do it all the time. but what i won't forgive marion barry for is coming out of rehab, using the rhetoric of recovery as a way into the terrible problems of dc in, say, the early 90s, and just continuing with the crank and trim all the while. once it became clear that this was the situation, it also became clear that this was about the most repulsive imaginable reflection on barry the person and on my native city: in my world, recovery is sacred, and dc as a whole was in a terrible addiction spiral from the early-70s heroin epidemic to being one of the world centers of crack and hence murder in the barry administration and beyond. for so many people, that recovery thing was obviously life and death on any given day. and yet barry just fed it into his hypocrisy machine and rode it back to some semblance of political power. he really was a metaphor for dc like that, in every dimension from congressional and cabinet and defense contractor to back-alley ghetto: the marble edifice. the seething corruption within.
in 1991, the year his first 8-year run as mayor ended, "the murder capital" hit its top end with 479 homicides in a city of about 800k residents. this was due to the drug industry that was also supplying marion barry. as barry rolled through the district's sex workers, dc generatesd one of the world's worst rates of hiv transmission. you can't blame mb for all this, but you sure can't exonerate him either; he was the problem he portrayed himself as trying to solve.
throughout the barry mayoralty - and before and since, to be fair - the district of columbia had an entirely dysfunctional, useless school system: a famous intractable laughingstock. for example, neither the superintendant nor the mayor knew how many people the school system employed, nor could they generate a plausible number even with years to do so, or a list of employees. don't get me started; i was raised up in the very bowels of the unbelievable idiocy. barry famously created a 'black middle class' in dc and started cleaning up the u-street corridor etc. he created this class by creating tens of thousands of city jobs, and there were thousands of people who owed their jobs to him, which is one reason that he could not be kept away from power. many of these people moved to prince george's county, which is part of why inner-city neighborhoods collapsed in his era. yet even with this mass of employees, or in many cases because of it, the barry administration could not deliver basic city services effectively in any part of the city.
i have been hearing tributes to marion barry's charisma. i never met the man; apparently it was a religio-sexual experience. and yet as marion barry mumbled his way through a speech or a press conference at any stage of his career, his ineluctable personal magneticsm was likewise indetectable. he was briefly inspiring in the early 70s as an alternative to the uncle-tommy-seeming old commissioners who ran the place on behalf of congressional segregationists, such as barry's predecessor walter washington. but man alive other than that it was all drawbacks.