These days Barry serves as councilman for the poorest ward in the city, and Matt Labash wrote a great description of the way he does business in the Weekly Standard. Barry is always out in the neighborhoods, talking to people, letting them see him, showing them that he cares and is on their side.
But here at the Temple of Praise, people don't break out the scales and stack Barry's good deeds versus his bad ones. His popularity here transcends such minutiae. Supporting him, in spite of his struggles--even because of them--is almost a symbolic sacrament. Plus, he does something few other politicians in the District, even the city's later black mayors, do: He shows up.
Over the course of my time with him, he shows up to senior centers, where he gives 20 bucks to the oldest doll in attendance, which often takes some sorting out, what with senility. He shows up to the planning of the Labor Day picnic that he throws out of his own budget, overseeing details down to the hot dogs and what Go-Go bands are hired. The fact that he regularly gets raked over the coals by newspapers--which Barry tells me Ward 8ers largely don't read--for tax evasion and traffic arrests and addiction issues and many of the pathologies that plague their community in such numbers might help him rather than hurt him. . . . As James Coates, senior minister of Bethlehem Baptist Church, says, "He understands our path--stony the road we trod. So when someone attacks Mr. Barry, they attack all of us."
I think the virtue people admire most, in their hearts, is courage. People like Barry earn forgiveness for their sins because they live without fear. A politician who combines courage with some sort of ability to connect with ordinary people can get away with almost anything. He is "one of us," but with the guts to compete for the greatest prizes.