My caller's voice, not unlike some of those on the "Donahue" show yesterday, seethed with anger. "I wasn't going to vote for the mayor. I was willing to let him go off quietly into the sunset," he said. "But I'm so outraged at that punitive sentence that I'm going to vote for Barry because that is the only way I can protest it."
I understand what my caller, and some of the people on the show, were feeling. It was a predictable emotional backlash to a six-month prison sentence that appeared to many to be unnecessarily harsh. I also understand the historical memory and contemporary reality of a double-standard of American justice that sways the reaction of many African Americans, in particular. For them it is a prophecy fulfilled when a black man like Marion Barry gets more punishment than a white man like Michael K. Deaver or James Herl.
But just as anger at the Ku Klux Klan led some Washingtonians to strike out at the police and succeeded only in giving a victory to the Klan and hurting the city's image, anger at Barry's judge, Thomas Penfield Jackson, should not be used to put the city, and Barry himself, into an untenable position. That's placing emotion above reason.
Just as anger at the Klan calls for addressing the issue of racism, outrage at Judge Jackson calls for focusing energy on overhauling the judicial system and more careful choosing of judges. It does not call for making an unsound decision on election day. That's just firing a shot at the wrong target and getting hit by the ricocheting bullet.
As painful as it is to many loyal Barry supporters, I am convinced that to elect the mayor to the D.C. Council would be wrong. There is a brand of loyalty that does not ask if the mayor is the best person for the job. It says, instead, "based on what I know of history, based on the shafting of blacks by the white establishment, Barry deserves reelection, deserves to have us stand by him."
Those who love him must face up to the fact that voting for Barry may not be in his best interest. For the irony is that standing by Barry in his time of trouble is to refuse him what he wants: a seat on the council. The best way to help is to let him return to private life and be forced to deal with his addiction.
It is important for his recovery for him to be out of the public eye for a period. Many people in this city who love him know intuitively that it is time for Barry to be off the stage even if Barry himself does not step off.
Barry has not finished contributing to the public welfare. A man who accomplished so much can indeed accomplish again. But only after he has had a real and deep recovery. He cannot recover when he is counting his abstinence, day by day, in the glare of television lights and to the rhythm of reporters scratching in their notebooks. He needs a depth of recovery to have the depth of reserve to do the things he wants to do.
"If the mayor loses," an elected official called me to say, "he will be personally devastated." To him, I say, if the mayor wins, it will personally devastate him, for he once more would have the opportunity to deny his need for sincere recovery.
But even if winning would not harm Barry, it would be harmful to the city. I ask his supporters to ask themselves these questions:
What will his presence mean for the operation of the council? He would not be just another council member. Rightly or wrongly, he would be viewed as sort of a once and future mayor -- someone trying to regain his old job. Would his supporters inside government undermine the new mayor? Would he second-guess the new mayor and build up his own constituency? Is it fair to the new mayor?
Mayor Barry deserves our love and compassion. But the public adulation he seeks in his candidacy, the plea to "love me still," is not the cry of a man who is seeking to heal himself and the city.
I believe that, in his way, Barry loves this city and the people in it. It must be excruciatingly hard to face up to life without the limousines, the power and the prestige. I feel compassion for this enormously likable and troubled man, for when he looks into the future he must know fear. Once you've heard the magic roar of the crowd, it must be tough to let go, even to save your own life.
But that is exactly why he should not win: to save his own life, and the life of the city. Politically, ours is a young and fragile town. The citizens have said it is time to "throw the rascals out." Washington deserves a peaceful end to the Barry chapter. The city can do him and itself a favor by writing that ending Tuesday.