Several leaders from across the District reflected on Marion Barry’s life with plenty of reflective and positive thoughts on former D.C. Council member and four-term mayor. Barry died at 1:46 a.m. at the United Medical Center on Nov. 23 after collapsing the previous day while he was leaving Howard University Hospital after visiting his son, Christopher.
Nyela Williams (left in hat) Barbara Jones (center) a longtime employee of former Mayor Barry and Dawn Perry (right) comfort each other during a vigil to honor Marion Barry. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Barry served as mayor of the District from 1979-1991 and from 1995-1999. He was elected to the D.C. Board of Education, from 1971-1974 and served on the D.C. Council from 1974-1979 as an at-large member and represented Ward 8 from 1993-1995 and from 2005 to 2014.
D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray (D), who had known Barry for over 30 years, said that political icon will be missed.
“Marion was not just a colleague but also was a friend with whom I shared fond memories about governing the city,” the mayor said. “He loved the District of Columbia and so many Washingtonians loved him.”
On the Nov. 24 edition of Channel 5’s Fox Morning News, Gray said that no concrete plans were in place as of yet to honor Barry.
Barry has been credited for putting Blacks and women in higher level management positions in the District government and for strong advocating that up to 45 percent of city contracts be awarded to firms that were Black or that partnered with Black firms and professionals.
“He did those things that he thought would make a difference in the lives of people in this city,” Maudine Cooper, Barry’s former chief of staff and director of Washington’s Office of Human Rights and Minority Business Opportunity Commission told the AFRO, referring to his tenacity in creating opportunity for Blacks in D.C.
Former Washington D.C. Mayor Marion Barry (AP Photo/Rogelio Solis, File)
D.C. Mayor-elect Muriel Bowser (D), who served on the D.C. Council with Barry and was often seen with him at campaign events during the recent general election season, said that Barry “has been a part of my family for decades, and will continue to be an example of me and so many others.”
Bowser’s parents, Joe and Joan Bowser, served as Ward 5 coordinators for Barry’s successful run for mayor in 1978. Barry was serving as a Bowser transition co-chair, along with former mayors Sharon Pratt, Anthony Williams and Adrian Fenty.
D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) said that Barry “was a voice on the council for human rights and civil rights.”
“Most recently he fought to restore benefits to families on welfare,” the chairman said. “It was on issues like this where he was persistent and passionate and his voice will be missed.”
Mendelson said that the council will take all appropriate steps to honor Barry and celebrate his life.
One of Barry’s strongest political allies on the council and his political life was D.C. Council member Anita Bonds (D-At Large).
“Marion was a political genius, community outreach expert, champion of the over-looked and the left-out while emphasizing inclusion of everyone,” Bonds, who serves as the chairman of the D.C. Democratic State Committee, said. “While his history of accomplishment began decades prior to his entry onto the D.C. political scene representing SNCC in the 1960s, even today he remains the city’s favorite politician and truly loved by most and many across the nation.”
One of Barry’s hallmarks as mayor was the D.C. Summer Youth Employment Program and that is how D.C. Council member Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5) remembers his late colleague.
“Marion Barry touched so many lives, including my own,” McDuffie, who is the council’s chairman pro tem, said. “Growing up in the District, I vividly recall stories of his political successes as well as his personal struggles. As a teenager, I benefitted from his summer jobs program, especially his Mayor’s Youth Leadership Institute.”
McDuffie said that he “appreciated his generosity of time and spirit, and am honored to have served alongside him on the council.”
D.C. Council member-elect Brianne Nadeau (D-Ward 1) interacted with Barry during the election season and notes that she will not be able to serve with him on the council.
“Barry was a larger than life presence in the District of Columbia, and to our entire nation, first as a civil rights activist and later as a dedicated public servant who spoke often about the power of everyday people to come together to change the world,” she said.
Carol Schwartz, a Republican D.C. Council member, ran against Barry for mayor in 1986 and 1994. While losing both times, Schwartz served with Barry on the D.C. Council from 2005-2009 and were amicable.
“We were dear friends and there for each other over the years,” Schwartz said. “Marion personified D.C. and his passing is a great loss to all of us, especially those most in need whom he served. In spite of his foibles and having run against him, I loved and appreciated Marion Barry Jr., and will miss him.”
Faye Williams, national chair of the National Congress of Black Women, Inc. said she was glad Barry decided to title the last chapter of his autobiography “still standing,” a speech she wrote for him years ago.
She said Barry should be credited with making a lot of progress in the city. “The thing that I credit him for is getting a lot of the positive things started in this city,” Williams said.
Andre Byers, a Ward 8 resident and an expert on District economic development, spoke highly of his late council member.
“Marion Barry was unapologetic and had a brilliant mind,” he said. “Many people in public life are afraid to speak their mind but not Barry. He said what needed to be said and his courage is going to be missed.”