Mayor Marion Barry, ever one to take a stand, was asked recently to grade President Reagan's performance during his first year in office. "D-plus," was the mayor's response.
"D-plus!" exclaimed Bob Berkowitz, moderator of the "Newsmaker Sunday" program on the Cable News Network, apparently surprised at the low mark. "You're a tough grader," he said. These are tough times for big-city mayors, Barry fired back.
Later in the show, Barry was backtracking, speaking slowly and thoughtfully, upgrading his previous failing mark for the president--the man who holds approval of the city budget in his hands.
"You know, my comments about President Reagan and about cities," a contrite mayor said, "My bad grade for him was in general about cities. But as far as the District itself is concerned, because the president has to sign our budget, has to send it to Congress, they've been very supportive.
"So I have no problem with the support we have received as a local entity tied to the federal government. I just wanted to make sure that that was put into context of the national scene and not just locally here."
It was an important distinction to be made by a mayor of the nation's capital, but a distinction that Barry left incomplete by failing to grade the president's performance on D.C. affairs. Even several days later, Barry would not take a stand on Reagan's local performance.
Others would, among them City Council Chairman Arrington Dixon, who gave Reagan a "C" for the first year of his administration's relationship with the District. Dixon said the Reagan White House responds to his phone calls and that he has met with "high level" federal staff on local problems.
But Dixon criticized Reagan for not doing enough to help the city recover from the disproportionate impact of federal job reductions. As the biggest employer in the city, Dixon says, the federal government should act as it is asking corporations around the country to act in cushioning the pain of federal budget cuts.
To grade Reagan on his involvement with the city requires a review of his record, starting with the proposal to replace U.S. Attorney Charles F.C. Ruff with Thomas Puccio, an out-of-town lawyer whose name eventually was pulled back in the face of screams from the local legal fraternity. A D.C. Appeals Court judge, Stanley Harris, subsequently got the job.
Even before the Puccio incident, Reagan showed what many considered to be disregard for the city's home rule when he unilaterally moved to replace President Carter's appointee to the Judical Nomination Commission with one of his own. The Carter appointee resisted, took the matter to court and won.
Despite that defeat, the Justice Department added to what some saw as a tenor of disrespect for the city when it opposed transfering prosecutorial authority from the U.S. Attorney's office to the city government.
On the plus side, Reagan is the president who approved the highest federal payment in the history of the city last year and the president who gave the Barry administration his support in their its with Congress to gain the right to issue bonds. (Actually, his support of the bond issue had less to do with strengthening home rule than it did with getting the city to stop using the federal treasury to fund its capital construction projects.)
Reagan also met early with city officials, his wife made trips to St. Ann's Infant Home and the vice president's wife helped dedicate the new YWCA. Howard University's budget has increased about $6 million under the Reagan administration, in which slashed budgets generally have been the rule.
Any near-failing grade for Reagan, others note, also would appear to ignore the fact that he came to this Democratic town as a Republican opponent of home rule.
"The president did not go out of his way to help the District or hurt it," says the city's Democratic party chief, Ted Gay, who also gives Reagan a "C" for his first-year performance. "Nothing destructive came out of the White House and that is something to consider because Ronald Reagan is no friend of the District."
Gay does say that the president deserves some responsibility for the congressional veto of the District's Sexual Reform Act. Gay thinks Congress--particularly the Democratic majority in the House--would not have overturned the bill if they were not afraid of being hurt in their next election by Reagan's conservative mandate.
R. Robert Linowes, a lawyer who has been active in city politics for years, gives Reagan a "B" rating for his first year. "I think he came here like many presidents with a view of the D.C. community as something peculiar," Linowes says. "But now I think he's come to understand that there are people of talent who call the city home and he and Nancy really want to be part of the city. The president has not done anything to hurt the city, when you think about it."