Mayor Marion Barry found his missing fire chief yesterday, met with him for about 90 minutes and then announced in a tersely worded statement devoid of any regrets that Chief Norman Richardson had retired.
"Richardson indicated to the mayor that he was under tremendous personal, physical and job-related stress," the statement said, "and asked that the mayor accept his retirement. The mayor accepted."
Richardson touched off a bureaucratic uproar this week by going into seclusion and ignoring Barry's repeated efforts to locate him. The 47-year-old chief last Friday told friends that he had "had enough" of the mayor and City Administrator Elijah B. Rogers meddling in his department.
Yesterday, Rogers tried to downplay reports of the disagreement. Richardson was not available for comment and Barry declined to meet with reporters about what one of his aides called "an embarrassing episode."
"In any government you're going to have problems," Rogers said. "As of today Chief Richardson is a private citizen. I think the matter is closed."
Barry's statement said Richardson "disavowed any rumors that there was friction between him and the city administrator and apologized for any embarrassment he may have caused Mayor Barry and the city."
A source close to Richardson who talked with him as late as Wedneday described Richardson as "extremely upset" with Rogers and Barry and quoted the chief as vowing he was "going to make them pay."
Yesterday, William Mould, president of Local 36 of the International Association of Fire Fighters, agreed there had been tension between Rogers and Richardson.
"For sure part of the reason he decided to retire was the friction . . . There were too many restrictions placed on him," Mould said.
Mould said Richardson had been ordered not to object to a two-year-old effort by Barry to close two fire stations for budget reasons. The City Council has blocked those attempts.
"The men were constantly badgering him on why he wouldn't take a stand," Mould said. "The District Building was telling him not to take a stand. He was getting it from both sides."
A top aide to Barry said yesterday the mayor is angry at Richardson for creating the potentially difficult political problem of finding a new chief in an election year.
Barry is required by law to choose a new chief from within the department. Filling that post has been a thorny problem since home rule began, with mayors torn between pressure to appoint a black to the high-profile public safety job and pressure from firefighters' unions not to pass over white candidates in line for the post.
The last three city fire chiefs have been black.
Yesterday, Barry announced that Theodore Coleman, a deputy chief who has been acting as an assistant chief under Richardson, will now serve as acting fire chief.
Coleman, who is black, is "the easy going type who would fit the mold," Barry's aide said, naming Coleman and Deputy Chief Joseph Kitt, who also is black, as two possible contenders for the job.
Two other possible candidates mentioned yesterday, both white, were Deputy Chief Harry O. Burks, head of the firefighting apparatus division, and Deputy Chief Hubert A. Clarke, who is the city's fire marshal.
Richardson, who first joined the department in 1957, is leaving at a time when some of the top hierarchy of the fire department is vacant and more than 50 promotions have been held up because of a discrimination case filed last summer in the city's Office of Human Rights. About 70 entry-level positions also have gone unfilled pending the outcome of the suit filed by black firefighters.
"I don't think the racial thing is a consideration of the men" in choosing a new chief, Mould said. "They want somebody to look after their interests . . . The fire department is now in a state of disarray."