The first shots in the general election campaign for at-large seats on the D.C. Council were fired yesterday as two candidates publicly asked Mayor Marion Barry, who is running as an independent, to drop out of the race.
Linda Cropp, who won the Democratic nomination for an at-large seat on Tuesday, and Ray Browne, an independent candidate, made separate pleas for Barry to abandon his candidacy, saying it will be detrimental to the city's interest and interfere with Barry's recovery from substance abuse.
Cropp and Browne also said that Barry should recognize that Tuesday's primary elections proved that most D.C. residents want new faces and dramatic changes in city government -- not him.
"The clear message was that citizens want to go in a different direction, and go without him," said Cropp, a D.C. school board member. "It would be healthier for him and the city if he removed himself. He needs to get himself and his family together while the city heals."
Meanwhile, Browne, a community activist who lives in Georgetown, and some of his supporters held a morning news conference to request that Barry withdraw. "If he runs, it's going to divide the city," Browne said.
Barry, who was convicted of one count of cocaine possession last month, quit the Democratic Party after his trial on drug and perjury charges and registered as an independent to bid for one of two at-large council seats on the Nov. 6 ballot.
Neither Barry nor his top political adviser, Anita Bonds, was available for comment yesterday, but others close to his campaign said that at this point he has no intention of dropping out of the race. Barry has opened a campaign office, and late last week he registered with the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance.
"Some people are committed to removing Marion Barry from the political scene, but we don't think they outnumber the people who want him to find a credible place in Washington politics," said Lawrence Guyot, a veteran community activist who is aiding Barry's campaign.
So far, Barry has not campaigned publicly, and he is not expected to until after next Monday, when he returns to court to hear whether U.S. Attorney Jay B. Stephens will seek to try him again on any or all of the 12 drug and perjury charges on which a federal jury failed to reach a verdict last month. If Stephens opts against another trial, Barry still awaits sentencing on the misdemeanor drug conviction.
Some local activists say privately that presents Barry with a tough choice: either to run a contrite campaign and risk losing, or wage a feisty one and risk the ire of Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson.
Moreover, Sharon Pratt Dixon's resounding triumph in Tuesday's Democratic primary for mayor, along with the ousting of longtime Ward 6 council member Nadine P. Winter and the victory of first-time candidate Eleanor Holmes Norton in the Democratic D.C. delegate race, have raised questions among political analysts about how Barry would fare now in the council race. Some say they suspect that the "clean house" theme on which Dixon routed her opponents will hurt his chances.
"He would have a hard fight," said Joslyn N. Williams, president of the Metropolitan Council AFL-CIO and chairman of the D.C. Democratic State Committee. "I don't think the people who supported Dixon would be inclined at all to vote for him."
Barry will compete in a crowded field for the two at-large seats, one of which is occupied by veteran council member Hilda H.M. Mason (Statehood). The other seat has been vacated by departing council member Betty Ann Kane, who lost in her bid for the Democratic nomination for D.C. delegate.
Along with Cropp, Mason and Browne, other at-large council candidates are R. Rochelle Burns, a lawyer; Jim Harvey, an official with the Whitman-Walker Clinic; and Clarene Martin, a community activist. All but Cropp and Mason are independents. W. Cardell Shelton, a contractor, is the GOP nominee. The top two vote-getters will be elected to the council.