Mayor Barry, hero and demon, quits down

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The Independent Online
A POLITICAL era came to a close last night as Marion Barry, Mayor of Washington DC, convicted felon, black hero and demon of the white middle classes, stepped down.

Mayor Barry - who has led the city for most of the last two decades - announced that he would not run for office again. "I have come to the conclusion that there are areas I can better serve ... outside the government," he told a news conference.

Barry, 62, served for 16 years as Mayor, his terms of office interrupted when in 1990 he was caught on camera smoking crack cocaine in a Washington hotel room. He was convicted and imprisoned, but on his release he bounced back, becoming Mayor again in 1994.

For many black residents of Washington - some 60 per cent of the total - he was and remains a hero, a man who stood up to entrenched white power in what was a Southern city with Southern political tastes. Barry said last night that he changed the city from "a sleepy kinda Southern town to the bustling metropolis we have now."

Many of the white middle classes who dominate Washington's affluent north- western suburbs would say that he did his best to destroy the town, as its finances became a shambles, city hall payrolls skyrocketed to include one in 12 residents, and basic services fell into decrepitude. In successive stages Congress usurped his powers and handed them over to a financial control board.

A veteran of the civil rights movement, Barry began his political career in 1971 on the city's school board. He comes from a generation of American politicians for whom the machine, ethnic politics and patronage were the keys to success.

Elections will be held this November to decide on his successor. Barry is expected to take a position with the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education, a non-profit group that supports 117 historically black colleges and universities.