Amid growing indications that D.C. Mayor Marion Barry is wavering in his determination to seek an at-large council seat, Barry insisted yesterday he was "firmly committed" to such a race and would not "write off any precinct, any ward" when he began campaigning citywide.
Barry repeatedly told reporters during a lunchtime appearance at the Howard Inn that he intended to follow through with plans for an independent race for the D.C. Council, while speaking about the forthcoming election with little of the gusto he has brought to past political campaigns.
"Until I drop out, I'm in it," said Barry, adding that his campaign would have no kickoff celebration and that his political budget would be "whatever I can raise."
Barry's comments, coming on the same day that U.S. Attorney Jay B. Stephens announced that he would not retry him on drug and perjury charges, followed a weekend of discussions among some of Barry's closest advisers about the mayor's plan to seek a $71,885-a-year seat on the council. Two at-large posts are up for grabs this fall.
Several Barry friends said they were uncertain that, with seven weeks to go before the Nov. 6 elections, Barry was as committed to a council campaign as he has previously indicated. "I think he's not wholeheartedly into it," said Jeffrey N. Gildenhorn, a Northwest Washington restaurateur and staunch Barry friend. "He's been lethargic about going after this thing."
Gildenhorn, a co-chairman of Barry's aborted mayoral reelection bid, said that during a visit with the mayor on the eve of last week's primary elections, Barry never mentioned the council race. Nor has Anita Bonds, Barry's campaign manager, called Gildenhorn to reactivate the mayor's fund-raising network, the restaurant owner added.
However, other Barry confidants said that while some are advising against a race, they expect the mayor to decide in the end to remain in the council contest.
"It would be a real comedown if he's out of the spotlight," said a longtime Barry field organizer.
Gildenhorn and others said the winning margin of Democratic mayoral nominee Sharon Pratt Dixon, an outspoken Barry critic, might persuade the mayor not to run this fall, but Barry discounted Dixon's win as a factor in his decisions about the race.
"I wasn't disheartened" by Dixon's strong performance in the five-way mayoral primary, Barry said.
"It was not a referendum, in my view, on Marion Barry," the mayor added. "It was a referendum on five people. Miss Dixon got 35 percent of the vote, 65 percent of the people voted against her."
Barry reiterated his plan to seek votes across the city, even in neighborhoods where he is weakest politically and Dixon ran well.
"I'm harvesting votes everywhere I can find them," Barry said. "There are some votes that are more fertile than others -- like, there's more fertile ground in Ward 7, in my precinct, than there is in precinct 50 or 51, in Ward 3," where the polling places are the Chevy Chase Community Building and Lafayette School, respectively.
"I know that," he said, "but there are votes everywhere. I'm not going to write off any precinct, any ward."
Barry, who described himself last week as the "love and unity" candidate, said yesterday he was running to be "a voice and a vote for the disenfranchised."
"There's no voice for the poor and for the handicapped," Barry said. "You've not heard anybody say, 'Look, something needs to be done to continue to keep the pressure on the federal government to help people in public housing, to make sure the city government continues its commitment to the poor, the handicapped."
"The council is moving toward the right, and I want to continue the progressive agenda," Barry said.
Barry also criticized Linda W. Cropp, the Democratic nominee for one of the at-large council seats, for allowing District schools to become "run-down" during her tenure on the D.C. Board of Education.
"I hope that she is a better council person than when she was on the school board," Barry said. "Under her leadership on the school board, test scores went down, dropout rates went up."
Cropp said through a spokeswoman, "Instead of attacking me, the mayor should be devoting his full time and attention to his own personal health problems."
"The mayor knows that the school board has sued him on three separate occasions to recover our funds that he has attempted to take from the school children to make up for his own inefficient management of the District government," said the spokeswoman, adding that average test scores are higher today than they were when Barry was school board president in the 1970s.