News & Politics

Marion Barry to Endorse Vince Gray on Wednesday

DC's mayor-for-life will throw his support to the incumbent, but will it make a difference?

Photograph by Flickr user Tom Bridge.

Mayor Vince Gray visited Marion Barry while the mayor-for-life was laid up in Washington Hospital Center, and his concern appears to be paying off. The embattled incumbent will get the mayor-for-life’s official blessing Wednesday, a few days after Barry campaigned for Gray.

Barry will endorse Gray at Matthews Memorial Baptist Church on Wednesday in Southeast DC, where Gray is trying to drum up as much support as he can ahead of the April 1 Democratic primary. The announcement was supposed to be kept under wraps until just before the event, but Washington Post reporter Paul Schwartzman tweeted the news, breaking the embargo requested by Gray campaign manager and self-declared election policeman Chuck Thies.

Thies responded with a Twitter tantrum, accusing the Post of “shoddy reporting” and letting the world know he cursed out Schwartzman before slamming downhanging up the phone. Schwartzman later apologized for blowing the embargo. 

Washingtonian was able to confirm with Barry’s spokeswoman, LaToya Foster, that he will be making his mayoral endorsement on Wednesday, and Thies’s outburst aside, the announcement that Barry is siding with Gray is not terribly surprising, as Barry spent part of last weekend campaigning for Gray in Southeast, with Gray’s campaign releasing a video showing Barry speaking into a microphone telling residents to “Come on out and say hello to the mayor, Mayor Gray.”

With early voting already underway and two weeks left until the primary, Gray is trying to shore up his numbers in the wake of federal prosecutors’ allegations last week that he had a direct role in the $668,800 “shadow campaign” waged on his behalf in 2010, which businessman Jeffrey Thompson admitted to funding.

Since Thompson’s guilty plea, Gray’s campaign has asked people to decide between the mayor and “Uncle Earl,” as Thompson admitted he preferred to be called in discussions about the under-the-table money. Gray’s seven opponents have seized upon the latest twists in the three-year investigation into his 2010 campaign, especially at a debate Sunday night, which the mayor skipped.

But Barry’s actual effect on the election will be minimal. For one, his coat tails are clipped because of his age and ethical lapses. Younger voters can’t relate to him, and the general electorate has grown past his appeal.

Gray can expect Barry to solidify his base among black residents east of the Anacostia River, but these voters were already on his side and likely to punch his ticket. On the other hand, the few white voters who were considering a vote for the mayor might think twice after seeing Barry stumping for him.

“It might help solidify the mayor’s support among blacks who have been sitting on the fence,” says Phil Pannell, president of the Congress Heights Community Association in Barry’s Ward 8. “But his endorsement goes only so far, when he can’t physically back it up.”

Barry, 78, got out of the hospital March 5 after a 23-day stay to be treated for blood and urinary tract infections, and now attends physical therapy sessions three times a week.

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.