Where is D.C. Mayor Marion Barry?
When Distict delegates to the Democatic National Convention here gave a press conference to push for full voting rights in Congress for the District, Barry wasn't there.
Barry, the first black activist elected mayor of a major American city, has not been visible in the convention's black caucus. And when supporters of President Carter wanted someone to make their pitch to the D.C.delegates on platform issues, they twice chose Democratic National Committeewoman Sharon Pratt Dixon, not Barry.
The only prominence for Barry at this convention thus far, came today when he was featured at a press conference sponsored by the convention's lesbian and gay caucus.
When Barry took office early last year, he was touted by many as one of the fastest rising stars on the national black political horizon. He volunteered at one point that he might someday run for president.
During the past three days here, other big city mayors and other ambitious black politicians have basked in the national limelight or jousted to dance at its edges. But Barry has been enjoying a family vacation withhis wife, mother and son -- "taking it easy," he says -- often in his 14th floor suite inthe Roosevelt Hotel far from the maddening political crowd.
Barry has been boxed out by mayors of longer standing, hampered by political problems at home and plagued by his lukewarm support of Carter, whose forces controlthe convention. The mayor of the nation's capital has become just another of the 3,331 delegates, another of the 25,000 green tags to converge on this city for the quadrennial meeting.
"It's no big thing," Barry said in an interview. "i enjoy my role right now, just being a delgate, relaxing. Other people who have been active longer than I have should have a biggerrole."
Barry said he has spent much time in New York "being a husband and father" instead of a politician.
The mayor has not been totally inactive. He says he has been lobbying for D.C. voting rights, and today wascarrying around a stack of materials on the issue destined for the Tennesse delegation. And Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the senateDistrict appropriations subcommittee, said Barry cornered him today in the lobby of the New York Statler Hotel, to ask for more funds for the District.
"He was really twisting my arm," saidLeahy with a smile. "And I said we would help him out, and you can quotethat."
Some D.C. delegates have said thatBarry's lack of prominence at the convention and his infrequent presence on the convention floor have hurt the delegation's effort to win more support for the floundering full voting rights drive.
The usually untelevised daytime sessions are one of the best times for lobbying delegates from other states, including governors and some who are members of the state legislatures that must approve the amendment if it is to become law. Only nine of the required 38 states have ratified the amendment so far.
But Barry has been absent during much of these sessions, and has not spoken from the podium.
"I would have liked to have seen the mayor of our city on the podium," said City Council member Charlene Drew Jarvis, a Carter delegate. "This is our most unique opportunity to make a national appeal . . . he should have been there. We won't have that opportunity again."
"I would assume that he's lobbied," said Carter delegate Joseph B. Carter of the mayor. "I can't say what he's done. I don't know. I would assume he has his own reasons."
The mayor's lack of prominence at the convention results from a complex set of circumstances, including his relative short tenure in office, his slim base in the city's Democratic party and his reputation -- in both word and deed -- as a closet Kennedy supporter.
The three mayors with the most prominence here -- Coleman A. Young of Detroit, Maynard Jackson of Atlanta and Richard G. Hatcher of Gary, Ind. -- have all been in office at least five years.
All three are also strong within their local Democratic parties, ovservers said, while Barry is not. After winning the election in 1978, Barry rejected the advice of some of his advisers to oust Robert B. Washington Jr. as party chairman, even though Washington actively opposed Barry in the primary.
Washington is now closer to the White House and the Democratic National Committee than Barry, who came into office with only a scant 34 percent of the Democrat vote.
Barry unethusiastically endorsed Carter in the presidential primary, but seldom campaigned -- in Washington or elsewhere -- and couldn't deliver the city. Kennedy, with the help of many of Barry's best workers, won the District primary. City Council member John Ray, Barry's handpicked successor on the Council, ischairman of the District delegation here.
To make matters worse, Barry said two weeks ago he supported the principle of the "open" convention proposed by Kennedy.He quickly backed off that statement, but not before numerous White House aides became angered. o
One senior administrator was asked today why Barry had not been asked to do more at the convention. The aideresponded, "what has he done for us?" asked to do more at the convention and had not requested a larger role because other mayors had been around longer and he felt they should enjoy the limelight.
He said he did not believe the WhiteHouse was cool toward him because of his flirtations with Kennedy. "I'm a new man. I'm only in my 21st month," he said. I'm getting along with the White House fine. I'm a strong supporter of the president."
Jarvis said Barry's low profile here might also be attrubuted to time spent wrestling with pressing local problems, including the city's worsening financial crisis.
"Politics like a tennis match. You have to keep that ball rolling," Jarvis said. "It takes tremendous energy to do that, and there are bureaucratic and political problems thatbesiege him . . . If that keeps going, after a while, there's some lost energy."