He is still playing coy, at least when he talks to reporters. But in a meeting last week with the woman he hopes to force out of office, former D.C. mayor Marion Barry confirmed the rumors:

He's coming back, one more time.

Council member Sandy Allen said Barry told her Thursday that he intends to challenge her for the right to represent Ward 8 on the D.C. Council.

"He told me he's running," Allen (D) said yesterday. "He said it has nothing to do with me. He just doesn't like the way the government is being run."

Barry declined in a telephone interview to say whether he's running. Instead, he lit into Allen, who won her council seat in 1996 after helping Barry regain the mayor's office after his release from prison.

"Since when did she become my press secretary?" Barry groused. "It's a dumb political move. When did you ever have somebody who's an incumbent announce somebody else's candidacy? That ought to tell you something about the incumbent, right there."

Barry did allow that he plans to appear this morning on WOL radio to discuss "issues of concern to Ward 8" with talk show host Joe Madison. But Barry firmly denied rumors that he plans to announce his candidacy on Madison's show.

"No," he said in response to the question. "You're not getting anything else out of me."

A showdown between Barry, 68, and Allen, 53, in the Sept. 14 Democratic primary would make for fascinating political theater. Barry is, of course, the former "mayor for life" who was disgraced after being videotaped smoking crack cocaine in an FBI sting at the Vista Hotel in 1990.

Barry was convicted of one misdemeanor count of drug possession later that year and served six months in prison. But he ran for and won the Ward 8 council seat in 1992 and was reelected as mayor in 1994. Three years later, he announced that he would not seek a fifth term, opening the door for the election of Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D).

Allen, meanwhile, is a former political activist who aided in Barry's rehabilitation, serving as his campaign manager in 1992 and later as "community liaison" to his Ward 8 constituents.

After his reelection as mayor, Barry refused to support Allen's political ambitions and instead picked Eydie Whittington to take his old Ward 8 seat. Whittington won the first race, but Allen unseated her in 1996, prevailing despite Barry's vigorous support for Allen's adversary.

To qualify for the ballot, Barry would have to obtain the signatures of 250 Ward 8 voters by 5 p.m. July 7. Elections officials said he has not picked up any nominating petitions.

But Allen said she has no doubt that her old political ally is running against her. Nor, she said, does she bear him any ill will.

"He told me he was running," Allen said. "I think that it is his right to run. And there's no reason for me to feel anything different. He has the right to run for my seat. But I think I'm the better candidate, and I'll win."

Marion Barry, shown in 1996, was forced from office after a drug arrest in 1990.