Marion Barry takes another crack

Posted: Jan 22, 2006 9:05 AM

Marion Barry's audience has come to expect a little extra from the man, like when he proudly proclaimed that crime was down in DC . . . "except for the murders." His name has become a trademark of excellence in entertainment.

We learned to expect more years ago. The then-mayor wasn't merely arrested for smoking crack cocaine — any fool politician can get himself arrested. Barry managed to bring his daredevil act to the world stage via FBI video.

That was in 1990, during his third term as mayor of America's capital city. Afterward, Barry spent seven months in rehab centers and six months in federal prison making what he called "a remarkable recovery."

As Barry's own website modestly put it, "He served his time in prison and made a triumphant return to Washington." Kinda like he had won the Superbowl.

After his stay in the hoosgow, Barry's hometown audience was so appreciative that they elected him first to the city council and then to a fourth term as mayor.

Unfortunately, not every clown has the business sense of Charlie Chaplin. As Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson put it, "Barry performed so poorly that it took years to get the city's finances back in shape." Burdened by such downbeat criticism, Barry retired from the political stage after four terms as mayor.

Yet, the limelight is in his blood. Soon Barry was eyeing a city council race in 2002. But then the U.S. Park Police reported that they found a trace of marijuana and $5 worth of crack cocaine in his Jaguar, and he scuttled his plans to perform more public services. The police declined to prosecute.

Barry was back at it in 2004, telling the Post that park police had planted the drugs in his car. What comedic timing — for his next campaign.

The former mayor ran for a city council seat representing Ward 8, the poorest ward in the city. He slipped by with just 96 percent of the vote in the General Election — proving Washington, D.C. is yet another bastion of political competition.

Barry has continued to provide both drama and comedy in a seemingly endless (and loopy) loop. Recently, it came to light that this big-government politician, who spends other people's money so easily, sort of forgot to pay most of his federal and city income taxes for the last six years. Oops!

Barry is now free on bond pending his sentencing next month on the tax evasion charges. As part of his release, after pleading guilty, Barry was drug tested. And he tested positive for cocaine. The FBI filmed him smoking crack way back in 1990 and that powerful drug is still in his system 15 years later!

How can the public tire of Barry, when he always comes up with a new gag funnier than the last?

Months ago, as gas prices were going through the roof, he brought a gasification machine to town. The machine, which Barry had parked in a lot owned by Union Temple Baptist Church, looks like something from Professor Gadget: lots of pipes, motors and electric doodads attached to a two-story chimney.

But this contraption purportedly turns garbage or sewage into pollution-free electricity and drinking water. Barry told reporters (and other gawkers of the future), "This is not a sham, not a game. This is the real stuff."

He wants the District of Columbia to adopt this technology, and a spokesperson for the DC Water and Sewer Authority said, "The unit is pretty impressive, and the technology is worth looking into." The spokesperson went on to express an interest in observing this mighty machine once it is turned on.

One slight problem arose, however. Barry couldn't turn on the machine.

You see, Rev. Willie F. Wilson didn't want the machine on his property to begin with. The preacher and the politician reached a compromise where Barry and his scientists could leave the machine on the church parking lot, but not turn it on.

That was after the police were called, to prevent a fight between the Rev. Wilson and Barry. When Wilson had refused to fully embrace this opportunity for cheap, clean, limitless energy, a shouting match ensued. Wilson reportedly called Barry a liar. Barry called Wilson "power hungry," while also threatening to have the nonprofit status of Wilson's church "investigated."

As Barry explained, "He's out of his mind, being un-Christian and crazy like that" — leading the ever-thoughtful wizard of Washington to ask introspectively, "What's wrong with him?"

Meanwhile, our energy challenges persist.

Then, the other day, Barry was robbed in his home. After helping carry Barry's groceries inside for him, two guys stuck guns in his face and ran away with his wallet and the $200 enclosed.

Now, admit it, you would have been angry at those hoodlums who had robbed you and threatened your life. But this honorable man is above all that. Speaking directly to his attackers at a news conference, he declared, "I have no animosities. I don't even want you prosecuted, really. I love you."

The former mayor offered, "I don't advocate what they do. I advocate conditions to change what they do."

Barry called for stiffer penalties for gun possession. Because obviously we should blame the "conditions" that "guns are everywhere." Good grief, don't blame the people who stick those guns in other people's faces.

Mostly, though, Barry felt "hurt" about this "betrayal." As the former mayor explained, "There is sort of an unwritten code in Washington, among the underworld and the hustlers and these other guys, that I am their friend."

Barry wants to be everybody's friend, like politicians everywhere — only he just carries this to its logical conclusion. As reductio ad absurdum's go, he's been funnier than most.