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Last week, Councilmember Vincent Orange pleaded with his fellow Democrats on the D.C. Council to pick him as the ceremonial No. 2 pro tempore council chairman over Councilmember Michael A. Brown, a registered independent.
Orange said he would be made to look like an “idiot,” especially when he traveled to the Democratic Party’s national convention in Charlotte, if his fellow Democrats voted for Brown instead of someone in their own party.
Cheering Orange on during the debate over the pro tem vote was former Mayor-for-Life-turned-Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry. And this weekend, Barry gave his seal of approval to a resolution passed by the Ward 8 Democrats rebuking the Democrats on the council for picking Brown over one of their own. When one of Brown’s interns was heckled as a disloyal party member, Barry offered him a job.
Barry tells LL he believes “very strongly” that a Democratic council should appoint Democratic leadership.
But has Barry always been such a Democratic party loyalist? Not so much.
After the primaries of 1998, Barry withheld his support of Phil Mendelson and Jim Graham, the winners of the Democratic primary, because their eventual victories in the general election would lead to a majority-white D.C. Council.
“I think the council ought to reflect the makeup of the city,” said Barry at a news conference. “I am not a blind Democratic supporter.”
Those comments did not go over well with the Washington Post editorial page, which essentially called out the city’s other Democratic leaders to rebuke Barry. “Are they willing to stand up—now, and without equivocation, for inclusion and fairness in their party,” the paper asked.
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton didn’t like Barry’s talk either. “The voters have rejected race as an issue in this campaign and so do we. We reaffirm the Democratic Party’s commitment to racial harmony,” Norton said at a news conference at the Democratic National Committee headquarters a few days after the primary, according to an account in the Washington Times.
A few weeks later, Barry endorsed the entire Democratic ticket.
Asked about that incident today, Barry says “I can’t remember any of that.” After LL jogged his memory, Barry said he doesn’t hear any dissonance in his hesitancy to support fellow Democrats then and his vigorous support of Orange today. “The circumstances change. The situations change,” says Barry (whose 1994 profile in the New Yorker, by the way, was titled “The Situationist”).
Barry went on to say that the current dust-up between Orange and Brown is the result of the provision in the Home Rule charter that essentially requires two at-large candidates to be non-Democrats. It was that clause that led Brown, the son of former Barry confidante and DNC head Ron Brown, to switch from being a Democrat to an independent in order to get elected in 2008. Barry says that clause is anti-democratic, and he would have no problem with an all-Democratic council: “If the people spoke, yeah sure.”