Days before his trial, Mayor Marion Barry still maintains the ability to amaze and dismay.

In a revealing interview with The Washington Post, in which he admitted that he smoked crack cocaine at the Vista Hotel in January, he was probably right about one thing and wrong about another.

The prosecutors have been excessive in their pursuit, but the mayor is dead wrong in the ludicrous position that the only person hurt by his actions was himself.

" . . . My most fierce, most vehement and vociferous critics can't tie me to taking money from the government, or I'm not in the drug-dealing business . . . . They can't say we shot anybody, we robbed anybody, that we had a scheme to steal a million dollars from the D.C. government. That's why I feel good about proceeding ahead even in the worst case."

Barry is apparently pursuing a defense strategy that is based on putting the prosecution on trial and gaining the sympathies of prospective jurors.

But his statement that ingesting drugs is a victimless crime is implausible, irresponsible and smacks of a desperate effort to save a critical situation.

For there are the children, the public in general, the fabric of the society itself -- all are hurt when a public official admits to using illegal drugs.

On a personal level, I must admit that anger and outrage are intertwined with a special hurt, even a sadness, at the spectacle the mayor is now putting on for us.

The feeling is a product of the hopes I once had for him -- an admiration for how he raised himself from the cotton fields of Mississippi, through the civil rights movement, to the political heights of this city.

It was the hope that he would help others take the wide strides he had taken.

Since the incident at the Ramada Inn, as that hope has turned to hurt, anger, even disgust, it is the memory of the contributions he once made that tempers judgment of him, even in this sad hour for him, his family and the city.

For I am still terribly struck with the contrast of the Marion Barry of 30 years ago and the man we see today.

I am overwhelmed that a man who showed such extraordinary courage and foresight as a freedom rider and young civil rights leader, could come to this.

I hope that out of these dismal events there will be some way that the prosecution, defense, public -- all of us -- will take Barry's fall as a terrible and sad lesson.

For Barry is but one in a plethora of people who have in recent times betrayed us all. We sit and watch the spectacles of Ollie North, Ivan Boesky, Michael Milken and George Bush's own son, Neil, with his involvement in the savings and loan debacle. All these cases prove that government has been too irresponsible, too lawless in the hands of those who manipulate it and the public trust.

In the interview, Barry said that he had been held to higher standards because he is the mayor. "I may be a poor role model but . . . being a poor role model is not a crime."

Being a poor role model may not be a crime, but it surely is reason enough to not consider running for a fourth term.

There has been nothing since the drug investigation in the Ramada Inn incident that has changed my mind about his being unfit to serve.

The theme of Barry's failure to take responsibility for his actions permeated the interview. He was manifesting some of his old feelings of invulnerability. His disease of addiction in no way lessens his culpability for his behavior.

And the fact remains that, whatever the excesses by the supporting and facilitating players in this drama, Barry committed great wrongs.

Despite my personal sadness for the many people he has hurt -- and memories of the many people he has helped -- I would only hope that he would someday attack his problems frontally and responsibly.

Should there not be a plea bargain and the case go to trial next week, Barry and the city are facing a circus. One can only hope that during this circus and afterwards, he can muster the courage and dignity of that man who existed 30 years ago.