Marion Barry wiped his face. He shook hands. He walked in darkness to the blinding white television lights, and stood by TV reporters -- one by one -- who had spent years covering his every gesture. Waiting before each interview, the mayor kept his hands folded patiently in front of his unbuttoned, double-breasted jacket. There were whistles and chants and wild applause.

One of his collar tips flapped up slightly in the humidity, an uncharacteristic sign of disarray that this time seemed to bespeak a certain relief.

When the cameras rolled, he flashed that familiar winning smile.

Again and again, he said it: It wasn't time to feel defeated.

"Amazing grace, how sweet the sound," he said. "People use those words in a time of triumph, but they're also important in times of trial.

"Fifty thousand-odd votes is no small matter, is it?"

"No! No!" the crowd roared back.

"Is it?" he asked again.

"No! No!"

"This is a victory for people who believe in themselves," he said, mentioning his continuing sobriety after his struggles with drug abuse.

Barry enumerated his achievements of the past 12 years, thanked campaign manager Anita Bonds, thanked his mother and his wife, Effi, who stood at his side. He congratulated Hilda Mason. He congratulated Sharon Pratt Dixon.

"I'm going to do all I can," he said, "to make sure the transition is easy." He quoted from the poem "Invictus," by William Ernest Henley:

"Out of the night that covers me, black as the Pit from pole to pole, I thank whatever gods may be for my unconquerable soul."

"My head is bloody," he said, and paused.

The crowd bellowed back:

"... But unbowed!"

Barry's arrival enlivened what for most of the night had been a funereal scene at the Park Hyatt.

By 8:30, a pall had descended on the ballroom. It was the kind of election party where you hear mostly the plates clattering over by the buffet. It was the kind of election party where most of the guests are reporters and the rest are hollow-eyed die-hards. They were gathered around the television, watching the election returns of the first defeat of Marion Barry's political career.

Ten minutes before, it had been announced that Barry was running a distant and hopeless third. Sad sprays of green "Barry: Council-At-Large" posters were on display. Two flags were set up at the other end of the room, behind an empty podium, ready for a speech.

But the candidate remained upstairs in his seventh-floor hotel room. A sad sort of jazz started, which turned ironically upbeat. Nobody danced.

The TV coverage moved from one victory party to the next. The Dixon party. The Jim Moran party. The John Warner party.

After 12 years, the Marion Barry party was over. And what little talk there was was either brave or bitter.

"This is just another battle," said Bill Hasson, who described himself as "a hardworking D.C. resident and Marion Barry sympathizer." He was sitting patiently by the television. "But we believe in the democratic process, and once the people speak, you have to abide by it, accept it."

"The results aren't what we expected," he said, "but we aren't diminished. Did you see that series on the Civil War?"


"So you see, we can wait it out, we can be patient. We'll be back. This is just a skirmish."

Members of the media congregated in one corner, supporters of Barry in the other, eyeing the reporters with distaste, declining on-the-record comment.

At 9:30, the Rev. George Augustus Stallings, a Barry friend and supporter, essentially conceded defeat:

"While we remained optimistic that the early returns could be turned around," he said, "it would seem that this is an unsurmountable task. But in no way is Marion Barry going to cease being a leader in the District. ... There's a life for him after this."

While Stallings said it was premature to guess at the mayor's future plans, he intimated that the mayor would have plenty of opportunities to use his contacts and experience to his advantage.

"He will not go hungry. He will not go homeless."

Stallings said Barry was the most qualified person to be mayor, and that Sharon Pratt Dixon was "just at the right place at the right time."

At times, it seemed as though the mayor was not losing the council seat, but the election for mayor. Much of the anger here, at least that anger not directed at the media, was directed at Barry's successor.

"I hope the next administration, when they say they want to clean house, that they act more like a mayor than a maid. {Dixon} sounds like a maid to me," said Hasson.

"After the new mayor makes all those cuts she has to make," said a campaign worker, "a year from now, people will be out on the street begging for Marion Barry to come back."

He declined to give his name. "I may want to run for office some day," he said, "and this may be political suicide."

By 10:30, a fairly large crowd had gathered. Police Chief Isaac Fulwood was the only recognizable community leader, but some members of the fringe appeared. Prissy Williams Godfrey, a former prostitute who was a write-in candidate for mayor, said she came to show her support for the mayor.

"And I think he should run for a national office. He'd be an excellent replacement for George Bush, and I think he should plan his campaign immediately."

She recommended that Barry consider joining her party -- the Love Party.