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Marion Barry’s death last week left many bereft, but LL doubts that the city’s T-shirt salesmen will be among the mourners. The District’s textile printers have switched from stamping “CIA” on sweaters to creating Barry gear, from the legacy-aspirational (Barry palling around with Martin Luther King Jr.) to the hopeful (Barry’s face on a postage stamp).
The plethora of designs can be explained by the shortened timeline these hawkers are working with. By Barry’s funeral on Saturday, peak demand for the shirts will join the mayor-for-life in the ground.
If Barry merchandisers are rushing, another group set to benefit from his death has to move sluggishly, at least in public: his potential replacements for the Ward 8 D.C. Council seat. Barry’s lengthy memorial period has left Ward 8 politicos, itching for promotion following Barry’s long reign and frequent health crises, facing the prospect of waiting just a little longer. Already, Facebook fights have broken out over would-be candidates accused of jumping the line before the funeral.
“Feelings have been rubbed raw over here,” says longtime ward activist Philip Pannell.
Better, then, to stay quiet. Forget the Democrats—the No Comment Caucus is becoming Ward 8’s most popular political affiliation. Rather than risk stomping on Barry’s ghost in a ward he consistently won in landslides, potential aspirants are choosing to wait.
LL disagrees. So does the election schedule. On Monday, the D.C. Board of Elections certified the obvious and declared the office vacant. The board voted to set the special election for April 28, 2015—also the date of the Ward 4 vote to replace Almost Mayor Muriel Bowser.
Nominating petitions will be available on Monday and due on Jan. 28, meaning that anyone hoping to make the ballot has to collect 500 legit signatures in the middle of winter.
Sandra Seegars will brave the weather. A failed challenger of Barry’s in 2012, Seegars doesn’t shy away from her plans to take Barry’s seat. She says she’s waited long enough.
“I guess I was the only one trying to be respectful, as they say,” Seegars says. “But time moves on. The world keeps going.”
Asked who she expects her opponents will be, Seegars saves LL some time by naming the Ward 8 residents who aren’t running.
“Everybody except the lady down the street and the man that lives on Alabama Avenue [SE],” Seegars says. “Everybody else is running.”
There’s precedent for aspiring Ward 8 rushing to fill a Barry-sized vacuum in the Wilson Building. When Barry pulled off his post-prison election as mayor in 1994, he tossed his old Ward 8 seat in the hands of a multiplying cast of strivers. A whopping 21 candidates competed in a special election the following May, which was carried by Barry pick Eydie Whittington.
This special election could make the 15 at-large candidates in November’s at-large general election look downright bashful. Once again, Ward 8 has a deep pool of candidates treading water. Along with Seegars, Ward 8 chatter mentions Darrell Gaston (no response to LL’s phone call) and former State Board of Education member and Barry protege Trayon White (too early to say, White demurs). Also on the shortlist: youthful ex-shadow representative and one-time-at-large candidate Nate Bennett-Fleming (no response) and Sheila Bunn (no comment on future plans), the deputy chief of staff for Still Mayor Vince Gray and the daughter of deceased Ward 8 bigwig James Bunn.
Frequent hopeful Jacque Patterson isn’t running this time, but he doesn’t expect that to be a common choice. “It’s not going to take a lot of votes to win it because it’s going to be split all over the place,” Patterson says.
Then the wags get more creative, describing a competition where any Ward 8 resident who has ever walked by the Wilson Building mulls a run. Maybe Denise Rolark Barnes, the stepdaughter of one of Barry’s predecessors in the seat and the publisher of the Informer newspaper. (No comment from Rolark Barnes.) Failed attorney general candidate Edward “Smitty” Smith performed well in his native Ward 8; maybe he’ll take a shot, the thinking goes. (Alas for Smitty fans, a one-year residency requirement in the ward excludes him, since he hasn’t lived there long enough.)
Bowser, who just won the mayor’s office with Ward 8’s strong backing, could try to have her own say and install a friendly councilmember in Barry’s place. So far, she hasn’t backed a candidate, but top Bowser campaign worker LaRuby May could be a contender.
And then there’s the candidate Barry wanted to see replace him: son Christopher Barry. While Barry the Younger tells LL it’s too early to discuss his plans, a memorial on the steps of the Wilson Building on Monday felt like the lower chiefs laying their hands on the new thane. One speaker claimed that the younger Barry, whose full name is Marion Christopher Barry, would now style himself as “Marion Barry.” Transferring titles and names after death—who says the monarchy ended in 1776?
If the primogeniture overtones weren’t already enough, disgraced former Ward 5 Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr., of all people, took the mic and urged the crowd to “wrap ourselves” around the younger Barry as his father’s “one living seed that we know that Marion Barry has here.” Pretenders lurking in foreign courts, beware.
Then again, maybe a stint in federal prison just made Thomas sympathetic to the younger Barry’s own woes, which include court cases related to alleged driving and synthetic marijuana violations. Next week, he’ll head to a non-jury trial on the charges—not exactly a good look for most would-be lawmakers.
Thomas himself is the subject of a Ward 8 rumor reported by NBC4’s Tom Sherwood, which would have him moving to the ward and running for the Council. If Thomas can pull off a residency switch while staying in a halfway house until March, he’s learned some new paperwork tricks since the feds took him down for nonprofit hijinks in 2012.
Just don’t add Pannell’s name to the ballot, which he expects will have around a dozen candidates. After losing a State Board of Education bid in July, he’s sitting this one out.
“The only thing I would run for in Ward 8,” says Pannell, “is cover.”
Photo by Darrow Montgomery