District politicians—and Mayor Barry was no exception—have ignored the electorally impotent ward with impunity.
It was the poorest ward when Marion Barry was elected mayor in 1979; it was the poorest when he left in 1991; it is the poorest today.
His organizing is winning them political clout; their political clout is winning him citywide power.
With tactics honed by 30 years of populism, Barry is leading Ward 8 out of a forgotten wilderness, and his constituents adore him for it.
Even if he never regains widespread credibility among whites and blacks, even if he never succeeds in capturing a fourth mayoral election, Marion Barry has accomplished something few believed was possible: He has come back and made Washington heed him again.
At the deepest level, Marion Barry's redemption depends on Marion Barry's fall. They were going to pick him back up.” The white system tried to defeat Barry, his supporters believed, the same white system that tosses thousands of Ward 8 men and women into jail, denies them jobs, and banishes them to the shadows.More crimes against persons are committed in the 7th Police District, which includes all of Ward 8 and small parts of Wards 6 and 7, than in any other.Ward 8 also has the highest percentage of children (33 percent) and the fewest people of voting age.On Alabama Avenue and Randle Place SE, in the heart of Ward 8, five middle-age men sit at the old Congress Heights School playground talking about their new councilmember, Marion Barry. “When it's time for him to get things together, he gets it together,” Hainsworth says. “He's trying to make it better for all of us.” Zapp, a 38-year resident of Ward 8, continues: “He's a person who's lived in the community, been involved in the community.... He's like family.” Further up Alabama Avenue, other constituents of the new councilmember gratefully welcome his return.Maria Wallace, a young grandmother, stands outside her church, next to a bricked-up project, and tells stories of how Councilmember Barry has already arranged the repair of her public housing complex and helped her get the food stamps she needs. Barry because he's the only person we can talk to,” she says.Barry, better than anyone, knows how Ward 8's residents have been neglected.As a “dashiki-clad” activist for urban blacks in the '60s, Barry built his career on the backs of Washington's disenfranchised.Knowing that he couldn't win the 1990 mayoral race, Barry re-registered as an independent and ran for an at-large council seat during the interval between his conviction and sentencing.Lacking organization, money, credibility, and social standing, Barry finished a distant third citywide, but first in Wards 7 and 8.Forgiven by Ward 8, Barry remains the political entrepreneur he was when he set up shop in the District three decades ago, and he is repaying Ward 8's forgiveness with tireless advocacy and community mobilizing.Now, just three years after a sordid trial and 16 months after release from federal prison, a rededicated Barry reigns ascendant over Ward 8, a political boss with an unmatched organization, grandiose plans, and a legitimate claim to speak for a ward that's never had a voice.