National Press Club

Former D.C. Mayor Marion Barry talks about his mistakes, accomplishments at Book Rap

June 20, 2014 | By Jan King |

Former Washington, D.C., mayor Marion Barry Jr. answers a question posed by Club member Eleanor Herman (r).

Former Washington, D.C., mayor Marion Barry Jr. answers a question posed by Club member Eleanor Herman (r).

Photo/Image: Noel St. John

Four-term Washington, D.C., mayor Marion Barry Jr. told a packed and highly emotional room at a June 19 National Press Club Book Rap that his new book, "Mayor for Life," was meant to tell “who he was” and give a fuller portrayal of himself beyond a well-publicized drug controversy.

He emphasized that an incident of drug use at the Vista Hotel was just a “sliver” of his life that happened 24 years ago. He said that he had admitted to it and asked for forgiveness from his wife as well as the community. He praised America as a great country that gives people second and third chances.

The reason he wrote the book was to “inspire and help people” overcome obstacles in their lives through courage and faith, using his own life as an example, Barry said.

He was interviewed by Eleanor Herman, a member of the Club’s Book & Author Committee.

Barry shared salient moments of his life as told in his book -- from his humble childhood beginnings in Mississippi through his sojourn into higher education, culminating in his rise to mayor of the nation's capital from 1979-91.

When asked what he learned from being an Eagle Scout, Barry said leadership, courage, resilience and getting along with others -- themes that resonated throughout his comments during the session.

He spoke about his mother, who was a domestic worker, and her courage in insisting that she would enter her employer’s home through the front door -- a practice that was unheard of in that day.

Barry said he was proud of the fact that when he was first elected mayor, he balanced the budget, reduced the deficit by $200 million, decreased the infant mortality rate, increased minority hiring for District contracts and got the highest credit rating for the city.

Barry said that he had the courage, tenacity, vision and love for his community to give qualified blacks opportunities that eventually opened up a white government to them. He touted the growth of minority business from 3 percent when he took office to 47 percent at the end of his tenure.

Barry showed a vulnerable and humble side when he admitted that he was not always “squeaky clean” and had faults and made mistakes. He maintained that his strong Christian faith has seen him through the ups and downs of his life.