Barry Blames Politics for Latest Flap
By Valerie Strauss and Hamil R. Harris
Barry, 62, whose years in elective office have been marked by controversy, found himself at the center of new storms about his personal and public lives at a time when he is trying to decide whether to run for a fifth term.
A proposal to provide Barry with a visiting professorship at area universities if he does not seek office again ran into opposition yesterday from some school presidents, but others said it could go forward without all 13 members of the university consortium on board.
Barry was peppered with questions about the controversial police detail, which provides him with round-the-clock security. Last May, Congress ordered that the 30-member unit be halved because it cost taxpayers $1 million a year.
The latest controversy was raised by a Jan. 27 internal memo, written by Lt. Ricky R. Mitchell, head of the security detail. The memo said that Barry made unscheduled stops at various places across the city, refusing to allow bodyguards to accompany him inside during visits that sometimes lasted for several hours. Once, when the officers tried to check on his safety, Barry came to the door "partially clothed," the memo said. On another occasion, the door was opened by someone who said the mayor was sleeping inside, according to the memo.
Mitchell declined to comment yesterday on his memo.
Barry has been dogged by questions about his use of officers on the security detail for tasks outside their job descriptions -- including hauling the mayor's luggage through airports -- and about his personal life. In a 1991 interview, Barry told of reforming his habits after a period when "womanizing had become an integral part of my lifestyle."
Yesterday, he angrily denied any recent improprieties.
"Part of my success as an elected official has been my genuine love for people, my gregariousness and my accessibility," he said. "It is not at all unusual for me to drop by the homes of my supporters to chat, relax, get a feel for the pulse of the city, engage in political debate and just plain have some good conversation."
He also attacked the police department and Mitchell.
"Lt. Mitchell has been the head of my security detail for almost three years, and not once during this period of time has he brought to my attention any questions or security concerns about visits with my many political supporters, associates and friends," Barry said, reading from a statement, to reporters in his office. "My question is, why now?"
Barry said the memo had surfaced because "it's election time," and he characterized it as an effort to discredit what he considers a changed life.
"It has been eight years since 1990, and I have been alcohol and drug free," said Barry, referring to an arrest at a downtown hotel that led to a drug conviction. "Some people may look at this as, 'There he goes again,' but I am focused on the business of the city."
Sen. Lauch Faircloth (R-N.C.), chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee on the District, who spearheaded the congressional takeover of nine key city agencies last summer, issued a statement questioning Barry's activities.
"Last year, Mayor Barry was complaining about [a plan to reduce] the size of his security detail," Faircloth said. "This year, he is trying to avoid them. To me, that's a good argument for a security detail of zero."
As the intersection of his personal and public lives was scrutinized yesterday, Barry also was at the center of discussion about a plan that would offer him an alternative to running for a fifth term. The plan calls for Barry to take a post, paid for through private fund-raising, in which he would lecture students at area universities.
When the plan was conceived a year ago by Barry friends and supporters, the presidents of several universities said the idea sounded interesting. But George Washington University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg said it was dropped until three weeks ago, when he received a call from one of the friends -- whom he would not identify -- seeking to determine whether the schools were still interested.
Trachtenberg said he responded that an arrangement was possible, but he said he has not heard back about whether any money is really available for such a venture, which would cost about $2 million for a 10-year package, assuming a salary of $100,000 with benefits.
"For all I know, this is all airy fairy and nothing will come from it," he said, adding that consortium members had to be consulted.
Asked about the proposal, Barry said: "I have not decided whether or not I am going to run for mayor or not. I am aware that some friends of mine are saying, 'Just in case you decide not to run, here are some opportunities for you.' "
There was mixed reaction to the proposal within the consortium of university heads, with some presidents saying the idea had potential and would help the city get a mayor that Congress would respect.
"The mayor has dignity, and the city no longer has him as mayor," said one president, who asked not to be identified. "Everybody wins."
But others, such as Trinity College President Patricia McGuire, rejected it.
"The consortium should not be interfering with the electoral process of the city," she said. ". . . The mayor has to decide whether he will pursue office whether or not a group makes a financial offer. It smacks of the kind of misbehavior we have been trying to get away from."
Staff writer Cheryl W. Thompson contributed to this report.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company