Biography of Marion Barry, Jr.
Marion Barry, Jr.-- elected Mayor of Washington, D.C., for an unprecedented fourth
term in 1994-- has made an indelible imprint in reshaping the Nation's Capital from just
a "political hub," as it was oftentimes referred to in the seventies, to an international business center and culturally diverse, multi-faceted city.
Mayor Barry's appeal to the citizens who elected him has always been clear. His commitment to creating economic opportunities for youth, initiating programs to assist the elderly and developing areas East of the River, is unparalleled. His commitment to a "people's government," in which the ideas and suggestions of citizens, workers and business owners are included in his Administration's agenda, are also key to his success. But, perhaps most notable is his proven commitment to rebuilding a D.C. "community" that has been weakened by years of federal neglect, political maneuvers and an unsupportive media.
Under Mayor Barry's leadership a number of firsts can be counted, including the establishment of an accounting system to determine how much money the city actually had in the bank. Prior to 1978, there was no mechanism in place to determine where the city stood financially. Marion Barry changed that and, by 1984, the city entered the bond market with an SP 1 plus rating ( the equivalent of an AAA or AA rating), one of the highest ratings possible, by Standard and Poors' and Moody's. In addition, the Mayor created an Office of Business Development. This office attracted new businesses to the District which, in turn, provided its citizens with new opportunities and avenues to success for those left out of the competitive market.
In 1994, Mayor Barry found that he had inherited a $322 million dollar deficit that had been left by the previous administration. The city's finances were in shambles, much as they were when he was first elected Mayor in 1978. But, the task of turning around the financial crisis was harder because the U.S. Congress enacted legislation creating the District of Columbia Financial Responsibility and Management Assistance Authority. This created yet another entity to synchronize with, in addition to the D.C. City Council and the U.S. Congress, to devise ways to reduce the deficit.
While systematically chipping away at the deficit with his financial team, Mayor Barry reduced the deficit by $281 million in his first year of reelection. And, while there is still a lot of work to be done before Washington is financially where the Mayor wants it to be, there has been consistent and steady improvement under his leadership.
Mayor Barry's goal from the moment he reentered office was to bring a District government, encumbered by outdated equipment, unskilled personnel and a limited budget, into the 21st Century. To achieve this, he assembled a transformation team of 30 senior advisors and more than 200 specialists to develop a blueprint for a new type of governance. This new government recognizes its residents and visitors as "customers" and sees their satisfaction as a way to measure service delivery. It is also a government which works within realistic limits and recognizes the value of making hard choices. After a year of making necessary personnel and budgetary cuts, the Barry Administration is focusing on performing fewer functions, but performing them better.
This is quite a feat for one of the busiest cities in the world. To date there are, in the District, approximately 100 million square feet of commercial office space, with 200 top employers -- including four Fortune 500 companies and between 400 - 475 minority businesses. D.C. attracts millions of tourists and has approximately 24,000 hotel rooms in which to house them. All of this is overseen by the office of the newly created Assistant city Administrator for Economic Development.
Throughout the years, Mayor Barry has been a consistent advocate for improving the lives of senior citizens through his Office on Aging and, has been equally consistent in his devotion to the city's youth through the continual funding of summer jobs programs for young people through the Department of Employment Services.
He founded the Mayor's Youth Leadership Institute, a year-round program that provides training in the concepts of leadership and self-development to enable young people to better understand their responsibilities to their families and community. In addition, Mayor Barry has funded various programs through the Department of Recreation & Parks which provide young people in the city with constructive activities. For example, "Futurefest" showcases the talents of District youth in the visual and performing arts, "Childrens Theater" allows youth to become part of year-long drama productions at two D.C. recreation centers and "Winter Games," modeled after the Olympics, gives young people the opportunity to be a part of team sports and compete in various athletic arenas.
As another first, Mayor Barry introduced his plan for the transformation of the District of Columbia Government. Included in this plan, 75 percent of the Department of Corrections will be privatized, an agenda that began with the recent sale and leaseback of the Correctional Treatment Facility, saving the District more than $52 million.
To deal with the rising number of health issues facing District residents, Mayor Barry created a Health Policy Council to ensure the highest quality of life for District residents. He appointed nationally renowned members from both the public and private sectors and charged them with establishing District-wide health policy standards. The Council has been very successful. To date, the group has created a new Public Health Department, which separates all D.C. health services from the bureaucratic entanglement of the Department of Human Services and allows for a better focus on health issues. Less than one year after the Council's creation, the infant mortality rate in the District is the lowest it has been in the District's history.
Part of Mayor Barry's vision has been to maintain an atmosphere of a united "community" within the District of Columbia. To that end, police work has been transformed so that officers are an integral and extremely visual part of that community. There are 33 McDonald's restaurants and 18 "7-11" carry-outs that serve as police sub-stations. Additionally, to ensure safe transactions for citizens and visitors, ATMs are now available in almost all police district headquarters . This concept is working. Since last year, overall crimes against people are down five percent, homicides are down 20 percent and auto theft has dropped 25 percent.
Much of Mayor Barry's outlook and strength of character was shaped as a child. A Southern sharecropper's son, he was born in Itta Bena, Mississippi. He attended LeMoyne College in Memphis, Tennessee, on an academic scholarship and received a Bachelor's of Science degree in Chemistry. After LeMoyne, he earned his Masters in Chemistry from Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, and entered a doctoral program in Chemistry at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.
Mayor Barry completed three of the four years required to receive his Ph.D. in Chemistry. However, his commitment to the Civil Rights Movement, caused him to leave the University of Tennessee, in good standing, in order to work with voter registration movements in the South.
While serving as fulltime Mayor, Marion Barry also serves as fulltime husband and father to his wife Cora Masters Barry and son Christopher Barry. He also has two adult stepdaughters, Lalanya Masters Abner, a Howard University graduate who is now an actress living in Los Angeles; and Tamara Wilds, a graduate of Occidental College in Los Angeles, California
The new millennium will see a new D.C. as Mayor Barry continues to facilitate downtown development and the full utilization of interactive technology within D.C. government. With his eye on the future, America's First City is being transformed from a "political hub" into a 24-hour city where residents and visitors will have unlimited access to District services.
With this major task already underway, it is little wonder to D.C. citizens why Mayor Marion Barry, Jr., has always been the people's choice.
Return to Mayor's Page