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The Next Mayor ...

Washington Post Editorial, September 10, 1982

We think Marion Barry should be renominated for mayor—and reelected. He has earned the right to a second term in office. We offer this judgement with enthusiasm, notwithstanding the fact that the other three candidates seeking the Democratic nomination in Tuesday’s primary are all impressive figures. In fact, the District, so often and so unfairly made the butt of jokes for its supposedly amateurish political life, could give political lessons to other big cities around the nation—as well as to some nearby suburban jurisdictions—based on its capacity to field a surplus of serious-minded candidates for office.

Consider them. John Ray, an attorney and twice-elected at-large member of the D.C. Council with a background of work on Capitol Hill, has acquired a wide knowledge of District issues in his comparatively brief time in local politics. So too has Charlene Drew Jarvis, a relatively new council member; trained and professionally tested as a scientist, Mrs. Jarvis has projected the particular skills of this calling onto the political scene with a remarkable degree of success. We believe both Mr. Ray and Mrs. Jarvis will play major roles in this city’s political future, and we expect and hope the same will be true of Patricia Roberts Harris, the versatile and distinguished lawyer-administrator. Mrs. Harris has been noted more for her positions in federal government and her role in national politics than for her involvement over the years in the life of non-federal Washington. But she has nonetheless been intimately involved, at that level, in the various urban, social and civil-rights issues that are central to the governing of this city, and she also engaged vigorously in the fight for home rule and other matters of special concern to this community. She has as well, during the campaign, put forward a prodigious number of ideas about ways to run the city—some extraordinarily good, a few not good at all.

We don’t think incumbency equals automatic entitlement to reelection; last time around we thought the incumbent should be replaced. But we do think there is a burden on a challenger to convince the voters that he or she could do a better job than the incumbent. And we don’t think any of Mayor Barry’s three opponents has done that. All have landed some serious criticisms; all have offered some useful ideas about the way things could be improved. But none has persuaded us, anyway, that he or she has a better sense of what the city needs from a mayor or a firmer commitment or larger capacity to fulfill those needs.

Yes, of course, there would be plenty of room for improvement in a second Barry term. Is there a city or public office anywhere of which this could not be said? The mayor needs to keep working or to work harder on a number of fronts. Crime prevention is one. The reduction of the deficit is another. The pace of housing rehabilitation must be quickened. That comprehensive plan for the city—even though its prospective impact is probably vastly overrated—should finally make its much-heralded appearance. There is more to be done to generate responsiveness and helpfulness on the part of the bureaucracy in the mayor’s charge. And there is need for a consistent, cooperative and more open relationship of the administration with the council, especially where the District’s finances are concerned. But we think that, on the whole, things are much better in the city and in city government than they were before Marion Barry took over. And so there is basis for hope that these and other improvements will be forthcoming.

Mayor Barry’s achievements begin with his appointees to office. They are good. He got rid of some real deadwood, and he put a number of first-rate people into important positions: City Administrator Elijah Rogers; Ivanhoe Donaldson, a top assistant now in the campaign; the financial team of Gladys Mack, whom he retained, and Alphonse Hill and Carolyn Smith; Transportation Director Thomas Downs; Police Chief Maurice Turner—among others. He took seriously the dismal and forbidding condition of the city’s finances and their almost impenetrable chaos, and he has brought a degree of order out of that chaos as well as asserting a much-needed degree of control over the city’s financial affairs. He has worked well with his fellow official/politicians in the suburbs in general and in the Council of Governments in particular.

There have been improvements in many programs, from summer jobs to sanitation. Some business has been encouraged, with the jobs it brings, to come into the city, although there is much, much more to be done in this regard. Traumatic labor troubles that have ravaged so many other big cities have been avoided here so far, and the price in wage settlements has not been so astronomically high. We think it is a good and creditable and promising record.

They say Marion Barry is a politician. He is—with all the vices and virtues that implies. It is Mr. Barry’s political instincts and talent that give him his particular feeling for the city and its many constituencies, and this in a sense sets him apart from the competition, to his advantage. It is these same qualities that have enabled him to cajole and persuade and compromise—in short, to deal—in valuable ways to get businesses and various groups within the community to do their best for the District as a whole. But it is also this political streak that raises alarms, especially in this, the year of the million-dollar campaign. What exactly are all those contributors expecting? Are they in it for an agreement of mutual benefit: a chance to do business and a pledge to bring more jobs and economic vitality to the city? Or are they in it for some presumed special reward?

If Mayor Barry is reelected, this is certainly one aspect of his government that we, along with many others, will be watching. No one in this town can be expected to abandon the right to kibitz, complain, holler and nag, and Mayor Barry has always provided us with ample incitement to all of the above. We don’t say he has been perfect. We say he has been a good mayor, that he has worked hard and made a substantial difference in the city—and that he deserves the chance to continue the job.

© The Washington Post

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