April 6th, 2012
04:09 PM ET

Marion Barry's remarks on Asians' 'dirty shops' ignite criticism after primary win

[Updated Friday at 4:09 p.m. ET] Washington Councilman Marion Barry said Friday he could've rephrased his controversial remark about "dirty" Asian businesses in his district, but he refused to back down.

He said his adrenaline was flowing after Tuesday's primary victory, when he made the comment, and that he merely was trying to convey that the business community in his Ward 8 needs a new attitude. Asians run a large percentage of the ward's stores and small shops, he said.

“I said something that I probably could have phrased differently. What you mean is the same. You’re not going to have people who are exploiting us in this community. They’re going to be part of the community. We welcome all businesspeople here … but give us some jobs.”

Several lawmakers, including the D.C. mayor and some of Barry's fellow council members, condemned his remarks - criticism Barry downplayed earlier this week. CNN's Athena Jones, who interviewed Barry on Friday, also spoke to Korean shop owner Helen Lee, who said she was angered by the councilman's castigation.

"We work really hard to keep our facility clean and to serve, like, this community. We've been here for over 20 years now," said Lee's daughter, Miriam. "So it's really insulting for him to come out of the blue and say that we're dirty and that, you know, we should be replaced, basically because we've been here for so long."

Told of the Lees' sentiments, Barry again disregarded the criticism, saying, "Leadership requires leadership."

"If she’s mad at me, tell her put some money in this community. Hire some people in this community. Give money to various organizations in this community, " he said. "If she’s mad, then do something about it.”

Barry further said that his remarks were not divisive because of his past civil rights record, and he blamed the media and political opponents for making his remark appear prejudiced. Asked if he would retract the statement, Barry appeared to say he would not.

“First of all, these people don’t know Marion Barry’s record, don’t know my commitment to the Asian and other communities, don’t know of my commitment to justice and injustice in Washington, all over the country. Fifty years I’ve been fighting. I get strong support from the Asian community."

Jones pressed him again on whether he would retract the statement and he replied,  “I’ve done everything I’m going to do, and I’ve made my position clear. We’re not going to take this disrespect from anybody – black, white, Hispanic, anybody else.”

Asked if he had any message for the shop owners he was addressing in his Tuesday victory speech, he said, "Get busy. Hire some D.C. residents, Ward 8 residents. Clean your stores up, those who didn't clean up. Be a part of the community. Don't take all their money to Virginia or Maryland. Leave some right here in this community. We want it. We will demand it."

Barry capped the interview by pontificating on why he is constantly the subject of controversy and media scrutiny.

"Well, because I'm doing such a great job. I'm doing a fantastic job. My political enemies, the haters and the other kind of people have got to to find something to do. They attack Marion Barry. That's all. They ought to do something else."

[Posted Thursday at 7:22 p.m. ET] Washington Councilman and former Mayor Marion Barry spent Thursday firmly defending, explaining and elaborating upon on a comment many feel was disparaging to Asians in his district.

The remark came Tuesday, following his victory in the primary to retain his Ward 8 council seat. During a speech about the dire need for economic improvements in his ward, the city's poorest, Barry said, “We've got to do something about these Asians coming in and opening up businesses and dirty shops."

He continued, “They ought to go. I just tell you that right now, you know. But we need African-American businesspeople to be able to take their places, too.”

WRC-TV in Washington, which originally aired the speech clip, said that a reporter went to his home and campaign office for clarification but was unable to find the councilman.

Barry did not immediately return a CNN voice mail message or e-mail requesting an interview, but a series of tweets from his Twitter account today claim his remarks were blown out of proportion.

"My comments were taken out of context and construed as disparaging 2 entire Asian biz community. We DO deserve our bizs t/b nice places in W8," read one.

An earlier tweet said, "WE can do a better job. I do NOT disparage the Asian community, but the fact is there r some bizs that can do better." The second tweet linked out to a photo of a beat-up storefront that The Washington Post identified as a Chinese carry-out restaurant in Congress Heights.

The Post reported that a Facebook page demanding an apology from Barry has been launched, while the Mayor Vincent Gray and several D.C. council members and Maryland lawmakers have denounced Barry's remarks.

Barry told the Post that his critics need to “get to know Marion Barry and his stellar record on civil rights.”

”I’ve spent the last 50 years of my life fighting for justice and equality of all people,” he told the paper. “Those (critics) don’t know Marion Barry at all. They know my name; they don’t know my record.”

He further cited his outreach efforts to the Asian community, "including a sister city relationship with Beijing, helping to erect the Chinatown Friendship Archway and establishing the city Office of Asian-Pacific Islander Affairs during his four terms as mayor," according to the paper.

Barry then went on to defend his condemnation of Asian businesses.

“Let me make it clear, I’m not castigating any group of people. I’m not doing anything except trying to have a renaissance of our community and get some respect. A number of these restaurants serve high caloric food, bad food, etc., but the more important thing, they don’t participate in the community. ... That’s what I object to, I don’t care who it is."

When The Post asked why he targeted Asians in his remarks, Barry responded, “Because that’s reality. Who owns these little restaurants? Who owns them? You know, Asians. ... Ninety percent of all the small restaurants in Ward 8, at least.”

Noting that the latter statement couldn't be verified, the newspaper further quoted Barry as saying, “We’re spending our money there, and we demand respect. We demand they participate in community affairs. We demand they give jobs to Ward 8 people regardless of their cultural situation. That’s as American as apple pie.”

Barry is no stranger to controversy. In fact, he's a lightning rod for it.

Dogged by allegations of cocaine and alcohol abuse during his first three mayoral terms from 1979 to 1991, Barry was arrested in 1990 after a famously televised police surveillance tape showed him smoking crack in a hotel room. He was sentenced to six months in prison after a possession conviction.

More recently, he has had run-ins with the IRS over his failure to file tax returns and pay taxes. In 2006, he was suspected of driving under the influence and driving with a suspended license in separate incidents. He was found not guilty of the DUI charge, and the state said a computer glitch erroneously reported that Barry's license had been suspended.

In 2002, police said they found "apparent" traces of marijuana and cocaine in Barry's car but didn't arrest him, and in 2009, he was arrested for stalking, a charge prosecutors later dropped.

He reclaimed his seat in the mayor's office in 1995 and was re-elected to the City Council in 2004.

soundoff (740 Responses)
  1. jack hall

    what can you expect from a racist crackhead?

    April 6, 2012 at 12:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Abe Lincoln

      cnn sucks for posting this story!

      April 6, 2012 at 12:34 pm | Report abuse |
  2. ART

    You see what crack does to you. I for one cannot understand how someone caught smoking crack can still run and then be voted in by people, that must be the dumbext district in all of the USA

    April 6, 2012 at 12:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Neesh

      I don't know how that happens either!

      April 6, 2012 at 12:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • jack hall

      they are all just like him. it makes perfect sense.

      April 6, 2012 at 12:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • stateschool

      Where have I been? I had no idea that this comedic gem had been elected to office again. That's awesome.

      April 6, 2012 at 12:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dan

      And to think THAT district elected him after these charges...and now to find that he is a racist person when it comes to Asians is eve more disparaging!

      April 6, 2012 at 12:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Neesh

      Lol..I do not understand how someone with a crack addiction makes it to office either! This just amazes me!

      April 6, 2012 at 12:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brian

      Blacks will support politicians/athletes no matter what crimes they commit.

      April 6, 2012 at 12:53 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Yakobi

    "a reporter went to his home and campaign office for clarification but was unable to find the councilman."
    That cuz he was out lookin' fo' his crack dealer!

    April 6, 2012 at 12:25 pm | Report abuse |
  4. jack hall

    he can get elected in the 8th ward because most of the people that live there are just like him. black, racist crack smokers.

    April 6, 2012 at 12:27 pm | Report abuse |
  5. DCInsider

    Regardless of what side you stand on the facts are the facts. Asians do not hire anybody but Asians. I do not like Marion Barry at all and do not support him in any way, but the truth is the truth. When have you walked into an Asian restaurant and seen an employee of another race ever? Mexicans also do that. Blacks and White are the only individuals that promote diversity.

    April 6, 2012 at 12:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Because...

      How many of your "diverse" clique can give instructions to the kitchen staff in Chinese?

      April 6, 2012 at 12:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ken Adams

      I do not support Marion Barry. The guy is a P.O.S. as far as I am concerned. But you do have a point about the hiring of those with similar ethnicity....whites and blacks do it as well. Not to take away from the original point, Marion Barry is a racist.

      April 6, 2012 at 12:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Neesh

      You're so correct with that observation! I've never really paid attention because I thought it was just normal but they do not promote diversity! But if they are legally owning businesses I wish Asian business owner's the best & hope that they treat everyone fair even if they don't hire any other races.

      April 6, 2012 at 12:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • JC

      You are delusional if you think that's true. Maybe in areas with high populations of Asians and high numbers of Asian owned shops you might see something like that, but coming from a family of Asian store members, I can assure you that the majority of our employees have been of Black or Hispanic origin. And this is pretty much the same for all the other owners that we know in the area as well. Even in those areas where I said you MIGHT find the trend that you're seeing, such as Annandale, where the population of Asians in the area is upwards of 30% we had a predominantly hispanic workforce. And really? Blacks as one of the people that promote diversity? Is that they have EXCLUSIVE universities and fraternities and sororities and businesses, and on and on and on? You've got it absolutely backwards. It appears that "promoting diversity" to you means forcing others to accept black diversity while allowing them to maintain exclusivity solely for themselves.

      April 6, 2012 at 12:45 pm | Report abuse |
  6. GoldenGod

    Marion Barry has been a cancer in DC for years. He is one of the most corrupt politicians of our time, and yet he continues to get re-elected because he knows how to pander to the residence of DC. Nationally, unemployment for blacks is more than twice that of Asians. Over 50% of the population of Washington is AA, while Asians represent 3.5% of the population. Approx 40% of the population of Washington DC is on some form of Public Assistance, while the unemployment rate in the Washington Metropolitan area is 6.2%. And Marion Barry thinks that Asians are the problem? Time for a long look in the Mirror Mr. Barry.

    April 6, 2012 at 12:29 pm | Report abuse |
  7. You betcha

    Out of context my foot. The only thing sorrier than Berry is the people who vote for him.

    April 6, 2012 at 12:30 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Tyler

    Ok calm down people

    April 6, 2012 at 12:30 pm | Report abuse |
  9. JP

    how about affirmative action for everyone? Better to have a dirty shop than a dirty life/background. How about we go ahead and close some social security stops?

    April 6, 2012 at 12:31 pm | Report abuse |
  10. The Terps Fan

    I wouldn't expect anything more or less from a crack head and a convicted felon. But, shame on you voters of Ward 8. Shame on you !! You keep electing a low life and then blame the whole world for you miseries. This is the example you set for your children and grand children. They you wander why are you in a rat hole generations after generations

    April 6, 2012 at 12:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Neesh

      @ James, the reason why different people from different countries or continents such as Asia, Africa or the middle east come here & establishes businesses 1st is in part due to the tax breaks & people who come from these parts of the world typically have a since of togetherness & they work together to lift each other up! A lot of blacks in America have lacked some of that unity due to the sense of injustices that they have fell victim to because we were so divided & families were broken up but a lot of us have to open up & explore the option of owning a business & gain more of a sense of unity! I am a black woman who's a business owner.

      April 6, 2012 at 12:49 pm | Report abuse |
  11. jimmy

    Can you imagine the million hoodie march which would happen if a white politician said "We need to get rid of all these dirty black owned stores and replace them with White businessmen!" ???

    lol. So where are all the reverends who's mission in life is stand against racism?

    April 6, 2012 at 12:32 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Brian

    Asians are the only ones in the community willing to work.

    April 6, 2012 at 12:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • James

      Why is it that the businesses are not owned by blacks??? Asians come to this country and on a few years have businesses and houses. There children are educated and assimilated in one generation. Black people have been here 100yrs. Enough of playing the victim all the time.

      April 6, 2012 at 12:40 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Chimo

    It's just amazing that a guy like him with a rap sheet a mile long can still get elected and serve as a mayor, or councilman. This guy is a racist. Too many times i've heard African Americans disparaging other races for setting up shops in areas that are mostly African Americans. In Crown Heights, they disparaged and then rioted against Jews, all because of an accident. Barry acts as though blacks ought to be able to just take over the businesses owned by Asians. I;m not generalizing about all blacks, many of which are hard working intelligent people just trying to make their way like anyone else. I'm reffering to the jesse Jackson's and the Al Sharptons of this world, who demean other races.

    April 6, 2012 at 12:33 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Neesh

    As a black woman, I am truly offended that he would identify a group of people as such! If Asians, whites, Latino's, Blacks or etc. work hard to own their own business who are we to judge? Especially if they're making an honest living. Yes, more African Americans do need to invest in owning their own business but we cannot put down an entire community because some of us haven't explored the option of owning a business. People from different continents & countries come to America & develop business whether they're from Africa, Asia or the Middle East & if they have the motivation than more power to them. He needs to tell more Blacks to look at their culture as an example on owning businesses versus putting them down. They are human like everyone else & JEHOVAH GOD DID NOT MAKE ANY RACE ON THIS EARTH BETTER THAN THE NEXT ONE; IT'S HUMANS THAT HAVE DECIDED WHO THEY WERE BETTER THAN!

    April 6, 2012 at 12:34 pm | Report abuse |
  15. iheartyou

    Marion Barry – the black Rush Limbaugh.
    Why don't both of these losers just go away already?!?! What the hell is wrong with people that these clowns are still popular and electable?!?!?

    April 6, 2012 at 12:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • MCJNY

      Agreed. We need one, higher standard for public officials. This guy should be censure and/.or removed from office.

      April 6, 2012 at 12:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dave

      I didn't know that Rush had been elected to anything.

      April 6, 2012 at 12:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • coastlinecascot

      Rush is not elected with no power. this guy is running again for mayor. This guy will limit asain business licenses just like he did with the cab services to help his buddies.

      April 6, 2012 at 12:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Logan

      You know the answer to that. There are still voters out there who are gullible and easily swayed by these kind of folks. These are the same kind of folks that followed other evil people like Hitler. People find someone who makes them feel like they have a sense of security from the other fear mongers.

      April 6, 2012 at 1:01 pm | Report abuse |
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