"He's been a candidate for all the people. He can be the mayor for all the people."
That was one business community assessment last week of City Council member Marion S. Barry Jr.'s apparent primary election victory in the race to be Democratic candidate for mayor of the District of Columbia in the fall general elections - and, almost certainly, the city's mayor for four years starting in 1979.
The comments on Barry were made by black businessme an Ofield Dukes, who owns a Washington public relations firm that had a D.C. government contract (awarded after competitive bidding) to promote voting in the primary.
Dukes was satisfied last week that voter turnout had improved. But his close monitoring of the primary election campaign also helped him make some conclusion about Barry's victory and what could mean for the city.
"He had some very good political strategists and a better organization," Dukes stated. "He has been a good learner, he has come a long way," the public relations man added, recalling a time he talked with a dashiki-clad Barry four years ago in Malcolm X Park and advised the young council member to "learn to ride the high road" to respect and acceptance of a broader community by foregoing "hostility" and "becoming a gentleman, a man of respect."
Specifically, Dukes remembers advising Barry to "cultivate the business community" of Washington.
Interviews with a number of prominent business leaders here last week indicated that, although many may differ with the future mayor on specific issues, he has won their respect and admiration, even if few were his supporters in the primary battle.
Generally, the businessmen said they expect economic and jobs gains for D.C. under a Barry administration. All pledged their cooperation.
Barry made clear in an interview before last Tuesday's voting that he will demand such cooperation as part of what he said would be a new era of aggressive D.C. business development from the District Building.
Emphasizing "the speed with which I'm prepared to move," Barry outlined a program of government aid and support for business, with the ultimate goal being development of new jobs to whittle away at the city's 9.6 percent unemployment rate.
He plans early meetings with business leaders to map a cooperative drive to create jobs as part of an overall economic package that will deal with such issues as minimum wages and potential tax benefits for new business or expansions. He has emphasized tourism as a Washington business he will promote coast to coast with up to 10 new regional D.C. business promotion offices. And he wants visitors to the area to stay at D.C. hotels and eat at D.C. restaurants.
But Barry also emphasized that he will expect much in return from the business community: more attention to city problems and active involvement from a broader range of companies and business people.
"I'm going to meet regularly with various sectors of the business community . . . to talk about participation. They can't be selfish, make money and not give any back to the city," said Barry.
"I will help them to do business with easier and better government regulations but they'll have to share with the problems, too, not not just drive in and out of the city between home and work," he added.
According to Barry, a particular problem in recent years of business explosion locally has been that many companies or trade associations have relocated here or opened major new facilities "in spite of the city government" and primarily because Washington is the center of federal government.
Some new businesses in the area have located in the suburbs without any attempt by the city to attract them, said Barry, mentioning the move of Time-Life Books to Alexandria as a case where Virginia government leaders devoted days and weeks to promotional efforts and genuine help to ease the relocation from New York City.
Since the city has had no significant business development program, many firms or trade groups with new Washington addresses opened here without any contacts in the city government and without any help from the city government, he stated. Thus, they have no feeling of commitment to Washington in return, according to Barry.
"When I'm in office, they'll feel an obligation," he asserted.
Barry sums up the local business community as one with "parochial" segments, a "more aggressive" leadership and a large number of others without involvement in D.C.'s problems. He said he plans to find a way to contact all business sectors and get them to loan officials to the city government, provide advice and services.
"They won't stay and do nothing," he added.
"I'm going to be very bullish about Washington, I'm not going to give anything away," he added, defending his concept of promoting the city and not necessarily the entire metropolitan area (such as the pitch for D.C. hotels). "I'm interested in the region growing and developing, and if a firm cannot come to D.C. because of pollution requirements or land needs, I would share information with surrounding jurisdictions," the council member said.
The apparent primary victor also plans to propose a comprehensive business and commerce high school in the city's public school system, new subsidy programs to spur housing, and approaches to business and the federal government in which he will seek to have them give preference to D.C. residents in hiring, at least when the choice is between two equally qualified persons (one a city resident and the other from the suburbs).
"The smart guys said from the start that he (Barry) could get to the voters better than anyone else," said Edwin K. Hoffman, chairman of the Woodward & Lothrop department store company, who nevertheless supported City Council Chairman Sterling Tucker in the primary battle.
"And the thought of Barry as mayor does not displease me. I think he will grow in the job. He understands a little more about the economy and the need for healtier business and wage restraints" than several years ago, Hoffman added.
Riggs National Bank Chairman Vincent Burke Jr., a long-time friend and supporter of Mayor Washington, credited Barry with a "remarkable amount of knowledge about the needs of the city and the community." Burke, whose bank is the largest financial institution in metropolitan Washington, echoed Dukes in forecasting that Barry would be a mayor "for the whole city."
Shoe retailer Frank Rich, who once ran an unsuccessful campaign for a seat on the council, said he viewed the overall primary results as evidence that "the people of this city made up their minds pretty much as independents, with not a lot of group voting based on tickets . . . it's very healthy."
At the same time, Rich added, "Barry has no overwhelming mandate, and that's very healthy . . . with his interest in the finances of his city . . . he is smart enough and perceptive enough to know it will take everybody to make this city the best place ever was."
Rich called on Barry and the City Council to act as quickly as possible on recommendations by a tax revision commission, now that the primary battle has ended and some controversial tax issues can be addressed outside an election atmosphere.
R. Robert Linowes, president of the Metropolitan Washington Board of Trade, said he thinks Barry "will make an excellent mayor."
Noting that his organization, the area's principal business group, had decided earlier that the community would be well served by the election of Barry or either of his two major rivals, Linowes said Barry "always has been willing to listen" even if he was not in agreement with local business leaders.
Linowes suggested that at early meetings with Barry on the city's high unemployment problem, business leaders can be expected to support industrial bonding authority to expand business.
The Board of Trade executive also said that Barry's proposals to seek greater specific promotion for D.C. business and tourism "is not at odds with our participation nor counterproductive. Prince George's County and Fairfax County, for some time, and now Montgomery County, are promoting. The competitive factor is good in that anything that generates business for one jurisdiction aids the whole area."
Assessing the Board of Trade's initial entry into political action committees that contributed to some winning and losing candidates (none of the mayoral candidates), Linowes said: "We got our feet wet and have begun to develop and understanding of the process."
If Barry's slim lead over Tucker and Mayor Walter E. Washington is certified this week - as expected, after counting absentee ballots, disposition of vote challenges and recounting - it is virtually certain that Barry will become the federal city's chief executive early next year.
The only remaining hurdle will be defeating Republican candidate Arthur A. Fletcher, U.S. Labor Party candidate Susan Pennington and independent Glova E. Scott on Nov. 7; given the city's overwhelming Democratic registration, Barry can be expected to win handily.