Ward 8 D.C. Council hopeful Marion Christopher Barry lived most of his life in the shadow of his famous father, the late Marion S. Barry Jr. However, as a candidate in the April 28 special election to serve out the remainder of his father’s term on the council, Barry makes it clear that he is his own man.
“My father spent the last decade of his life preparing me to run for the Ward 8 seat on the council,” Barrysaid. “As he talked about the position, I would listen to him and get his input and perspective on a lot of things, but I do have my own views with substance on issues.”
Barry grew up in eastern Washington with a father, who was the mayor of the District, and his mother, Effi Barry, a popular first lady. He candidly admits that he lived very well as the District’s “first son.”
“We met all types of influential and famous people and we were invited to all types of high-level events,” Barry said. “We had the life like that until 1990 when everything flipped.”
On Jan. 18, 1990 at the Vista Hotel, District Mayor Marion Barry was videotaped during a sting operation against him smoking crack with his mistress, and was arrested by the FBI. Marion S. Barry Jr. went to prison in 1991 for his role at the Vista Hotel and was released in April 1992.
Barry said that when his father was no longer mayor, things changed. “It was true that our family had the trappings and the perks because my father was the mayor but it faded away when he was no longer in office,” he said. “It seemed like we had a glamorous lifestyle but we were never wealthy. We may have associated with influential people but at the end of the day we laid our head down in Southeast.”
Barry, a graduate of Wilson Senior High School, attended Hampton University briefly before deciding to enter the job market. He worked odd jobs but ended up doing construction work.
Barry said the construction work was physically and emotionally taxing. He also noticed that the people in the Hampton Roads area were different from Washingtonians. “The Black people seemed to have a slave mentality and when I was on a work site, it was not unusual for me or any Black person to be told ‘go unload that truck, boy’,” he said.
Barry is the founder of Efficiency Contractors, named after his mother who died in 2007. Barry said that he focuses on hiring Ward 8 residents for jobs. “The people I hire to work for me want to change their lives and I want to help them,” he said. “I want to help people put their guns up and pick up tools. It really makes me feel good when young people say to me that they can’t wait until they turn 18 so they can work for me.”
On the campaign trail, Barry talks about entrepreneurship, not big-box retailers, as the answer to the ward’s economic woes, and offering developers tax incentives to build affordable housing.
Barry wants the city’s senior services apparatus to tailor to the needs of individuals, noting that a 55-year-old active resident doesn’t have the same needs as an ailing 80- or 90-year-old. In terms of young people, Barry wants the youth employment program his father made famous to go back to its original mission of job training and placement. “What you have now is young people doing busywork and not really learning how to get, keep and advance on a job,” he said.
What Barry really wants to do is bring the residents of Ward 8 together. “There is a class divide in Ward 8,” he said. “There is a sense that professional Black people want low-income Blacks removed. That is not good because as the ward changes, those professional Blacks may be the low-income Blacks who may be pushed out.”
The Rev. Anthony Motley is a longtime Ward 8 political activist and was a close political ally and friend of Marion S. Barry Jr. With all due respect to Barry, he is supporting Natalie Williams in the special election. “I have known Chris all of his life and he is a nice young man that has a lot of potential,” Motley said. He believes that Barry needs to grow as a person in order to be an effective representative of Ward 8 residents.
Anthony Lorenzo Green, who serves as Barry’s advisory neighborhood commissioner, disagrees. “Christopher Barry is the right person for me and my neighbors on the city council,” Green said. “He represents the hope and the promise of the ward and he has the respect and the trust of ward residents. He is not trying to fill his father’s shoes but he wants to continue to fight for the things his father fought for.”