Marion Barry, the four-time mayor of Washington, D.C., and current city councilman, doesn’t shy away from the best-known scandal of his life. In fact, he speaks about it directly and forthrightly in his new book, Mayor for Life, discussing the event that catapulted him into international celebrity, when he was videotaped in 1990 smoking crack cocaine and subsequently arrested by FBI officials.
“It wasn’t difficult to write that in the book,” Barry said, in an interview with BET.com. “I decided to tell the truth and the truth doesn’t hurt anybody.”
Barry added, “I felt very comfortable. I felt that, if I told my story of what I was going through for those two years of alcohol and drugs that I could be an inspiration to thousands and millions of Americans who are going through the same thing.”
More than anything, Barry describes his life, particularly after his high-profile troubles at the Vista International Hotel, as a story of redemption. After his legal problems, he was elected to the Washington City Council in 1992 and was elected again as the city’s mayor and served from 1996 to 1995. Since 2002, he has served again on the city council of Washington.
“I have apologized to Effi, Cora,” he said, referring to his ex-wife Effi Slaughter and his current wide Cora Masters. “I have apologized to my son, Christopher. I apologized to the people of the District of Columbia. This is a city and a country of second chances. The people of Washington have forgiven me. They know about my good deeds and therefore I’m loved by a lot of folks in this city.”
In the interview, and in the book, the onetime mayor who was born in Itta Bena, Mississippi, speaks proudly of the economic transition that has come to much of the nation’s capital, much of it under his mayoralty. Specifically, he said he is particularly proud of the fact that African-American owned businesses received 3 percent of D.C. contracts when he came into office. When he left the mayor’s office, he said, that number had risen to 47 percent.
He said he is proud of a number of his accomplishments in office, too many to name.
“I’m proud of the programs for our seniors and young people. But the big one is the development of downtown,” he said, adding that he spoke with the largely white business leaders and developers to bring new life to downtown. “Downtown is developed now. When I came in 1965, it was a complete southern town."
The main purpose of the book, he said, is to provide facts about his life.
“People love me a great deal because I’ve done a lot,” Barry said. “Anyone in D.C. directly or indirectly has benefited from my being mayor and being on the Council.
“This book is to set the record straight about the things I have done. The Vista is just one aspect of my life. I did a lot of fantastic things and overcame a lot before the Vista and after the Vista.”
Follow Jonathan Hicks on Twitter: @HicksJonathan
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(Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for HBO)