Update: Barry apologized for his comments Thursday evening, saying in a statement that he was “deeply apologetic for any harm I have caused.”
“I am sorry that my choice of words in expressing my discontent with some of the Asian business owners in my Ward offended the Asian American Community,” Barry said, emphasizing the word “some” in his statement.
But he continued his scorn of the Asian-owned businesses in Ward 8 that, he said, “don’t reach-out to neighborhood groups, make financial contributions to the neighborhood or, help young people in the neighborhood improve their quality of life.”
“It is to these less than stellar Asian American businessmen in Ward 8 that my remarks were directed, not the whole of Asian businessmen in Ward 8 or, the Asian American population,” Barry said in the statement.
Former Washington, D.C., mayor Marion Barry is mired in yet another controversy today after saying Asian business owners “ought to go” to make room for African-Americans to “take their place.”
After winning the Democratic primary election for the District of Colombia city council, on which he has served for the past seven years, Barry seemed to berate the Asian-American business community in his Southeast D.C. district.
“We got to do something about these Asians coming in and opening up businesses and dirty shops,” Barry said after winning the Democratic Primary for his Ward 8 City Council seat Tuesday night, according to a video posted by NBC 4 in Washington. “They ought to go. I’m going to say that right now. But we need African-American businesspeople to be able to take their places, too.”
Current D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray said Thursday that he was “deeply disappointed” by Barry’s comment.
“There is no room in this wonderfully diverse city for comments that disparage anyone on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, disability or sexual orientation,” Gray said in a statement. “Our energies are better spent focused on building everyone up rather than tearing anyone down. That is how we achieve the vision of One City.”
While Barry’s office did not immediately respond to ABC’s request for comment, Barry sought to clarify his remarks today on Twitter.
“My comments were taken out of context & construed as disparaging 2 entire Asian biz community. We DO deserve our bizs t/b nice places in W8!” read a tweet from his @marionbarryjr Twitter account Thursday afternoon.
The city councilman then tweeted photos of three businesses, two of which seemed to be run by Asians, saying “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!” Barry wrote.
“But the plexiglass barrier is both literal & figurative. Keep bizs clean, carry healthy products, hire from community,” read another tweet accompanied by a photo of what seems to be a Chinese food restaurant front with plexiglass enclosing the storefront.
Ward 8, which Barry represents, is not only the poorest neighborhood in the District of Columbia — 35 percent of its population lives in poverty — but with 25 percent of the population unemployed, it has the highest unemployment rate of any comparably sized city in the country. The average income of the area is one third that of the D.C. as a whole, according to Census data from 2005-2009 analyzed by the Washington-based Urban Institute.
Barry, 76, is a veteran of D.C. politics, having served as mayor for nearly 20 years. In 1990 he was caught on tape in an FBI sting using crack cocaine in a hotel room with a former girlfriend working as an informant. A jury deadlocked on many of the counts against the popular Barry during his trial; he was convicted of an earlier charge of possession and served six months in prison. Stunningly, he ran and was elected mayor for a fourth term in 1994.
He was arrested again in 2002 after traces of marijuana and cocaine were reportedly found in his car, although no charges were filed.
The former mayor has also been charged with failing to pay federal and local taxes and “misdemeanor stalking” for allegedly following his ex-girlfriend.