ALL MANNER of charges are going to be flying around in the days remaining until the Sept. 12 primary for mayor of the District of Columbia. And of those we would categorize as being on the mark, related to real issues, responsible - or at least provocative and fair - we do not doubt that some will be directed at Marion Barry, the candidate to whom we gave our endorsement last week. While it goes almost without saying that we would not be supporting Mr. Barry if we did not agree with him on most issues , it does not follow that we agree with him on all. But one of the charges now in circulation against Mr. Barry strikes us as especially irresponsible and unrelated to any real issue - in short, a bum rap. We have in mind Sterling Tucker's startlingly revisionist recollections of Mr. Barry's service as president of the city's school board in the early 1970s.
Mr. Tucker would have you believe that, as school-board president, Mr. Barry "politicized" the school system, created "chaos" on the school board and then "walked away from that chaos." In a "Tucker Position paper No. 5," the council chairman states that during Mr. Barry's time on the school board, his "dilettantism was to prove costly. Indecisive at the helm, Barry's flip-flops ushered in an era of needless contention among educators of good will who were trying to operate actively in a policy vacuum . . . In fairness to Barry, it should be noted that he was over his head in the school-board presidency . . . "
Mr. Tucker, just to begin with, is out oof his depth. He has had no record of involvement in the District's school system over the years, as a parent or an official, and thus has no first-hand basis for judging Mr. Barry's performance as school-board president. We do not mention this as a knock against Mr. Tucker's qualifications to be mayor, any more than we would put forward Mr. Barry's familiarity with the school system as a crucial plus: The fact is that the school system, being under the jurisdiction of the school board, is not a direct responsibility of the mayor's office.
But we do insist that Mr. Tucker is somewhat less qualified to hold forth on the subject than, let us say, those who were parents of public school children - or members of the school board - at the time of Mr. Barry's presidency. Ask them what they remember about the "chaos" to which Mr. Tucker refers and they will tell you that it not only preceded Mr. Barry's election to the board but was primarily the cause of his unseating the incumbent, Anita F. Allen. Mr. Barry's campaign promise then was to end the close-to-violent discord that had come to characterize the board. As we noted in this space at the time, "support for Mr. Barry constitutes a desire to experiment with someone else in charge."
After his victory, the members of the school board selected Mr. Barry as president. Without promising anymiracles, Mr. Barry and the board went on to tackle a heavy load of problems - including budgetary difficulties, a teacher's strike and differences among board members over whether superintendent Hugh J. Scott should be retained. Naturally, not all the board members agreed with Mr. Barry - and still less with each other - all the time; indeed, to avert a protracted dispute over the appointment of a new superintendent in 1973, Mr. Barry, after unsuccessfully pushing an alternate candidate, reluctantly provided the pivotal vote for Barbara Sizemore. After he left the board to run successfully for an at-large seat on the City Council, there was renewed chaos on the board - provoked by the conduct of Mrs. Sizemore (who, as you may recall, went on to lambaste Mr. Barry in 1975 in a racially inflammatory tirade that would contribute to her eventual, deserved dismissal).
No one, least of all Mr. Barry, is claiming that his presidency resolved all the school board's problems. But during that period, he managed to conduct his own on-site inspections of 150 schools; he worked for greater accountability on the part of teachers and pricipals, after discovering, as he put it, that "people [were] creating jobs not because of students but because somebody needed a job."
But his principal contribution was mediation and conciliation of bitter factional differences. And his success was rather nicely summed up in a 1973 news item that began: "In a cordial, public display of unity, the D.C. school board yesterday reelected Marion S. Barry Jr. as its president . . . unanimously . . ." At the time, member Albert A. Rosenfield, who had differed with the school-board president on many matters - and who later ran as a Republican candidate for council and today supports Walter Washington for reelection - noted that Mr. Barry had "held the board together pretty well" since taking office and thus deserved another term as school-board president.
So much for Mr. Tucker's theory that Mr. Barry "ushered in an era of needless contention." And so much for a record of creating "chaos." People like Mr. Rosenfield and the public school parents of the period, who have better reason to remember the chaos that preceded Mr. Barry's presidency, are inclined to recall his two years at the job as a welcome change.