D.C.'s Controversial "Mayor For Life" Marion Barry Dies At 78

by
Lauren Burgoon
Troubles dogged Marion Barry throughout his political career, but voters stuck by him.

Marion Barry's term as Washington, D.C.'s "mayor for life" has ended. The always colorful 78-year-old Barry died Sunday in the nation's capital.

Barry, a four-term D.C. mayor and longtime councilman, was one of the most powerful, yet controversial, politicians in Washington city politics. He was a beacon of hope for Washington's black population and entered office as a prominent civil rights activist. 

But Barry became the butt of national jokes in 1990 when he was arrested in an FBI drug sting operation. Barry was caught on tape uttering a phrase that would dog him all his days: "Bitch set me up!"

Despite his conviction and serving 18 months in prison, Barry made an astounding political comeback, getting re-elected to Washington, D.C., city council in 1992, as mayor in 1994 and then council again in 2004. 

He served on city council until his death.

Barry remained unapologetic for his many gaffes and controversy continued to dog him. He got into trouble with the IRS in 2005, and a drug test stemming from those legal proceedings tested positive for cocaine and marijuana. 

Barry was caught on tape disparaging Washington's Asian population in racist comments in 20012.

"We’ve got to do something about these Asians coming in, opening up businesses, those dirty shops. They ought to go, I’ll just say that right now, you know. But we need African-American businesspeople to be able to take their places, too."

When half-apologizing for those remarks ("I admit, I could and should have said it differently. But the facts are still very present in our daily lives here," he tweeted), Barry stuck his foot further in his mouth, calling Polish people the derogatory "Polack."

Yet through it all, Barry's constituents stood behind him, regularly returning him to office with overwhelming popular support.

Barry suffered from myriad health problems, including prostate cancer, diabetes and kidney problems, The Washington Post reported. He was hospitalized this past week and returned to the hospital late Saturday. He died hours later.