Marion Barry, DC's "Mayor for Life," dead at 78
-- "Former DC Mayor Marion Barry dies at 78," WTOP radio
-- "Marion Barry, Former Mayor of Washington, Dies at 78," New York Times
-- "Marion Barry dies at 78; 4-term DC mayor was the most powerful local politician of his generation," Washington Post
The "Mayor for Life" moniker was devised by Ken Cummins, the original "Loose Lips" columnist for the Washington City Paper. The former mayor adopted the phrase as the title of his autobiography ("Marion Barry officially embraces 'mayor-for-life' title," City Paper).
I've always said chapter 4-it turns out it is chapter 7--of the book Dream City (",Dream City: Race, Power and the Decline of Washington, DC" Washington Monthly), was the best description of the way that the local coalition of politicians and real estate developers works together along the lines of the Growth Machine theory of Harvey Molotch (City as a Growth Machine: Toward a Political Economy of Place).
Howard Gillette's Between Truth and Beauty: Race, Planning, and the Failure of Urban Policy in Washington is a good explication of what we might call the "city beautiful" vs. "social justice" agendas of the first generation black mayors more generally, although the book is about Washington.
The death of Marion Barry."
The book The Future Once Happened Here, focusing on DC, New York, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia, is widely derided by progressives, but I think it's a good discussion of the decline of cities in the 1980s and 1990s,
It describes DC's decline in part as a result of the massive expansion of the local government--despite the city possessing "county and state functions" as well as those of a municipality, DC had thousands more employees than much larger cities.
The big increase in government employees, decline in federal payments to cities, continued outmigration of the Black middle class to Prince George's County especially, and minimal in-migration of higher income households contributed to the city's bankruptcy and the takeover of the city's finances by the federal government through a specially created Financial Control Board. While this happened during the mayoralty of Sharon Pratt Kelly, the stage was set by the previous administrations of Marion Barry.
Lately there has been some discussion among the younger set that the older and mnority urbanites had their chance at "fixing the cities" and failed, with the conclusion that it's time for them to move out of the way.
The reality is much more complicated. Urban decline and urban improvement lies on a continuum, and was built, positively and sometimes negatively, through the efforts of many, including Marion Barry, who had so much promise and sadly, threw much of it away.
Now that he has died and didn't create a true machine that could designate and elect a successor, it will be interesting to see what develops in the run up to the special election to replace him.
At one time, it was asserted that Marion Barry aimed to make his son, Christopher, his successor on Council, but that's no longer a real option.
The special election for the seat--probably in May but maybe in April and it is unclear if it will be set to be the same day as the special election in Ward 4 to fill the Council seat vacated by incoming Mayor Muriel Bowser--is likely to be wild, with as many as 20 candidates.