News & Politics

Marion Barry Out of the Hospital Once Again

Despite his latest health scare, DC’s “mayor for life” says he intends to serve out his full term.

Barry, with Dr. Robert Bunning of MedStar National Rehabilitation Hospital. Photograph by Benjamin Freed.

After his latest health scare, DC Council member Marion Barry left the hospital this afternoon following a 23-day treatment for blood and urinary tract infections. “It was serious but it was never life-threatening,” he told reporters with his doctor by his side, fending off suggestions that he had been in grave condition.

Barry, who spent half of January in the hospital for a blood infection, checked into the Washington Hospital Center on February 10 and was transferred eight days later to MedStar National Rehabilitation Hospital for extensive physical therapy.

“Sometimes I didn’t feel like getting out of bed,” a raspy-voiced Barry said of his therapy. “I want to be out of the hospital.”

DC’s “mayor for life,” who turns 78 on Thursday, is a long way from getting back to his council duties. He will return to the hospital three times a week for outpatient physical and occupational therapy sessions. He arrived at his press conference in a wheelchair before walking gingerly—and with assistance—to the table where he sat while answering questions.

Barry did not give an estimate of when he might get back to work, but he said he has been monitoring the goings-on at the Wilson Building, including yesterday’s passage of a marijuana decriminalization bill he cosponsored.

But he says he will be back, refuting suggestions that his career in local government is at an end.

“What do you mean? I intend to serve out my full term,” said Barry, who was elected to his latest four-year term in 2012. “My health is first. By anybody’s poll, I’m the most popular elected official in the city.”

His popularity aside, Barry’s health is less certain. Besides this year’s hospitalization, Barry has been treated in recent years for blood-sugar deficiencies and a blood clot. He suffers from diabetes, received a kidney transplant in 2009, and is also a prostate cancer survivor. Coincidentally, this weekend also marks the 37th anniversary of the Hanafi Siege of the Wilson Building, a three-day standoff during which Barry was shot in the chest.

Barry, said his doctor, Robert Bunning, is “a very complex person, medically and otherwise.”

Barry also suggested the severity of his condition had been played up by his critics.

“Your political enemies make things up, and they tweet,” he said.

That’s about as political as Barry was willing to make the conversation, though. Despite several prods, he declined to say whether he has made up his mind about whom he’ll be supporting in the April 1 Democratic primary for mayor.

“I’m not talking about the mayor’s race,” he said. “I need a couple more weeks of therapy and exercise to make sure I’m steady on my feet. I have mastered the stairs.”

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.