WASHINGTON – At times during the 1980s, Marion Barry writes in his new memoir, he would stand amid one of the many parties he’d frequent as mayor, sip on a Hennessy and Coke, and take it all in.
I would think, Damn! I did all of this (stuff)? How did I do it? Barry writes about his days as both unapologetic night owl and power broker. But I didn’t have time to be too proud or introspective. I had to keep doing what I was doing, and what had gotten me there.
With the Tuesday release of the 336-page autobiography Mayor for Life: The Incredible Story of Marion Barry, Jr., the time for pride and introspection has come for the former four-term mayor, current D.C. Council member and defining figure of modern-day District politics.
Written with Charlotte, N.C.-based novelist Omar Tyree, Mayor for Life is heavier on the former than the latter, seeking to recast Barry’s legacy as a civil rights icon and crusader for black empowerment while denying, omitting or explaining away the controversies that pocked his four decades in politics.
In the most prominent instance, Barry portrays his January 1990 drug bust at a downtown Washington hotel not merely as a sideshow to his decades in public service, but one directly rooted in his efforts to upend white political and economic privilege.
I don’t want my life and legacy to be all about what happened to me at the Vista Hotel, Barry writes.
Yet the book goes into considerable detail about the infamous bust, which made international headlines and colors public perceptions of Barry and D.C. politics to this day. It includes the fullest public telling to date from Barry’s perspective, including his tumultuous relationship with Rasheeda Moore, the former model who played the central role in the operation and later testified against Barry in court.
Barry, now 78, writes of the mix of power, attraction, alcohol, sex, and drugs that fueled him during his 1980s heyday, admitting to human frailties and bad personal decisions but hesitating to say he was ever out of control.
Describing his first use of cocaine, he writes: From that point on, you chase that same high and sex that you felt the first time. But I never considered myself addicted to anything or having problems with substance abuse.
The book’s release is set to kick off a new round of news media attention for Barry, including a New York publicity launch and a coming interview with Oprah Winfrey.
In one high-profile revelation, Barry said his ability to win re-election to the mayoralty in 1994 caught the attention of President Bill Clinton, who wanted to talk to me about how to handle embarrassing personal as a public official shortly after the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke.
I said, The first thing you gotta do is stop digging the hole that put you there in the first place,’ Barry writes, describing an undated encounter after an event at a hospital.
Throughout, Barry describes himself as beset by white critics, whether the Ward 3 residents interested only in taxes, trash and trees, the white businessmen who resented his efforts to build up minority enterprises or the white federal prosecutors – Joseph diGenova and Jay Stephens – who investigated him and his administration through the 1980s.
The war to reclaim Washington for white people had been declared, Barry writes, setting up his turbulent third term in office.