• Politics

Washington D.C. Mourns Its ‘Mayor for Life’

2 minute read

Flags are flying at half-staff in Washington, D.C., as the city mourns former mayor Marion Barry, who died Sunday at age 78.

A spokesperson for current mayor of the nation’s capital, Vincent Gray, said he ordered that the flags be lowered in Barry’s honor, the Associated Press reports. “Marion was not just a colleague but also was a friend with whom I shared many fond moments about governing the city,” Gray said in a statement. “He loved the District of Columbia and so many Washingtonians loved him.”

There was a notable outpouring of tributes from members of the Washington media, many of whom emphasized his community contributions rather than the more notorious chapters in his life. People are expected to gather outside his home in Southeast D.C. at 5 p.m. Sunday for a vigil.

President Barack Obama also issued a statement Sunday remembering Barry’s commitment to civil rights and combatting poverty.

“Marion was born a sharecropper’s son, came of age during the civil rights movement and became a fixture in D.C. politics for decades,” he said. “During his decades in elected office in D.C., he put in place historic programs to lift working people out of poverty, expand opportunity and begin to make real the promise of home rule.” A key part of Barry’s legacy was his summer jobs program.

Barry served as the city’s second elected mayor from 1979 until 1991. In 1990, the FBI and Washington police busted him in a drug sting, and video footage of him smoking crack cocaine was widely circulated. He served six months in prison on a possession conviction but was re-elected mayor in 1995 in a remarkable political comeback. The longevity of his career earned him the nickname Mayor for Life.

He went to work in consulting after leaving the mayor’s office in 1999, but he returned to politics again in 2004 when he was elected to the D.C. Council, representing part of Southeast Washington until his death.


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Write to Nolan Feeney at nolan.feeney@time.com