marion-barry

For all of his controversies, Marion Barry was revered in Washington D.C. The former Mississippi born sharecropper and civil rights activist who charmed his way to four terms as D.C.’s top executive and provided summer jobs for the youth of D.C. amid other community projects died Saturday night. He was 78.

As his official obituary from the Washington Post notes, Barry was complicated, struggling with addiction of both alcohol and drugs on numerous occasions. His 1990 arrest for purchasing crack cocaine led to infamy and a quote, “Bitch set me up!” that became a symbol for how wild the crack era of the mid-’80s to early-’90s.

Despite that, Barry was still re-elected to a fourth term as mayor following a six-month jail sentence. He was remembered as a “forward thinker” whose influence over D.C.’s infrastructure and politics still can be found to this day. Ironically, an interview between Barry and Oprah was set to air on OWN tonight before the news came.

Mr. Barry, who also served on the D.C. Council for 15 years and had been president of the city’s old Board of Education, was the most influential and savvy local politician of his generation. He dominated the city’s political landscape in the final quarter of the 20th century. There was a time when his critics, in sarcasm but not entirely in jest, called him “Mayor for Life.” Into the first dozen years of the new millennium, he remained a highly visible player on the city’s political stage, but by then on the periphery, no longer at the center.

His personal and public life was fraught with high drama and irony. He struggled with alcohol and drug addiction, relapse and recovery. He was married four times, divorced three times and separated from his fourth wife. His extramarital liaisons and legal trouble over unpaid taxes made news.

He came to Washington as a champion of the downtrodden and the dispossessed and rose to the pinnacle of power and prestige. As mayor of the District, Mr. Barry became a national symbol of self-governance and home rule for urban blacks.

His programs helped provide summer jobs for youths, home-buying assistance for the working-class and food for senior citizens. And he placed African Americans in thousands of middle- and upper-level management positions in the city government that in previous generations had been reserved for whites. [WAPO]

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