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Ward 8 hopeful Marion C. Barry doesn’t lead his rivals in fundraising or straw poll victories, but his relationship with father and late ward mayor Marion Barry gives him the best name in the race. Just how much that helps Barry, though, has become one of the most hotly debated topics in the race.
Without the dynasty, it’s hard to imagine the younger Barry—a 34-year-old contractor with multiple criminal convictions—being mentioned as a potential front-runner in the April 28 special election. With it, though, he stands to reap goodwill from the countless Ward 8 voters who cast ballots for his father or received their first summer jobs from him. Barry says the connection to his father gives him a way to reach voters who knew the ex-mayor.
“There’s always someone with a good story,” Barry says.
The younger Barry tells LL that he started using his full legal name, Marion C. Barry—instead of just “Christopher Barry,” which he went by until his father’s November 2014 death—as a way to honor his dad. The name change also, whether deliberately or not, ties the candidate even closer to his father on the ballot.
Former Vince Gray campaign manager Chuck Thies says the small pool of highly informed, highly motivated voters drawn to special elections won’t be impressed by a chance to vote for the mayor-for-life’s son.
“They know the difference between Marion C. Barry and the Marion Barry,” Thies says. “And they know the Marion Barry is no longer with us, so it’s not like they’re thinking of voting for Marion.”
The Barry name didn’t help the candidate at last week’s Ward 8 straw poll, where he came in a dismal sixth place (Barry insists he’s saving his resources for election day). Still, Thies says Ward 8 is hard to predict.
“Ward 8 has surprised everyone who has ever looked at Ward 8 and tried to figure out what’s going on there,” Thies says.
Longtime Barry family attorney Fred Cooke Jr. is staying out of the race, but expects the family name to help the candidate somehow.
“Obviously, there’s a huge brand thing for the Barry name because he was such a larger-than-life figure for so long,” Cooke says.
Attendees at a campaign cookout in Congress Heights Monday listed the elder Barry’s accomplishments, before hoping that his son would succeed over what one woman called “cutthroat” Muriel Bowser pick LaRuby May.
“If he’s anything like his father, man…” said Congress Heights resident Carl Magruder, before adding a quick caveat. “Look, I don’t know a lot about him.”
Photo by Will Sommer