The D.C. City Council joined Mayor Marion Barry yesterday behind closed doors for a two-hour luncheon during which the council members did most of the talking, primarily about seeking a more visible role.
The lunch was the first meal shared by the two branches of government since Barry held breakfast meetings about five years ago, and some council members had speculated that Barry issued the invitation to discuss the council's recent demands to be viewed as an equal branch of government.
The conversations accompanying the seafood with rice and white wine ranged from polite exchanges about their families to not-so-gentle complaints to the mayor from council members that any District resident would have an easier time than they do getting information from city agencies, according to some who were present.
Carol Schwartz (R-At Large), who joined the council in January, said the luncheon was much like a "good group therapy session."
"Council members aired their frustrations, and the mayor assured us that he did not view the council as a rubber stamp," said Schwartz. "I felt that one, he listened, and that two, he would try to do something where the concerns were legitimate, and most of them were."
Others said that all council members stressed the group's plan to be a more visible part of the District government, telling Barry that he and the council should view each other with respect.
In recent weeks, some council members have complained that the mayor has treated the council as if it were a second-class citizen. Flexing its political muscles in response, the council overrode a Barry veto and pushed legislation that gives the council a greater role in holding city agencies accountable for budgets and programs.
Members say that they are forming coalitions that should make it more difficult for Barry to deal with the council by appealing to individual members rather than the full group.
Frank Smith (D-Ward 1) said that the luncheon was an important step in improving the relationship between the mayor and the council, particularly because the mayor took the first step.
"It has been pretty clear from the messages that he's been getting that there has been a breakdown in communication," said Smith. "We would like to see this rift end, and I think it was wise of him to send out an invitation to us. But don't get me wrong, there was no panic in the air. He didn't call us up to give away the country store, and none of us expected that."
Before the luncheon ended, council members said, Council Chairman David A. Clarke offered to host the next luncheon with Barry.