A city councilman in Washington D.C. is pushing to have the city’s only public university renamed after former mayor Marion Barry.
Councilman Vincent Orange, a Democrat, argues that Barry is a worthy namesake for the University of the District of Columbia because he was the school’s “biggest champion” during his life.
“Marion Barry is an individual who should be properly honored, but also should be studied, should be researched, just like you would with Ronald Reagan or [George W.] Bush,” Orange said on Tuesday, according to The Washington Post. “For the District of Columbia, this guy really had a major footprint in the city.”
His proposal wouldn’t just rename the school, but would also try to make it tuition-free, in line with a similar national proposal made by Barack Obama during his most recent State of the Union address.
Barry is one of the most notable figures in D.C. history, serving two stints as mayor from 1979 to 1991 and from 1995 to 1999. He died last November at the age of 78, while still serving on D.C.’s city council.
While Barry is doubtless a crucial figure in D.C. history, his life is full of more controversial aspects. In 1990, he was arrested for drug possession in an FBI sting operation that caught him on camera smoking crack cocaine. A video of the sting remains famous to this day for Barry muttering “Bitch set me up,” as he was arrested, a reference to the woman who convinced him to smoke crack before they had sex.
Barry spent six months in prison after the arrest, but rallied to return to the mayor’s office just five years later. However, his legal troubles weren’t over. From 2005 through 2011, Barry repeatedly found himself in trouble with the law over failure to pay his taxes, incidents which also revealed that he continued to habitually use drugs. Meanwhile, a 2014 car crash led to the discovery that he piled up over $2,800 in unpaid traffic and parking tickets from 2012 onward.
Barry’s personal lawbreaking was paired with corruption as a public servant. He was censured multiple times by DC’s city council for giving a public contract to a girlfriend, directing city funds to non-profits he controlled, and taking thousands of dollars in payments from contractors who were involved with city business. (RELATED: Marion Barry Slurs One Ethnic Group While Apologizing For Slurring Another)
Orange, however, said that if anything, Barry’s frequent brushes with the law improve the case for renaming the college.
“It can serve as an inspiration for some, it can also serve as a way for others to get up and overcome their adversities — and for some, it can serve as a don’t-do-these-types-of-things, stay on this track,” Orange said.
Officials at the University of the District of Columbia apparently were not consulted in advance about Orange’s proposal and have not given their support to it, though they have not condemned it either.
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