Mayor Marion Barry adamantly rejected pleas yesterday that he abandon his bid for an at-large seat on the D.C. Council, pledging instead to campaign vigorously as a "love and unity" candidate who can heal the city.
Barry, whom several council candidates have asked to withdraw from the Nov. 6 general election, told WUSA-TV (Channel 9) that he believes he still has substantial community support but will focus his campaign on predominantly white neighborhoods where, he said, "I know I have a lot of work to do."
"My ego is less now than it used to be," Barry said during the interview, which was held in the back yard of his Southeast Washington home. "I think I can reach out and be sort of the healer, the love and unity candidate."
Barry's remarks came as local political activists -- and even officials close to him -- have raised new questions about his chances in the race.
In the days since Sharon Pratt Dixon coasted to victory in the Democratic primary for mayor with a pledge to "clean house" in D.C. government, many political observers have said that Barry now faces longer odds of winning one of the two at-large seats on the ballot.
Barry, who was convicted last month on one count of cocaine possession and acquitted on another, has left the Democratic Party and registered as an independent. His opponents in the race are school board member Linda W. Cropp, who made a strong first-place finish in the Democratic primary, veteran council member Hilda H.M. Mason (Statehood-At Large) and several independents.
Yesterday, Barry disputed suggestions that Dixon's impressive showing citywide, especially among white voters, could thwart his campaign. Noting that about 65 percent of the votes cast went to candidates other than Dixon, he said, "We don't know. I wasn't on the ballot. We can't say yet what happened Tuesday."
Barry said his campaign will be directed at those least likely to vote for him: residents in the largely white and affluent neighborhoods west of Rock Creek Park in Ward 3. "I'm going to spend a lot of time in Ward 3," he said.
Barry also introduced several campaign themes, saying his campaign will be "for the poor, and to have a voice for seniors and the young people." Yet those pledges came amid growing discussion among those close to Barry about whether he should stay in the race. Several sources said yesterday that some confidants are advising him to drop out rather than risk losing.
"They don't want to see him humiliated," said one prominent Barry administration official.
"People fear that the anti-Barry vote could coalesce around Linda and Hilda," said another longtime associate. "And there is debate on what his campaign strategy could be."
Many political strategists locally say that Barry will have to navigate a tricky campaign path to win a council seat, for several reasons:
First, the seeming desire that voters across the city showed in Tuesday's primary to bring new faces to government.
Second, Barry on Monday faces the possibility of another trial on the 12 drug and perjury charges on which a jury could not reach a verdict. Even if he is not tried again, he faces sentencing on his cocaine possession conviction.
Finally, he is likely to encounter continuing pleas for him to drop out of the council race. Cropp and independent candidates Ray Browne and Jim Harvey have asked him to withdraw, as has Joslyn N. Williams, president of the Metropolitan Council, AFL-CIO.
Former D.C. police chief Maurice T. Turner, the Republican mayoral nominee, said Thursday that Barry should drop out because it's "not the right example." And yesterday, Dixon, noting that she nearly won Barry's home precinct, said in an interview he should not run.
"I think it would be best for everybody for him to go out and put an emphasis on repairing his own life," Dixon said. "I think the city has indicated it is time for him to move on."
When Barry first entered the at-large council race, political analysts suggested that Mason, the 74-year-old incumbent, was most vulnerable to his challenge. But she has begun to assemble a formidable campaign war chest, and may run with support from other council incumbents.
"Hilda has a great deal of support on the council," council member H.R. Crawford (Ward 7) said. "It's very seldom any of us go against a colleague, and she's a nice lady."
Added another longtime Barry associate, "Marion has a basic problem. He can't really attack Linda or Hilda, and he can't campaign much on his record. I don't know what his strategy would be. But the more people who try to convince Marion not to run, the more he'll want to stay in it. Marion's ego is such that he likes to live on the edge."