Several thousand disabled children had gathered in Washington, D.C., on a Saturday morning last month for the annual distribution of Christmas toys contributed by charitable organizations. Washington Mayor Marion Barry Jr. was scheduled to play Santa Claus that afternoon. But one of his security officers telephoned to say that Barry could not make it. According to subsequent revelations, the mayor spent part of that afternoon visiting a hotel room occupied by Charles Lewis, a former city employee who is under investigation for suspected drug dealing. The affair was the most recent in a series of incidents that have linked Barry to illegal drugs, sexual escapades and questionable financial dealings. Despite his popularity among the blacks who make up about 70 per cent of Washington’s population, the latest scandal could doom Barry’s political career. Said city council member Betty Ann Kane: “Maybe we’ve had enough.”
The latest scandal to engulf the 52-year-old Barry emerged after undercover police went to a hotel to attempt a drug purchase. On their way to Lewis’s room, they met a policeman assigned to guard Barry. After talking to the policeman, they left without going to Lewis’s room. When The Washington Post broke the story, Barry admitted that he had been in the room, but only “to talk to a person I know who was in need of help.” Barry denied that he had used drugs.
A civil-rights activist during the 1960s, Bar-
ry was elected mayor in 1978. Since then, he has been involved in frequent scandals. In one case, convicted drug dealer Karen K. Johnson—who said that she was Barry’s mistress—refused in 1982 to testify before a grand jury investigating allegations that she sold cocaine to Barry. Washington newspapers have chronicled Barry’s frequent visits to nightclubs and highly publicized involvements with women other than his wife of 10 years, Effi (the Barrys have one son).
Last week, Barry responded to the latest revelations by declaring that he was being hounded by white journalists. Rev. Ernest Gibson, executive director of the Council of Churches of Greater Washington, said that “the mayor is being presumed guilty because those he has associated with may be guilty. Mayor Barry has adequately explained his behavior.” Still, there were signs that Barry’s allies are running out of patience. Bishop Edward H. Moore, who heads an organization of 125 Protestant churches, said that Barry must be called to account. “When I'm out trying to minister to children about the evils of drugs,” said Moore, “the evil forces outside can say, ‘Look at your mayor.’ ” In the meantime, with municipal elections looming in 1990, “Dump Barry” posters appeared in some of Washington’s black neighborhoods—a sign that Barry’s career as mayor may be drawing to a close.
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.