Ward 8 Residents Split on Barry Re-election Bid

James Wright - WI Staff Writer | 8/31/2011, 1:49 p.m.
Les Johnson of Historic Anacostia in Ward 8 is not sure that D.C. Councilmember Marion...
Marion Barry

"A lot of rhetoric that is against Barry is coming from Historic Anacostia," James Bunn, executive director of the Ward 8 Business Council, said. "These are newcomers and they don't see eye-to-eye with the rest of the ward. In some ways, the Ward 8 is shaping up as Anacostia vs. the rest of the ward." Bunn said that he knows there are a number of people who are dissatisfied with Barry, but questions whether they have enough people to unseat him next year. "A lot of people are complaining that the ward is not prospering the way it should," he said. "Some people are saying that Barry is not paying enough attention to the ward as he should."

The newcomers can be defined as mainly young Black and some White professionals who have moved into the ward and work on some issues as preservation of green space, bike lanes, and economic development.

The Uniontown Bar and Grill in Anacostia has become, in the eyes of many Ward 8 residents, a hub for the Ward 8 newcomers, which some label as gentrifiers. When Jones hears criticism from some that Barry represents the "Old Ward 8", he laughs. "Marion Barry talks about the new Ward 8 more than anybody," he said. "Barry is the one who is pushing homeownership and for people to get off of public assistance and to get on their feet."

Last year, Barry advocated a strict time limit and tougher guidelines for TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) recipients, which caused a stir among some in the ward. Recently, he authored a bill that would prevent the construction of apartment buildings in his ward.

The stand on TANF and the anti-apartment building bill would seem out of character for Barry who has built his career on the concerns of needy Washingtonians. However, Jones said that Barry's advocacy to help the poor should not be interpreted as support for chronic poverty.

"You have some people who have lived in public housing for two or three generations and that is not the key to wealth," he said. "The key to wealth is ownership and Barry's bill would force people to buy condos and become owners."

Johnson said that he has not really looked hard at the candidates who are opposing or talking about running against Barry. He did say that Barry will have to make his case to all of the people of the ward if he wants to be re-elected. "I know he has a lot of support but things are different now," he said. "Barry needs to tell us what he wants to do for us."