With only two months remaining in his term as mayor, Marion Barry this week made 43 appointments to the Mayor's Advisory Committees on Drug Abuse and Alcoholism -- some with terms that last until 1993.
This was part of a flurry of activity to fill as many as 900 slots on more than 150 city boards, commissions and committees before he leaves office. From last-minute efforts to promote his favorite government employees into the ranks of mid-management, to awarding million-dollar contracts to friends and supporters, Barry appears to be setting the stage for his next big move: running the District from the D.C. Council, if he wins an at-large seat in next week's election.
At the very least, a council seat coupled with cronies in key bureaucratic positions would ensure Barry the ability to undermine the next mayor, especially if it turns out to be his arch critic, Democratic nominee Sharon Pratt Dixon.
Two weeks ago, the D.C. Council voted to severely limit Barry's discretion in awarding contracts of more than $1 million. But last week, the council got cold feet and tabled a proposal that would have restricted Barry from promoting or boosting the salaries of city employees under his authority before his term expires.
The council asked city Auditor Otis H. Troupe to investigate recent personnel moves that Barry has made. If they are found to be politically motivated, several council members have said they will vote to nullify them.
Troupe had better hurry.
"A leader who has failed miserably to establish both a philosophy and policy for the District's response to substance abuse has no business appointing advisers for the next mayor," said Ray Browne, also a candidate for the at-large seat on the D.C. Council.
One Barry nominee, J. Harold Nickens, was so outraged over Barry's political ploys that he refused to accept a reappointment to the drug abuse advisory committee -- and proceeded to ask the Justice Department to file suit against Barry for violating the fair housing amendment to the 1968 Civil Rights Act.
Nickens, who treats substance abusers, has been feuding with the city for months to get appropriated funds released to establish a sober house for pregnant women.
"Not everybody can hop on a jet like Barry did and get drug treatment in West Palm Beach," Nickens said. "And then he turns around -- a black mayor of a predominately black city -- and works against the civil rights act. He's incredible."
The drug abuse and alcoholism advisory committees should be among the most important in the city, helping develop badly needed substance abuse programs. But Barry has turned them into mere pools of potential votes.
Noticeably absent from Tuesday's installation ceremony for new advisory committee members was Joseph Drews, a political science professor at the University of the District of Columbia. Barry had refused to reappoint him to the drug abuse advisory committee.
The reason was obvious. Drews had served as chairman of the drug abuse subcommittee that evaluated District substance abuse programs and found them woefully inadequate. In some cases, according to his recently released report, drugs were being sold in and around city-run drug treatment centers.
Barry dropped Drews, who quickly was tapped by Dixon to head her drug abuse issues committee.
Among those appointed to serve on the drug abuse advisory commission until 1993 was Eric Sterling, the highly respected president of the Washington-based Criminal Justice Policy Foundation.
Sterling and the others were sworn in by Barry himself, who led the group in reciting an oath to uphold the law and obey the Constitution.
"After I was sworn in, I handed him my letter of resignation, effective January 1, 1991," Sterling recalled. "I told the mayor I didn't think it was right for him to appoint advisers for the next mayor."
All of Barry's appointees are not going to show such courage of conviction. But the D.C. Council should.