So this is what it's come down to for the Night Owl. The alcoholism defense won't wash; his lawyer won't even try to use it. And after years of hotly denying he used drugs, he has seen the videotape; they've got him cold as ice. He's already tried screaming entrapment, but the charges stretch over six years, not just one night at the Vista. Backed up to the shoreline, the water on his heels, Marion Barry pulled out the show-stopper.

Hizzoner: Feds Tried to Kill Me.

Yeah, right. On videotape.

The Night Owl is off on another fantastic voyage of denial and delusion.

It's one thing for Barry to claim he's been "hounded, harassed, vilified, slandered ..." On the whole it has seemed Joseph diGenova and Jay B. Stephens were overzealous and grinding in their pursuit of Barry. But when Barry runs a stop sign to say, "And then to try to kill me, it's unprecedented," that's way beyond denial, that's into surreal.

Not only is he using the Devil Made Me Do It defense, he says the devil had murder in his heart: "They had me ingest cocaine, which could've killed me. I could have been dead now with 70, 80, 90 percent pure cocaine."

Just out of curiosity, Mr. Mayor, would it have made a difference if you'd known?

You'd think after all that's happened, the Night Owl would feel vulnerable. But he's as full of himself as ever. "In this town," he crooned, "all it takes is one juror saying, 'I'm not going to convict Marion Barry, I don't care what you say.' "

Our mayor isn't looking for justice, he's looking for a hung jury. Who knows where he'll find his magic juror? Maybe on a $17,000 boat ride, or on a midnight stroll in Georgetown.

Hizzoner: All I Need Is One.

For those of us who think he ought to have more of a defense than that, he offers straw men: "They can't say we shot anybody, we robbed anybody, that we had a scheme to steal a million dollars from the D.C. government. ... Even my most serious, most vociferous critics can't say the mayor is out making money selling drugs." That's all irrelevant. Barry isn't charged with any of that.

He's charged with possessing cocaine, conspiring to possess it and lying to a grand jury. The government has lined up many people -- a lot of girlfriends, it seems -- prepared to testify they provided him with drugs; surely a recapitulation of Barry's social life in recent years could gore him.

Hizzoner: No Big Deal.

"What's the worst they could say, that I used cocaine with them? I think if you talked to most Washingtonians ... they may think I may have done that. ... So if they testify I'd used cocaine before, that's not damaging. People already think that."


Marion Barry says if people testify that they used illegal drugs with him, it isn't damaging? Ask Douglas Ginsburg that.

Mr. Mayor, what kind of an electorate thinks using cocaine isn't damaging?

The saddest part is that Barry's right -- most Washingtonians do believe he's used cocaine before. Why shouldn't they?

Maybe he thinks this is a good strategy: He tells the jury the worst of it beforehand so it doesn't come as a revelation; they say, "Hey, we already knew this; is this all you've got? Because we can live with this, since you set him up." And he skates.

People want to see the videotape. They want to see Marion Barry, the same Marion Barry who 11 days B.V. told the Los Angeles Times he was drug free, who said, "I know that you can't be a good mayor high on drugs and alcohol, and I want to be a good mayor." They want to see that same Marion Barry lift the crack pipe to his mouth and inhale. And they want to hear his answer when someone asks, Why did you do that? Did you think you were being a good mayor?

Marion Barry's standard responses to allegations of misbehavior are:

1. They did it to me. This is the political defense. They is usually "the white establishment."

2. I did it because it's who I am. This is the personal defense. Barry has been able to skate on chasing women and being friends with crooks and carrying on in a notorious manner by saying, "These are my faults, that's who I am." By asking people to love him anyway, the self-referential Barry has avoided being called a hypocrite and excused further similar behavior. It's a no-lose.

We've found reasons to forgive him, because we felt he sincerely cared for the city. It's not for nothing that he says he's invincible. Even now, after finally acknowledging he smoked cocaine that night at the Vista, he remains convinced he can quickly raise any funds he needs for his legal defense, "no problem." But there comes a time to tally up and ask: Is this what we want in a mayor?

There's a place for people who get carried away with their invincibility -- the Nixons, Ehrlichmans, Harts and Norths -- a place with fame and riches, somewhere. But it isn't in public office.

Barry has been a charmer, a rogue and a bighearted bear; he'll keep us in quote-clover until doomsday. But this isn't a frat house, it's the capital of the United States of America.

"I may be a poor role model, but ... being a poor role model is not a crime," Marion Barry said.

No. It's a shame.