Former Washington DC mayor Marion Barry, who left office in disgrace after being caught smoking crack cocaine in an undercover FBI sting, has died aged 78.
US President Barack Obama was among those paying tribute to Barry on Sunday, calling him “a fixture in DC politics for decades” and praising him for his role in the civil rights movement.
“Through a storied, at times tumultuous life and career, he earned the love and respect of countless Washingtonians,” Obama said in a statement.
The Washington Post, citing hospital officials in the US capital, said the mayor was in cardiac arrest when he arrived and could not be revived.
Barry, the Mississippi-born son of a sharecropper, dominated local politics in Washington for many years starting in the mid-1970s despite repeated scandals and multiple arrests.
The most notorious incident came during his third term as mayor when he was arrested in January 1990 for crack cocaine use and possession in an FBI sting operation caught on video.
The “mayor for life” was sentenced to six months in prison, but swept back into the city’s top post in 1994.
Barry, who also served many terms on the DC Council and was head of the board of education, was able to parlay his political disgrace into a theme of redemption during the 1994 election.
More recently, in 2009, Barry, who was serving again as a city councilman, was arrested for allegedly stalking a woman.
In his early terms Barry gained recognition as a charismatic leader who used the city administration to further his ambitious social programs including jobs for the poor.
In his DC Council biography, Barry wrote that he lived by the motto “always fighting for the people.”
But by his later terms Barry’s fortunes and those of the city had begun to sag. The municipal deficit ballooned, crime rose, and a close mayoral confidant was convicted for misuse of public funds.
Current Washington Mayor Vincent Gray said in a statement he would work with Barry’s family and city officials to plan official ceremonies “worthy of a true statesman of the District of Columbia.”
Local media said Barry died having just been released from another hospital earlier Saturday evening after being admitted for observation, following what the local NBC affiliate reported was a urinary tract infection.
Barry had a kidney transplant five years ago and had also suffered from prostate cancer and diabetes.