Mayor Marion Barry announced yesterday that the city will hire 200 new police officers by mid-December, and acknowledged that, in hindsight, the controversial affirmative action hiring lottery he proposed and then abandoned in the face of congressional opposition was never needed.
The lottery, proposed as an alternative to standard civil service procedures that were said to discriminate against blacks and women, drew strong criticism from the union representing city policemen, which is mostly white.
Barry said yesterday that he has since learned that even though most of those at the top of the civil service list were white, they would not receive preferential treatment.
By the time the original list of 635 top applicants is reduced through background investigations and medical examinations, a large majority of those on the final eligibility list will be black, just like the field of applicants who took the test.
"If I knew then what I know now, I would have done it differently," Barry said at a press conference yesterday. "I believe leadership should have a right to change its mind and from time to time, I will change my mind."
The mayor also acknowledged at his regular monthly press conference yesterday that his plan to sell municipal bonds to help retire the city's accumulated budget deficit had foundered in the Congress, and said that the impact of federal budget cuts on the city, while still painful, would not be as severe as projected last July.
The $184 million bond sale was the linchpin of his program to abolish an accumulated budget deficit of $388 million and gain access to the municipal bond market. But key members of the House have said they are opposed to refinancing an operating debt through long-term borrowing. Barry said yesterday he may have to consider an alternative approach.
On the matter of federal budget cuts, Barry had said in July that the city probably would receive $69 million less in federal grants this fiscal year than in the previous year and warned of severe service cuts. Yesterday, however, he said the cuts would total only $45.7 million, primarily because a proposal to sharply reduce Medicaid funds was defeated in the Senate.
The plan to hire more police officers by Dec. 14 was the major topic of the press conference.
Barry had first proposed the lottery in August as a substitute for the city's usual policy of offering jobs to applicants based largely on scores on the police recruitment examination.
Although 75 percent of those who took the exam March 28 were black, 62 of the top 100 scorers were white, raising fears among city officials that the city could be subject to discrimination suits from minorities under the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Barry's hiring lottery called for selecting the new officers by a random drawing by lot from a pool of all 635 candidates who had passed the exam.
The city's mostly white police groups angrily charged that the plan would dangerously lower standards in the department. At the union's request, Rep. Stanford Parris (R-Va.) tacked on an amendment to the city's annual appropriations bill that blocked the city from implementing the plan.
Barry said yesterday that the whole controversy probably could have been avoided had he realized over the summer that "drop-off" rate among police applicants was going to be as sharp as it has been.
According to police department statistics, 244 of the original 635 applicants are no longer eligible to be hired because they turned down job offers or failed to pass background checks or the physical exam.
That leaves 391 who are still being checked out -- 75 percent of whom are black and 17 percent women, according to Police Chief Maurice T. Turner Jr. Police officials predicted yesterday that the final list of applicants will be "very close" to the 200 new officers that the Congress has demanded that the city hire.
"That's what we had said earlier," echoed Larry Simons, president of the International Brotherhood of Police Officers, which led the opposition to the hiring lottery. "If they just left things alone, the whole thing could have been avoided. They just caused a big controversy that they never had to."