Thought You Knew Marion Barry’s Story? Now Hear Him Tell It

In his new book, Mayor for Life: The Incredible Story of Marion Barry Jr., Barry details his fall into cocaine and what the drugs cost him, plus the legacy he wishes he had.

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That could have been the name of Barry's book, which was just released.

It has been 24 years since the night in 1990 when Barry walked into the Vista to meet Hazel Diane "Rasheeda" Moore and walked out in handcuffs. Twenty-four years since he put that pipe to his lips and inhaled. Twenty-four years since the former mayor-turned-Ward 8 councilman has had to talk about what that meant to him and the city. And for that, Barry says he has made amends: "I have apologized to the city. I have apologized to the nation. I apologized to my son Chris. We are a nation of second chances."

Barry's list of second chances started long before his post-Vista rehabilitation crusade. In March 1977, during his second term as a councilman-at-large, Barry was on his way to his council chamber offices. A security guard warned that something was going on on the fifth floor and that Barry needed to be careful.

As soon as Barry stepped off the elevator, he was shot. A group of Hanafi Muslims had taken some 13 hostages in the district building. They were angry about what they felt was mistreatment by the government. Barry just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The media made him out as a hero.

"I remember one of the news reporters saying, 'That's a crazy way to get elected mayor,' " he writes. "I wasn't even thinking about becoming mayor at that moment; I was only thinking about being alive."

It was a tragic moment that, with the media's help, built a mystique around the already enigmatic Barry, who at the time was known for his brash ways, Afro, dashiki and ability to speak both the language of the government and the language of his people.

What most people didn't know was that under that dashiki for a short period of time, Barry sometimes carried a gun.  

Mayor for Life

Ken Cummins, a Washington City Paper Loose Lips columnist, created the "mayor for life" moniker, and it was never meant to be a good thing.

"I didn't intend for it to be positive," Cummins told the Washington Post. "It was meant to be satirical—not flattering. It was a spoof, basically saying that we would never get rid of this guy ... in another world or another culture, he'd be dictator."

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