Patricia Roberts Harris criticized Mayor Marion Barry yesterday for not promptly disavowing a statement attributed to his campaign manager that Barry is the candidate of blacks in this year's race for the Democratic mayoral nomination.
"Marion Barry is engaged in a blatant attempt to polarize our city and particularly our black community," Harris, Barry's leading opponent, told reporters outside Mount Gilead Baptist Church, 1625 13th St. NW. She was flanked by the Rev. William Revely, pastor of Mount Gilead, and four other black ministers who are supporting Harris' candidacy.
"It is his strategy to hide the problems of his administration and excuse his failure to make the city work for its people," Harris said. "It is an unacceptable campaign tactic."
A column in last Wednesday's District Weekly section of The Washington Post quoted Ivanhoe Donaldson, Barry's campaign manager, as suggesting that Barry was the favorite among average black voters in Washington.
"There has always been a black candidate in D.C. elections," Donaldson was quoted as saying, "and Marion is that candidate. Mrs. Harris can speak for herself."
Aides to Barry took issue yesterday with the quote and with Harris' interpretation of it. They said she was trying to capitalize on a nonexistent issue to boost her political standing. She trailed Barry by 13 points in a poll published by The Post on July 1.
"Marion Barry never said he was the only black candidate for mayor, nor did I make such a statement," Donaldson said in a statement released by Barry's campaign organization. "Mrs. Harris' attempt to misrepresent me is both irresponsible and divisive. She is the only candidate who has created such polarization in the mayor's race in the city. She would do well to investigate the facts before calling her press conferences."
Harris, a lawyer and former Carter administration official, and D.C. City Council member John Ray, another candidate for mayor, both denounced the published statement as racially divisive and urged Barry to disavow it.
Ray, in a letter to Barry, said, "Such divisive rhetoric can only damage the harmonious relations we have worked so hard to develop among all our people."
Nearly 70 percent of Washington's population is black, as are all five remaining Democratic mayoral candidates, including Barry, Harris, Ray, council member Charlene Drew Jarvis (D-Ward 4) and physician Morris Harper. At Large council member Betty Ann Kane, who is white, dropped out of the mayor's race in late June after her campaign encountered fund-raising difficulties.
At her press conference yesterday, Harris did not cite evidence other than Donaldson's published statement to support the claim that Barry was pursuing racially divisive campaign tactics.
However, she insisted that Barry and his campaign aides "by innuendo" were trying to make the case that she lost touch with the problems of average black residents when she became a high-ranking federal official and a corporate lawyer. Harris said she rejected the notion "that those of us who have achieved something in society--perhaps have achieved some power--are no longer black."
"I am appalled at the suggestion that Marion Barry is the only candidate who can relate to the black community in this city," she said. "I am deeply disappointed in Marion Barry because he and I are both black Americans. We share the common enemy of racism, and we struggle for equality every day of our lives.
"I was involved in the civil rights movement long before Marion Barry, and I carried my commitment to the highest levels of business and government," she said.