On multiple occasions during the spring of 2006, Marion Barry verbally assaulted me with ample vigor and profanity about his intention to never again speak to anyone associated with Washington City Paper.
His ban (broken and reinstated on numerous occasions) was no surprise, as fellow writer Jason Cherkis and I had pretty much guaranteed the nuclear option with our cover story, “He’s Still Marion Barry.”
That story title was the exact response produced by a teenage girl when Cherkis asked whether she found it a bit odd that an aged legend—at that point well along on the road to political redemption—would be staying at, and hanging out by, her home, the Washington View apartment complex. She supplied our headline with a shrug.
For the story, we tailed Barry for weeks, staked out his haunts, bothered his friends, and knocked on doors. We found that Barry’s struggles with money, addiction, and women remained a dominant life narrative despite his political resurrection.
On one occasion, we tailed Barry after a Ward 8 Democrats event until his driver pulled over. Barry’s friend the Rev. Anthony Motley walked back to our vehicle holding up his phone to inform us that if we kept following the councilmember, Motley would get on the horn and have “a few of the fellas from this neighborhood come on down here.”
After the story was published, Barry took a special pleasure in giving me a lot of shit when we were out in public.
One spring afternoon, I found myself shoulder to shoulder with him at some nondescript Reeves Center reception. True to form, he quickly had the suits clustered around him laughing loudly at my expense. Barry was on fire that day—hell, I was laughing, too.
Finally, I stuck out my hand and shot back, “Hey Mayor Barry, how about we just bury the hatchet? C’mon. What do you say?” Without missing a beat, he turned to the group that was now pressed in on us, chuckled and said, “Bury the hatchet?” Then he turned back to me with a totally straight face said, “Sure. How about in the middle of your back?”
But in private conversation, Barry sparred differently. He always met me with a mischievous gleam in his eye and would calmly deliver a cutting barb or putdown that left no doubt that he was sure he was by far the brighter man in the conversation.
One morning near the end of my Loose Lips days, I sprinted onto a ground floor elevator at the Wilson Building and found myself alone with Barry. He smiled in a genuine way, and I greeted him like I usually did, calling him Mr. Mayor. “You just wait and see,” Barry told me. “Someday, you and me, we’re going to smoke that peace pipe. I’m telling you it will happen. The peace pipe. You’ll see.” Then he walked out laughing.
I am sorry to say, we never found the right time or place to symbolically spark up an armistice. But I did come to understand why so many of Barry’s political rivals, detractors, and friends couldn’t stay mad at the guy for long.
After all, he was Marion Barry.
James Jones wrote the Loose Lips column from 2005 to 2007.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery