Memo To Barry: Enough
By Marc Fisher
For several years now, some of Marion Barry's friends have been concerned that he was back on the stuff. Off and on, they've told him they suspected and begged him to get help. When he spurned their love, some of them decided that the only thing they could do for him was to cut him off, walk away, stop letting him think he could handle it all, stop enabling.
He found himself without work, without his entourage. After the murky 2002 incident in which police found Barry sitting in his Jaguar with a small amount of crack cocaine, the four-time mayor knew well enough to back out of his candidacy for an at-large seat on the D.C. Council. After that, his wife left him and he ended up in a small apartment, alone.
About the best thing you can say about Marion Barry is that although he ran a government that handed out contracts to a whole lot of people who had never before had much money, he never took for himself. When he ran for council from Ward 8 in 2004, he needed the salary.
But when Barry launched that bid to return to elective office, many of those who had always stood by him absented themselves.
Of course, Barry won anyway, because he is a master campaigner, because despite his increasingly frail body, he still had some of the old magic, because a vote for Barry was still a poke in the eye to the powers that be, because Ward 8 in Southeast Washington is still home to thousands of people whose eyes sparkle when they talk about how Barry gave them their first summer job, back in the day.
And now he's gone and disappointed even those people, testing positive for drug use, sources told The Post's Yolanda Woodlee and Carol D. Leonnig. Cocaine, again.
We all know fakers, liars who are so brilliant and so attractive and so good at what they do that we suppress the evidence of their misdeeds and tell ourselves that everything will work out. And then they go and do something stupid and we pretend we didn't know it was coming. I had a friend who was much like Barry in his overwhelming charisma and dazzling mind. Everybody loved David, adored him so much that when he began spiraling into self-destruction, we assured ourselves that he could manage it. And then my friend killed himself, and too many of us made believe it was a surprise.
Now here's one of Barry's good friends, who decided a couple of years ago to separate himself from the man he'd worked with for four decades: "I tried everything. I tried being his friend, I tried being tough with him. I stopped giving him the money I'd been giving. He wouldn't listen. I finally had to admit to myself that staying connected with him was encouraging him to live that double life." Cutting Barry off didn't necessarily push him to face his addiction, but it let this friend carry on knowing that he was no longer enabling the ex-mayor.
In a warped, small way, we are all responsible for Barry's continuing addiction to risk. When we vote for this gaunt old man, when we write news stories about his escapades, when we share jokes about him, we are joining in the fantasy -- the ludicrous notion that he is a superman who can make things happen in this dysfunctional city even while he destroys himself with drugs. We did it again last month, when he staged a little stunt to "save" the D.C. baseball stadium and we hailed the return of the Mayor for Life.
Friends, colleagues, reporters, we've all dutifully listened and repeated his rhetoric about how he's clean now, he's found God, he drinks nutritious fruit juices, he attends his 12-step meetings. And he withered away before our eyes.
But now, even some of those who voted for him more times than they can recall say it's over, enough.
"The only time I was ashamed to say I was from Washington, D.C., was when he got reelected mayor," says Ray Moore, a retired head of the grounds department at Gallaudet University who now lives in one of the city's senior housing complexes, Harvard Towers. "I'm a recovered addict, so I know about what he's going through. But he had his chances -- better chances than anybody else had. He did it to himself. And the people let him get away with so much."
Just last week, Barry told a bizarre tale of being robbed in his apartment by two kids whom he announced he loved and would not hold responsible for their act. However odd the story was, many people decided to pretend that everything was okay. Just move along, folks, nothing to see here.
In 1998, when Barry was sounding like he might run for a fifth term as mayor, I traveled with him to Harvard Towers, where the old ladies giggled like schoolgirls to see him. Moore remembers: "They had lipstick on and makeup on. They had their hair fixed for him. I told them, 'You won't see him after he's elected,' but they didn't care."
Barry's star power won him bye after bye. When he went to jail in the early 1990s, when members of his administration went to jail, when his women seemed to be tucked away in every ward, when the District sank so deep people thought it would never come back -- always, he was still the sharecropper's son who came up from the streets to create more black prosperity than probably anybody else in American history, and that somehow excused the rest.
Now he's a 69-year-old man with a cocaine problem, poor health and an arrogance that led him to ignore the tax man year after year.
He needs to resign from the council, for he has finally disgraced his office one time too many.
If he needs a judge to help him make that decision, so be it. And if Barry still declines to see how far he has fallen, then maybe he deserves another dose of prison. Not that it will turn him around, not even that it will send a message to the city's young people. But because we live in a society of laws, and even the brightest of stars must follow the occasional rule.
Ray Moore and just about everyone else I spoke to at Harvard Towers yesterday ended up using the same word: "Enough."