WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Former Washington Mayor Marion Barry, whose conviction for cocaine possession overshadowed his legacy as a civil rights crusader, is out with an autobiography that aims to tell his story.
“Mayor For Life: The Incredible Story of Marion Barry, Jr.” is set to hit book stands on Tuesday. The title refers to how some critics described Barry’s four tumultuous terms that set the perception of local politics in the U.S. capital.
The Washington Post called the 336-page memoir a “tell-enough” about Barry’s career, which has mingled championing black empowerment with scandal, most notoriously his 1990 arrest for smoking crack cocaine at a downtown hotel.
“I don’t want my life and legacy to be all about what happened to me at the Vista Hotel,” wrote the 78-year-old former mayor, according to the Post.
The book, written with novelist Omar Tyree for Strebor Books, retraces Barry’s rise from picking cotton as a child in Mississippi to dashiki-clad civil rights organizer in the 1960s.
After moving to Washington, Barry was elected to the City Council in 1974 when Congress gave the capital self-government.
A lightning rod for critics, Barry was in his third term as mayor when he was busted by the FBI and police, lured to the Vista by a female model.
“I’ll be damned, bitch set me up!” Barry said on a grainy police videotape and played on television around the world.
He was convicted of possession and imprisoned. Barry, who is black, blamed racism for his arrest and was re-elected in 1994, telling opponents, “Get over it.”
Barry is seen by many as a tireless advocate for the poor, minorities and the elderly. A crusader for black empowerment, the percentage of minority-owned businesses getting city contracts surged under his administrations.
But while Barry was mayor, Washington was engulfed by drug-fueled violence, and the city’s population shrank as residents fled the crime wave.
Rising debt prompted Congress in 1995 to take financial control away from Barry and other elected officials. Barry was elected to the City Council in 2004, representing a poor black ward.
“Mayor For Life” has gotten tepid reviews, with Washington Post reviewer Marc Fisher calling it self-serving and “a mess.” The New York Post’s Larry Getlen said: “This is less a memoir than a self-hagiography.”
Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Eric Beech