WASHINGTON – Don’t you dare compare the former crack-smoking mayor of the U.S. capital to Rob Ford, the crack-smoking current mayor of Toronto.
Marion Barry doesn’t appreciate it.
Never mind that Barry and Ford might share the rarest of all political distinctions —leaders of major North American cities who have been caught up in crack-cocaine scandals fuelled by clandestinely captured videos.
Barry, now a Washington city council member, doesn’t want to be considered Ford’s alter-ego. He doesn’t want to reflect on their commonalities. He won’t speculate publicly about whether Ford might survive politically, like he did.
In fact, he becomes quite irate when asked about the Toronto mayor.
“I’m not talking about that,” Barry said, walking away from a Canadian reporter Tuesday during a break at a D.C. council meeting.
For weeks, he has ducked all attempts to get him to comment on a Canadian scandal that has drawn a gusher of news coverage in the United States — not to mention countless snickering comparisons to his 1990 arrest.
A few months ago, when allegations of a Ford crack video first surfaced, Barry was quoted as saying that unless the Toronto mayor had been entrapped by his own government, their cases were nothing alike.
Since then, Ford has admitted to smoking crack, and there have been a litany of allegations and details from police documents that have not only left the Toronto mayor fighting for his political life but have also made him a celebrity around the world, particularly in the U.S.
Ford has apologized for his behaviour, and insists he’s not a crack addict — the video appears to document an incident that took place “probably in one of my drunken stupors,” he famously said last month. He says he has not smoked crack in more than a year. No charges have been laid.
Barry’s office has since expressed frustration over media attempts to get him to comment. Aides said Barry was too busy to comment when contacted by The Canadian Press weeks ago.
He wasn’t any chattier when approached in person Tuesday at a public venue.
Barry’s mood was already sour. He was reprimanded at a public meeting earlier in the day by a committee chairman for delivering a monologue instead of asking a question. He didn’t appreciate the interjection and there was a terse exchange on the council bench.
Then things got worse during the break.
At first, he shook hands with a Canadian reporter who approached him outside the chamber doors. But that split-second of camaraderie ended abruptly as the subject of Ford came up. Barry began walking away.
When he caught sight of a video camera, he snapped.
“Take that camera out of my face. I’m going to call the police,” Barry said. “Take that camera out of my face, right now,” he repeated, several times.
Political survival after a drug scandal is something the 77-year-old Barry knows plenty about.
He’s seen his share of peaks and valleys, not only as mayor but also in his personal life, having lost a parent at age four and survived a 1977 shooting.
Barry had already had a lengthy mayoral career when he was arrested in 1990, and subsequently spent six months in jail for drug possession. In the police surveillance video, Barry muttered repeatedly that he’d been set up.
As he was being arrested in a D.C. hotel room, Barry at first refused to listen as FBI agents read his rights.
“What’s your charge again?” he asked an agent at one point in the tape. Told it was cocaine possession, he laughed: “Possession? With what, intent to use? That, little, that little bit, that, that little speck?”
But that incident wasn’t the end for Barry.
He won a string of crushing victories — first as a councillor, then as mayor, then as a councillor again. In his first council run after leaving prison he ran under the slogan: “He May Not Be Perfect, But He’s Perfect for D.C.”
After a few years away from politics, he returned to council in 2004 with a 95 per cent win in a general election. There have been a few more scandals since then.
The latest was three months ago, when he was stripped of a council assignment and censured by council for failing to disclose $6,800 in cash he received from two city contractors.