To be referred to as "my mayor" is important to Marion Barry, who hears a lot of "the mayor," as in "there goes the mayor again," or simply "hizzoner."

Barry has had a rough year, what with former deputy mayor Ivanhoe Donaldson, his closest political adviser, going off to prison, charges that a current deputy mayor is under investigation, Congress pressing him to build a new prison and mounting evidence that the District government is the city's biggest slumlord.

But let's call a momentary moratorium on the bad news. Barry just celebrated his 50th birthday, and I would like to say happy birthday to my mayor.

Thank you for sending me, along with thousands of others, an invitation to your birthday party Saturday night. Many people were flattered and sang your praises, but a few laughed at the possibility that they were invitations to another police "sting" operation, which seems to be the government's preferred technique for self-embarrassment these days.

I did not laugh at these jokes, my mayor.

I think we have a fine city. I was unable to attend your party, but I reflected on you, after two terms in office and a week of birthday parties, trying to prove that you "can do" it again.

Remember that slogan?

A young Turk, mellowed by his chairmanship of the City Council's Finance and Revenue Committee, was taking on the establishment again, attempting to knock out the first elected mayor of the nation's capital since home rule.

That was eight years ago, and I can now say that my mayor has proven that he can do some things very well.

The Supercan will almost certainly go down in history as one of your finest achievements. People do not suffer trash lightly, which is why you don't hear much fuss from D.C. residents about shipping sludge, or criminals, to Virginia.

And look what has happened downtown. My mayor's office in the District Building looks out over a boom town of new stores, new shops, new galleries and new buildings.

Suburbanites are moving in because they like what my mayor is doing. And many people who already live here love the new municipal building, which I hope signals further development at the once notorious 14th and U intersection.

There are hardly any skirmishes over displacement and evictions anymore and almost nobody cares where the street dudes have gone.

But my mayor knows, and is under a court order to find more prison space that is not overcrowded and does not constitute "cruel and unusual punishment."

Finding such space is one of the things my mayor does not do so well.

But he is famous as a gambler, with a reputation as a high-stakes roller who knows how to throw his dice.

During a showdown with the U.S. attorney's office over his associations with a friend who was convicted of selling drugs, Barry took to church to claim that prosecutors were out to "lynch" him.

The prosecutors backed off, although they later charged Donaldson with systematically stealing about $190,000 from the city government and orchestrating a cover-up of his misuse of a special city fund. He pleaded guilty to the charges.

But Barry does seem to know how to keep the right people happy. I don't even know who all of them are, but 125 people paid $1,000 a plate for breakfast last week to kick off Barry's reelection fund.

To attend the party on Saturday, about 80 people contributed $500 apiece, nearly 700 gave $50 and thousands paid $15. In between, Barry held a profitable "handshake night" with the powers that be at the annual dinner of the Washington Board of Trade.

The next order of business for my mayor should be to widen his circle and include more regular residents, the people to whom he truly owes a debt. Improvements in the D.C. school board budget, prison reform, better financial management and cable television would certainly reflect well on the mayor and make it possible for more residents to proudly claim him as their own.