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Marion Barry's wasted potential

One of the last things I did before I left my job as assistant managing editor of The Post’s Metro section was to put together a table for the White House correspondents' dinner. My choice of a guest was a no-brainer. I invited the local politician who most intrigued me during my years covering the Washington area: Marion Barry.

The erstwhile mayor accepted the invitation. But, given his often-rancorous relationship with the paper as well as his erratic personal behavior, I didn’t know for certain if he would really attend until the night of the dinner, when he made his way through throngs of people who held out hands to be clasped and shaken. Barry has a personal presence so demanding that it stops crowds. I’ve seen it at work at political rallies, council meetings and even in The Post’s own newsroom. That night, Barry was engaging and introspective as he talked District history and shared tales of his political life.

The man -- despite the best efforts of his critics and his own actions -- is not a caricature. And that’s why D.C. Council member Kwame Brown (D-At Large), who, like many in Washington, grew up with the inspiration of Marion Barry, was right to say the latest -- and perhaps most serious -- allegations of wrongdoing represent a “sad day for the city.” An investigation undertaken for the D.C. Council accuses Barry of violating ethical laws and breaking the public trust by channeling public funds to friends, allies and a former girlfriend. He has denied many of the allegations, but council members must decide what to do with their most famous colleague as the Office of the U.S. Attorney ponders its possible actions.

It is bad enough that Barry squandered his talents and that what should have been a rich political legacy is instead marked by scandal. Even worse is that it is the District -- particularly the residents who most believed in Barry -- that paid the price for that wastefulness.

By Jo-Ann Armao  | February 17, 2010; 2:00 PM ET
Categories:  Armao  | Tags:  Jo-Ann Armao  
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Marion Barry was the worst thing to happen to DC since the '68 riots. It took over a decade to balance the budget and restore services to the pre-Barry days.

Barry is more like a locust plague than a public servant.

Posted by: AxelDC | February 17, 2010 2:17 PM | Report abuse

With a firm fatherless welfare constituency, the man will be re-elected for life from his jail cell.

Posted by: tjhall1 | February 17, 2010 2:17 PM | Report abuse

Ask the people in his ward whether he has wasted his potential.

Posted by: confused1 | February 17, 2010 2:49 PM | Report abuse

As a crack-head politician, Marion Barry has been wasted for years. Just look at the before and after pictures of Whitney Houston - before and after Bobby Brown and a crack pipe.

Despite his personal charisma, he is a world-class scoundrel and thief. It's time for him to do some time.

Posted by: alance | February 17, 2010 3:05 PM | Report abuse

Barry personifies the reason why DC won't get statehood status. As long as DC continues to elect fools like him, why in God's name would we want 2 Senators and a Congressman elected by the very people that elected this clown.

Posted by: almelbe | February 17, 2010 4:03 PM | Report abuse

Barry is a leech who does relatively little for and routinely takes from the people who keep electing him over and over again. Sure, like any good Lord and Master, he dazzles them with BS and gives them table scraps, which, compared to nothing, look pretty good to his serfs.

Posted by: mi-ti-bear | February 17, 2010 4:06 PM | Report abuse

Your point might have been interesting about 25 years ago. No one who respects this city should have anything to offer Marion except a swift kick out the door. The saddest thing about this situation is that Marion has even a single DC voter who even thinks about putting him in office.

Posted by: whiskeybacon | February 17, 2010 4:14 PM | Report abuse

If this latest ALLEGATION constitutes a crime, then just about every politician who ever lived has committed it. Barry's response to the allegation was rational and reasonable. Much better than say, Ted Kennedy's following Chappaquidick -- Now that, my friend, was a crime. But Kennedy, the alleged heir of bootlegging, was never held accountable.

Posted by: sarjo220 | February 17, 2010 4:23 PM | Report abuse

Forget that teleprompter-reading assistant to president pelosi, the REAL icon of the loony-left d-crat socialist party is marion barry. He represents EVERTHING that the loonies have to offer.

Posted by: TeaPartyPatriot | February 17, 2010 4:31 PM | Report abuse

Marion Barry the Man!

Say what you want he helped more than he hurt.

Can Bush say that?

Posted by: shamken | February 17, 2010 4:32 PM | Report abuse

Marion Dingle-berry is a 70'S pimp.

Posted by: dashriprock | February 17, 2010 5:03 PM | Report abuse

Without all his powerful inside connections with the police, prosecutors, judges and politicians, he'd be in jail for 10 years. But, power and money talk in DC. Nothing else matters.

Posted by: Socialistic | February 17, 2010 5:06 PM | Report abuse

Forget it Jo-Ann, the jerk is a just another scumbag politician. Why do the citizens of the U.S. of Arrogance put any hope and trust in these despicable pieces of lifeform???? This baffles, but worse, scares the hell out of me. TFL, Ken

Posted by: kentigereyes | February 17, 2010 5:45 PM | Report abuse

Barry is a sorry excuse for a person. He's an embarrasment to all who once thought well of him.

Posted by: HillRat | February 17, 2010 6:20 PM | Report abuse

I'm careful who I break bread with. I hope you don't have children.

Posted by: mpg515 | February 17, 2010 8:12 PM | Report abuse

Marion Barry's wasted potential.

How true. He could have become a republican senator and been a total crook with paydays he can only dream about.

Posted by: rcubedkc | February 17, 2010 9:11 PM | Report abuse

I don't think he wasted his potential at all; I would say he fully lived up to what everyone knew he would be. After all, he is a black politician. He has done exactly what black politicians do.

Posted by: FridayKnight | February 17, 2010 9:49 PM | Report abuse

I'd be willing to suspend my disbelief that anyone could regard Marion Barry as inspirational, given substantially more evidence than this post offers.

Posted by: douglaslbarber | February 17, 2010 10:01 PM | Report abuse

How wrong this vicious attack really is. The charges absolutely show Hizzonor living up to his potential.

Posted by: Martial | February 17, 2010 10:17 PM | Report abuse

Mighty funny of some of these Comments and the Reporter too! Many of the White Community feels a total disconnect for Barry, however they sit idle while White Politicans commit the same crimes! The real problem with Barry is he never kissed their butts for votes, while Mayor Adrian Fenty is like one of them and doing their bidding! Barry first move becoming Mayor was to bring Black People to work in a Government which was suppose to serve them! Next, disobeying Congress payer made programs geared to uplift the Black Community, which many prospered and benefitted from! Last thing I read it appears the Federal Government is backing far away from presenting charges against him! Also, Ward #8 Voters would vote him right back into Offices regardless! However, with all the CRIMINAL activites we the Residents of the District has seen from the Fenty Administration we're finding these latest charges as a true Smoke Screen!

White Folks love to HATE Marion Barry, and ex's love to get the Media attention for trying to take him down! Barry's main problem is which brain to use when he thinks the one on his head or between his legs! Shoot the Female in this matter is merely no more than a Golddigger who used what's between her legs to get what she wanted! Once the bucks stopped coming in she shopped around and found new buyers! And the Federal Prosecutors seen right through her, but those other 12 on the Council need to really be careful of their next step on this matter! Everyone knows that Graham, Evans, Catania and Mendleson have a lot of things in that Closet they don't want coming forward! And REMEMBER, attempting to destroy Barry's Career is by all means DESTROYING YOUR OWN!

"Barry will be BARRY!"

Posted by: ifordc | February 17, 2010 10:41 PM | Report abuse

For the sake of argument Ms Armao, let's assume all you write about Council Member Marion Barry is correct. However you, Mr. Fred Hiatt, editorial board editor and Ms. Katharine Weymouth, publisher, have your own questionable ethics which all of you refuse to open up to the public about and discuss.

Robert Vinson Brannum

Posted by: robert158 | February 17, 2010 11:31 PM | Report abuse

Robert Vinson Brannum, please enlighten us. Is it fair to cast such a stone and not back it up with information?

Posted by: rcvinson64 | February 18, 2010 12:01 AM | Report abuse

First and foremost, Barry is a human being with human flexibilities. To a greater or lesser degree, like all of us, he is a sinner in need of redemption and at times the compassion that his ego makes difficult to extend to him.

But for all of these shortcomings, he has certainly been successful, though far from perfect and at times, far from a role model.


Posted by: | February 18, 2010 1:32 AM | Report abuse

I think it is past time for hand-wringing about Marion Barry. Such has been going on for a number of decades now. Not much has changed, except that he is getting old.

Posted by: dorofacol | February 18, 2010 2:36 AM | Report abuse

IS ARMAO A MAN OR A WOMEN?......Or Both. Wash. Post Writers Are All Unisex, Right?

Posted by: djmcfly | February 18, 2010 3:22 AM | Report abuse

Unfortunately for African-Americans, Barry is a criminal who has gotten away with while playing the race card and damaging the African-American brand and reputation. If he were white, he'd have been in jail a long time ago and stayed there. He has made a joke of the movement.

Posted by: Calabrese99 | February 18, 2010 5:48 AM | Report abuse

The most incredible, but not surprising, thing about this story is the admission by a high-level Washington Post doyen that the Post panders to politicians, no matter how incompetent, corrupt, and totally lacking in morality that they may be. The wide-eyed innocence with which Ms. Armao discusses inviting this despicable reprobate to a White House dinner is breathtaking.

Imagine if a Washington Post editor around 1960 recounted, with not one iota of shame or remorse, inviting a Southern race-baiting politician to a White House dinner. Imagine a WaPo editor telling us how she had invited a revered religious figure like the Reverend Jim Jones or David Koresh, to a White House dinner.

There is something so pathetically sick here, it defies human imagination.

Posted by: tbarksdl | February 18, 2010 6:31 AM | Report abuse

Why woildn't a guy who made his political career on hadouts and entitlements want a little somethin-somethin for himself?

Posted by: bobilly2 | February 18, 2010 6:38 AM | Report abuse

shamken said:
Marion Barry the Man!
Say what you want he helped more than he hurt.

Of course you are joking, but it does bring up the typical Marion Barry reply that he did "great things" for the city. When asked to elaborate, no supporter can actually name one. This guy made a punchline out of the nation's capital, you cannot hurt more than that.

Posted by: kieran2001 | February 18, 2010 8:01 AM | Report abuse

Where da 20 rock be at?

Posted by: manfromthefuture | February 18, 2010 8:17 AM | Report abuse

Ms Armao resides in a dream world. Apparently she has never dealth directly with Marion Barry, as I have done. For as long as I have known him, Mr. Barry has been a liar and deceiver. He refused to investigate reliable reports of police abuse; exploited his good wife Effy to deceive residents who filed such reports; and when faced with his deceits evaded them with even more lies. Decent people should be ashamed of this scumbag. People in his ward like him because he has found jobs in District government for many; but regrettably most of those appointees proved incompetent in the jobs they were given, to the distress of other DC residents. My experience with Marion Barry tells me that there is nothing decent or admirable about this man despite the public adulation he has enjoyed far too long.

Posted by: amtak | February 18, 2010 8:46 AM | Report abuse

"their most famous colleague ..." - the word is infamous. With the exception of a few local folks who have benefited from his practices, he is known to the VAST majority of Americans as a corrupt person and politician.

John Wanye Gacy threw great parties, Ted Kaczynski was a genious, and John Allen Muhammad served in the U.S. military for 16 years. I am not comparing Barry to a serial killer, just pointing out that even the most dispicable people in society have done great things.

Posted by: justanotherguy | February 18, 2010 9:00 AM | Report abuse

Someone pass the crackpipe please.."Hey, the B**** set me up!

Posted by: misty2 | February 18, 2010 9:04 AM | Report abuse

What's wrong with the media? Portraying Marion Barry as anything but a narcissistic crook who was out for himself and only used charity to others to benefit his own phony reputation.

Posted by: hz9604 | February 18, 2010 9:48 AM | Report abuse

You represent the worst of the celebrity-worship culture. You break bread, and brag about it, with a destructive man BECAUSE he is famous. Shame on you. Who will you invite next time? Im sure you can find some mafioso creep with an expensive haircut to charm you and your table. SHAME ON YOU!!!

Posted by: ewsnyder | February 18, 2010 9:52 AM | Report abuse

Did anyone besides me watch the HBO documentary on MB a few months back? Sure, it was overly sympathetic and skewed itself as an explanation to white folk why he remains (for the most part) popular w/ his constituency, but it also shows that a personal life and public career is not all good nor all bad. I'm ambivalent about locking up a sick old man who wants to do good by others but continually shoots himself & the city in the foot. Forced retirement - yes, jail - no.

Posted by: nonsensical2001 | February 18, 2010 10:38 AM | Report abuse

"potential" Barry was never anything more than a race baiting bum. He is an embarassment to the entire country.

Posted by: icmop911 | February 18, 2010 10:50 AM | Report abuse

Says who?

Or "Who talks this trash?"

Posted by: GaryEMasters | February 18, 2010 10:52 AM | Report abuse

For the sake of us who are slow on the up take let us review what we think is happening here.
Barry essentially takes a kick back or as it is known is some circles a bribe for $5 grand meanwhile back at the City Council they earmark payoffs to the tune of $147 million and no one knows where the money went! I thought that Congress was involved in overseeing DC government? Maybe not went it comes to spending money.
Now it is interesting that EACH and EVERY member of the Council also receives a salary, credit card, travel money, $100,000 in a personal account and another $350,000 for more staff and offices that are NOT subject to audit or control. Sweet!~
How is it that they each need additional offices and staffs when they can walkout of the building and see their voters? I thought the offices they have at the Council were for that?
No wonder they are ticked at Barry he is forcing exposure of these people and the legal theft they are doing.
Note: Barry will be in office until he decides to quit or dies.

Now the only remaining question is how do I get part of this deal?

Posted by: KBlit | February 18, 2010 11:03 AM | Report abuse

Mr. Barry is no better or no worse than most other elected officials in this country, including the US Senate. Mr. Barry's major problem is he got caught or keeps getting caught. That is the difference. At least he is a crook on a small scale, not like US senators. Part of this is because Mr. Barry is black and an easy target.

The public knows most politicians are crooks but the corrupt pols just haven't gotten caught. You can't ever make me believe that that crook Grassley is any different than Mr. Barry, when Grassley takes $10,000,000.00 bribe, lobbing fee, for doing the citizens best interest.

Posted by: seasail | February 18, 2010 11:23 AM | Report abuse


Posted by: rawdiamond61 | February 18, 2010 11:27 AM | Report abuse

Why waste space on this topic. No one will change their mind whatever you say. And critic or fan of Mr. Barry, the calendar says that he is done as a force, except as a distraction and irrelevancy to people who should but don't know better.

Posted by: JimJohnson2 | February 18, 2010 11:45 AM | Report abuse

He might not be a caricature armao but you are.

Posted by: davidsawh | February 18, 2010 3:09 PM | Report abuse

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