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We’ll probably never get a museum dedicated to the highlights and lowlights of District politics, but the next best thing is going on east of the river from now until April 28. In the Ward 8 special election to replace the late Marion Barry, every major strain of District politics is being reenacted.
This race has everything. To start with, there’s the song that never ends: The Green Team, once the property of Adrian Fenty and now belonging to Mayor Muriel Bowser, tussling it out in one more proxy war with Vince Gray’s crew. There’s Barryism, this time reborn in the form of Christopher Barry, who’s so committed to restarting his dad’s act that he’s now going by his first name, Marion. To cap it all off, there’s that hallmark of District races: pols with criminal records.
Representing the Green Team in this corner is LaRuby May, businesswoman, community activist, and Bowser diehard. After coordinating Bowser’s Ward 8 campaigning, she’s now ready to soak up donations from contributors looking to ingratiate themselves with Bowser. May also has the backing of three former Ward 8 councilmembers, which she tells LL amounts to an endorsement of her leadership.
For now, Bowser has publicly stayed out of the race. That’s probably good news for her protege, who’s running in a ward that Bowser lost by nearly 30 points in the primary.
“I don’t see that Mayor Bowser has put herself in the midst of it,” says Rev. Anthony Motley, a prominent ward activist who’s backing Ward 8 Democrats President Natalie Williams for the seat.
May even shares Bowser’s less savory alliances, like former employer Phinis Jones, the Ward 8 heavy currently embroiled in the scandal of the Park Southern housing complex. Sandra Seegars, one of May’s rivals in the race, says her affiliation with Jones will haunt her with voters.
“They don’t know LaRuby, but they know Phinis Jones is giving her money,” Seegars says. May tells LL that she no longer works for Jones.
May’s run represents a chance for at least token revenge for Gray’s smarting loyalists, who got walloped in the primary but easily carried the impoverished ward. Their champion, former Gray deputy chief of staff Sheila Bunn, comes from a prominent ward family and has already brought former Gray spokeswoman Doxie McCoy into her campaign.
Like old rival Bowser, Gray has stayed quiet about his former staffer’s run. But an attendee at Gray’s Mayoral Youth Leadership Institute event, one of the final appearances of his administration, tells LL that Gray mentioned Bunn as an ideal replacement for Barry.
Williams-backer Motley attributes much of Bunn’s success so far to her father, late businessman James Bunn.
“I think that her father really kind of made a way for her,” Motley says.
As for Bunn, she denies that her chances are sunk by the new campaign of Christopher Barry, whose father drew many of the same voters as Gray.
“I don’t think that it is all wrapped up yet,” Bunn says. “Christopher has his father’s name. However, there is much work to be done in the ward.”
If the younger Barry had anything approaching an activist background in the ward, this race wouldn’t have more than 20 candidates in it. Alas, he doesn’t. What he has instead is a reputation as a guy who might not be up for the responsibilities of being an advisory neighborhood commissioner, much less a councilmember. (At one Barry memorial event, the audience took up a collection for him personally.)
Then there’s the baffling run-ins with the law, which show that, if nothing else, Barry has inherited his father’s skill for getting in interesting jams. In 2011, he allegedly jumped out a window to avoid police, only to be busted with a vial of PCP.
2014 was his most criminally active year to date. He racked up a DUI charge after a Secret Service agent found him zoned out behind the wheel in downtown D.C. with synthetic marijuana. Two months later, he was caught driving on a suspended license.
Also on Barry’s personal crime blotter from last year: an arrest after allegedly approaching a police officer with clenched fists during a neighborhood dispute, and violation of a stay-away order after that first arrest. Days after delivering a well-received speech at his father’s memorial, Barry headed to Superior Court to take a guilty plea and receive probation on some of the charges.
And on Tuesday, Barry was allegedly involved in a verbal altercation with a teller in Chinatown bank that, according to police, led to the destruction of a surveillance camera. He did not respond to requests for comment.
Christopher Barry isn’t the only candidate in the race with a legal past. Barry’s sometime pal–turned–campaign rival Trayon White is headed to a diversion program after allegedly disobeying a police officer during a traffic stop. White blames the charge on police harassment. Meanwhile, candidate and anti-violence activist Jauhar Abraham owes the city more than $500,000 for his role in allegedly cooking non-profit books for his group, Peaceoholics.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery