Marion Barry’s Story—the Way He Told It

In his 2014 book, Mayor for Life: The Incredible Story of Marion Barry Jr., Barry detailed his fall into cocaine abuse and what the drugs cost him, plus the legacy he wishes he had.

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(Editor’s Note: This article was first published in June of 2014 when Marion Barry released his biography. The 4-term former DC mayor has died at age 78 of an undisclosed illness.)

It’s the 1980s and cocaine is being sucked up the nostrils of some of the world’s elite. Mayor Marion Barry is at an exclusive party in the nation’s capital on 11th Street Northwest.

A woman has been hitting the bathroom all night, so he figures she is bumping coke. He has been to parties before and seen this scene unfold, these types of trips to the bathroom, the insistent sniffing afterward. He knows that if cocaine is here, he shouldn’t be. But two things are working well this night: The woman is dope and he has been drinking.

She hits the bathroom and toots up, then walks out and turns to him. “That’s some good s–t. You want some?” she asks him. “This makes my p–sy hot.”

That is how D.C. lost its second black mayor.

The pretty, unnamed woman with the addiction would pass Marion Barry a business card with coke at the tip. Caught inside a Hennessy-and-cola-induced pretty-woman-sex-driven-I-run-this-city haze, he took a hit.

That is how the habit started, and for years he would chase that high that made him feel like he had “ejaculated,” until it led him to the Vista Hotel, the FBI and his infamous line “The bitch set me up.”

The sting and the spectacularly vivid public downfall of the mayor smoking crack went viral without the Internet. It appeared on newspapers, magazines and T-shirts alike. Thanks to the recent crack-smoking antics of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, Barry’s story has gained a second life. The sordid tale of that night at a hotel, with the woman and the crack pipe, has become the story that Marion Barry has been trying to rewrite ever since his arrest.

Barry hopes his new book, Mayor for Life: The Incredible Story of Marion Barry Jr., will help set the record straight on what he considers a publicly embarrassing moment in a lifetime of struggle by a righteous man who makes no apologies for his indignant crusade fighting injustices against black people.

“Hundreds of interviews, hundreds of stories, hundreds of photographs, have been done about Marion Barry,” he told The Root. “They all deal with the ‘what’ of Marion Barry, but none of those articles deal with the ‘who’ Marion Barry really is. So I decided to put it down in my own words, the ‘who.’ That I was born poor and black in the Delta of Mississippi to parents who were sharecroppers who made three to four thousand dollars a year before my mother said, ‘I’m tired of that.’ “