WASHINGTON — Former District of Columbia Mayor Marion Barry, whose four terms were overshadowed by his 1990 arrest after being caught on videotape smoking crack cocaine, died Sunday morning. He was 78.
Barry's family said in statement that he died shortly after midnight Sunday at the United Medical Center, after having been released from Howard University Hospital the previous day. He had battled kidney problems stemming from diabetes and high blood pressure and underwent a kidney transplant in February 2009.
The statement said Barry's family requested that their privacy be respected, and further details would be forthcoming.
Barry was first elected mayor in 1978 after building a political career as an official of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and a local activist in Washington. Re-elected in 1982 and 1986, he was dubbed "Mayor For Life."
"I want to take the boards off of houses and put people in them," he said shortly after being sworn in in 1979. "I want to provide minimal care for all people, regardless of their financial situation. And I want to live out (Dr. Martin Luther) King's legacy of peace, brotherhood and survival."
But he gained international notoriety in 1990 when he was videotaped in an FBI sting smoking crack in a downtown Washington hotel room with a female friend. He was convicted of a single count of drug possession — jurors had deadlocked on most counts — and sentenced to six months in prison.
Despite the embarrassment, Barry's political career was far from over. In 1992, he made it back to city government, winning a council seat representing the poorest of the city's eight wards. That victory helped propel him to a fourth, and final, term as mayor in 1994.
"Marion Barry changed America with his unmitigated gall to stand up in the ashes of where he had fallen and come back to win," poet Maya Angelou said in 1999.
But his 1994 vote was divided sharply along racial lines and his political revival drew criticism from many. Congress moved to strip Barry of much of his mayoral authority in 1995 as the city flirted with bankruptcy.
Congress installed a financial control board, and Barry decided not to seek a fifth term. He held authority over little more than the city's parks, libraries and community access cable TV station in his last years as mayor.
"Marion Barry sadly turned the capital city into a national joke," then-Sen. Lauch Faircloth, R-N.C., said in May 1998.
Despite his problems, Barry maintained a solid following, particularly in lower-income, primarily black sections of the city. He staged yet another political comeback in 2004, returning to the D.C. Council representing Ward 8. He was re-elected in 2008 and 2012. He remained beloved in his majority-black ward, where many continued to refer to him as "Mayor Barry."