The D.C. Council member and former four-term mayor used the moments after learning of his Ward 8 primary win Tuesday to criticize Asian owners of businesses in his ward, suggesting that they close their “dirty shops.” His racially loaded remarks prompted a torrent of criticism Thursday and distracted from Barry’s sweeping victory in a third consecutive Democratic primary.
By late Thursday, Barry backed off the remarks, saying through his Twitter account that he is “very sorry for offending the Asian American community” with an “admittedly bad choice of words.” But he continued to voice concern about conditions at some restaurants and other businesses in Ward 8, which he said are owned mainly by Asians.
“I admit, I could and should have said it differently. But the facts are still very present in our daily lives here,” he tweeted. “We are tired of sub-standard treatment, tired of being kept [at] arms length distance, tired of the lack of community engagement.”
Barry said in an interview that the apology was heartfelt: “It is as solid as Marion Barry can make it. And believe it, because I have a history of not doing anything to purposely disparage any group of people.”
Outrage had mounted through the day. One Facebook page appeared to demand that Barry apologize to the Asian community, and by late Thursday, it had more than 200 “likes.” In a joint statement, five suburban Maryland lawmakers of Asian descent — Democratic state Dels. Sam Arora, Kumar P. Barve, Susan C. Lee, Aruna Miller and Kris Valderrama — called on Barry to apologize.
“At best, Mr. Barry’s attack on Asian Americans is deeply troubling, and at worst it is race baiting,” they said.
It is the second time in recent years Barry has alienated members of a minority group. A longtime supporter of gay rights as mayor, he vexed most gay and lesbian leaders by announcing his opposition to same-sex marriage in 2009.