Marion Barry resurrection is not exactly a miracle


WASHINGTON -- Marion Barry is determined to prove that for politicians resurrection is not a miracle but an ongoing process.

Barry, the former mayor of Washington, who two years ago served six months in prison for cocaine possession, is poised to announce his plans to run for mayor once again.

And does it surprise you to learn that he has at least a reasonable chance for victory?

Of course it does not.

Americans are a forgiving people.

During Barry's trial, witness after witness, some of whom were longtime friends of Barry's, testified that Barry had used cocaine, marijuana and opium on hundreds of occasions over a period of years.

Barry stood charged with 14 counts of drug use and perjury. Yet throughout his trial he seemed strangely unworried.

Unlike some criminal defendants, he did not keep his mouth shut or avoid the media. During the trial he went on TV and radio and gave interviews to the newspapers, always making the same point:

He was a black politician being unfairly prosecuted by a white power structure.

Never mind that the government had a videotape of him smoking crack. That was not the issue.

And Benjamin Hooks, then executive director of the NAACP, condemned the Barry prosecution as "Nazi-like" and said

"overzealous, hostile -- if not openly racist -- district and U.S. attorneys will bring a black official to trial on the flimsiest of evidence."

(Kurt Schmoke disagreed. "I don't see the evidence of a conspiracy driven by the national government to prosecute black elected officials," he told me. "And the day after [Hooks'] statement, I saw that Arch Moore was sentenced to prison." Arch A. Moore, Jr., a three-term governor of West Virginia, was sentenced to five years and 10 months in prison for mail fraud, obstruction of justice and filing false income tax returns. Moore is white.)

During his trial, Barry wore a yellow flower in his lapel when prosecution witnesses testified, symbolizing the "canaries" singing against him, he said. When defense witnesses testified, Barry wore a white flower symbolizing "purity."

He remained unperturbed. "I think," he said, "the prosecutors know that in this town all it takes is one juror saying, 'I'm not going to convict Marion Barry. I don't care what you say.' "

He was right. Marion Barry knew his town.

A middle-class jury of 10 blacks and two whites convicted Barry of only one misdemeanor, acquitted him of another and deadlocked on 12 more charges.

The trial judge was outraged and later said that four of the jurors "obviously did not tell the truth" when asked if they could decide the case impartially.

Which was exactly what Barry had predicted, wasn't it?

When it came time for sentencing on the misdemeanor conviction, Barry wrote a letter to the judge and portrayed himself as a victim and not a perpetrator.

"I write to you as a recovering alcoholic and a drug addict," Barry wrote. "This is an admission I have learned to accept . . . I learned that I have an insidious disease that afflicts millions of Americans. The activities and behavior that I participated in while under the ravages of this disease were degrading and outrageous."

Barry asked for community service. He got six months in prison.

But when he got out, he moved from an upscale section of Washington to the poorest and most crime-ridden.

"Barry is a rare man that everyone in this community can identify with because they have been in the same places -- in jail and in trouble and downtrodden as he has been," the Rev. Willie Wilson, pastor of the Union Temple Baptist Church, told a reporter. "But they can look up to him because he's come back and he represents hope."

Barry ran for the City Council and won. And now he is telling people that he is ready to move back to his old job as mayor.

"God blessed me with an ability to motivate and inspire," Barry said.

If Barry wins, I will have no problem with his return to the office he disgraced. I have no problem with any city electing a past, present or future scoundrel.

And that is because I believe in what Adlai Stevenson once said: "In a democracy, your public servants serve you right."

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