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And the Hanssen affair, wherein he used his position as an FBI counter-espionage officer to feed secrets to the KGB and its successor agency, showed Washington as a capital city, the seat of government and hub of the international community.
Hanssen’s proximity to power — he was a confidant of FBI Director Louis Freeh — and his seemingly innocuous suburban life masked one of the biggest intelligence failures in U.S. history, the depths of which are still being sorted out.
“Not all monsters lurk in the night. Some of them wear a suit, go to church and work for the people who are supposed to protect us,” Sakey said in the episode.
‘Perfect for D.C.’
But it’s Barry that offered the richest material for the show.
“Like most stories that turn me on, this one is complicated,” Sakey says in the episode.
The incident of Barry smoking crack and getting nabbed by a joint FBI-police sting barely scratched the surface. As Sakey dug deeper, the story developed more layers, revealing truths not just about Barry, but about the city itself.
“There are people who love him and people who hate him, and [they all] look at him as a symbol of the city,” Sakey said. “He went from poverty in the Deep South to national success and then was totally consumed, taken off track by his own weaknesses.”
Barry’s rise to power, first as a civil rights figure and then later as a school board member, city councilman and mayor, track the city’s story of fighting for home rule and becoming a beacon of black empowerment.
The problems that surrounded Barry for years, from his own drug abuse to civic decay, belie an astoundingly successful politician.
After his arrest, Barry was convicted of misdemeanor drug possession and spent six months in prison. He was later elected again to the D.C. Council and then won a fourth term as mayor in 1994.
That election laid bare the city’s white-black tensions, as well as the federal-local rift. After his victory, he told his detractors to “get over it,” and his term was defined by a standoff with the Republican-controlled Congress over control of the city’s finances and questions about a Washington reeling with crime and deteriorating services.
When he announced he would not seek a fifth term as mayor in 1998, he acknowledged his standoff with Congress, which stripped him of much of his executive authority as mayor, was to the detriment of the city.
Barry returned again to elected office, though, winning a D.C. Council seat representing Ward 8 in 2004, and he was re-elected in 2008. He is running for re-election this year and is favored to win, even amid questions of continuing substance abuse, income tax evasion and ill health.
Sakey quotes an old campaign slogan Barry used to sum up his appeal: “He may not be perfect. But he’s perfect for D.C.”