Thanking His City, Barry Steps Down
By Yolanda Woodlee
D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, who served the city as mayor for 16 of the last 20 years, stepped down yesterday, expressing gratitude to District residents for supporting him through the ups and downs of his political career and asking them to back his successor, Anthony A. Williams, just as they had backed him.
"I want to thank the people of Washington for your love and your forgiveness," said Barry, who seemed subdued, which he later attributed to a cold. "I love you, and let's be here to support Mayor Williams. He can't do this job all by himself."
Cora Masters Barry dabbed her eyes as her husband, whom she helped propel into office in 1994 in an amazing political comeback, passed the seal of the city to Williams the last official act before the new mayor took over the city's top job.
As he left the platform of the Ronald Reagan International Trade Center at the conclusion of the swearing-in for Williams, the outgoing mayor summed up his legacy, saying: "I have demonstrated that you can rise above the storm, that you give help and hope to those who need help and hope. I did it."
Since his return to the mayor's office in 1995 only five years after being videotaped smoking crack in an FBI drug sting and serving a six-month prison sentence for misdemeanor cocaine possession Barry has used his own life experience as a metaphor of what the District and its citizens can do. Barry's comeback added an indelible asterisk to his place in history.
Barry wasn't the only one to make a reference to his personal obstacles. Other speakers, Mayor Walter Washington, the city's first elected mayor, and the Rev. H. Beecher Hicks, senior pastor of Metropolitan Baptist Church, alluded to Barry's past troubles at the morning prayer breakfast.
In citing the District's history, Washington said that he "laid a foundation" for the mayors that followed him.
"That's all I'm going to say about them," Washington joked. " . . . They did what they did and a little more."
Barry joked back that he had run and defeated the District's first mayor in 1978.
"If you had been that articulate and colorful then, you would've beat me in 1978!" Barry said, eliciting laughter and applause from the 2,000-strong audience at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel.
In his keynote address, Hicks said that politicians can and do make mistakes.
"Marion Barry was not perfect, but he is forgiven," Hicks said as he called on the audience to bear with Williams as he takes over the city reins.
"Anthony Williams will make mistakes, but we must correct him while we love him, and let God do the the rest."
Pamela Hillsman Mitchell, who worked for Barry when he was elected to the D.C. Council in 1992 upon his return from prison, said Barry is not alone when it comes to life's pitfalls, saying everyone experiences "changes and ups and downs in our lives."
She credited Barry with setting the stage for Williams's candidacy.
"Marion Barry's reign in Washington, D.C., was necessary for Anthony Williams to become mayor of the District of Columbia," Hillsman said. "He created the opportunity for Williams to be the [chief financial officer] of the city, therefore exposing him to the citizens of the District of Columbia."
Former D.C. Council member Frank Smith Jr. has known Barry since the civil rights movement in the 1960s. He said Barry made a deliberate decision this time not to run for office, unlike in 1990, when his drug arrest kept him from running.
"Knowing that someone else has to worry about getting snow off the street . . . and taking care of many of these problems is something, I think, in time will be a great burden lifted from his shoulders," Smith said.
For many of Barry's fans, such as Ben Johnson, a D.C. government employee who also supports Williams, it was difficult to watch the longtime mayor leave office. He grabbed Barry's hand as he walked off the stage: "If there's anything I can do, call me."
"There's mixed emotions," Johnson said. "But there's always a sunset to a journey."
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company