I was going to write something about the death and life of Marion Barry, former mayor of D.C. (for those who don’t know, I’m actually a D.C. native–born at GWU Hospital, and first lived in Southeast, near the Carrollsburg Apartments), but Adam Serwer hit every point I was going to make, and did so brilliantly. Here’s a taste (boldface mine):
But the Barry who was elected mayor four times, including once after that crack conviction, owed his success to being an unparalleled retail politician who could mollify the city’s powerful business interests, isolate political opponents, and make the city’s working class and poor believe he spoke for them. He was a master at exploiting black racial anxieties, which makes him different from many of America’s most successful politicians only in that his constituency, and therefore his culture war appeals, were black. Within the city, he was a champion who first gave its working-class black residents a taste of the economic prosperity that racial apartheid had long denied them. He was the realization of D.C. residents’ long-denied democratic aspirations. There is much more to Barry than the time he got set up.
From the outside, observers could see only Barry’s flaws, his corruptions and addictions. The mystery of Barry’s political survival despite numerous run-ins with the law, mismanagement of the city government, and numerous allegations of sexual assault is easier to solve if you know the history of the city. Barry didn’t bring corruption to D.C. He changed who benefited from it.
As the kids like to say, go read the whole thing.