At the midpoint of his four-year term as mayor of the nation's capital, Marion Barry is beginning to sound a lot like the man he replaced, Walter E. Washington.
After campaigning against the "bumbling and bungling" of the Washington administration, Barry now gripes that "mumbling and grumbling" in a recalcitrant city bureaucracy stymies his efforts to be efficient.
He has dusted off the former mayor's refrain that citizens do not appreciate all of the services the government provides -- such as restaurant inspection -- and that he has to take the heat for all that goes wrong. He says that some District residents are too cynical and that others do not do enough to help themselves.
He thinks of four years as too short a time to make real progress and speaks enviously of other mayors who have the luxury of long tenure in office. He has begun to talk much more about what he cannot do than what he can.
The growing crime problems is out of his hands, Barry tells audiences around the city. He cannot control the schools. The city does not have enough money; the government has to shrink. Services have to be cut back. Employes have to be laid off. And, he says, there is nothing he can do. He doesn't have the power, he tells them.
The mayor who stormed into office Jan. 2, 1979, eager to begin solving the city's problems with efficiency and style, now is subdued -- almost apologetic -- about what he can even hope to accomplish.
"I thought we had some answers that would succeed, but the solutions and the decisions were beyond my control," Barry said recently in an interview about his year-long struggle with the city's budget crisis. "I had to stand on the sidelines and look at everybody run by with the ball. I couldn't carry it. I put it out there on the field, but I couldn't carry it. cI didn't have the authority."
For the second consecutive year, the city flubbed Barry's pet project, summer jobs for youth. His attempt at balancing the fiscal 1980 city budget failed, leaving a $125 million deficit, despite the layoff of hundreds of D.C. government employes.
Barry's ill-begotten 6 percent tax on gasoline sales blew up in his face and had to be repealed, his complicated borrowing plan for financing a $400-million-plus overall city debt remains unimplemented and his 1981 budget -- the first for which his administration has had sole responsibility -- already is coming unbalanced.
Most citizens see many of their essential city services, from schools to police protection, getting worse. And anger at that perceived decline in services has translated into widespread dissatisfaction with the mayor.
"People who are for him [Barry] are afraid to be gung-ho in conversation," said the Rev. A. Knighton Stanley, who supported Washington through the bitter Democratic primary in 1978, then came into the Barry fold. t"The assumption is that whoever they're talking to is against him. The assumption is that everybody's against him."
A Washington Post poll of District residents indicated last month that 41 percent of those interviewed rated the mayor's performance as unfavorable, while only 33 percent rated it good or excellent. Barry shrugged off the result as showing that he had only slipped marginally from the 35 percent plurality he won in the close, three-way Democratic primary -- not mentioning that it was well below the 69 percent majority he received when he won the general election.
Barry did substantially worse among blacks who were interviewed than among whites. Residents rejected Barry's policies of layoffs and service cuts and, when asked to rate him against seven other well-known District figures, they ranked the mayor next-to-last.
It's been a punishing year for the mayor.Last January, to celebrate the first twelve months of his term, Barry threw a prayer breakfast, a $35-a-person luncheon, and a gala disco party. There was an anniversary fund-raiser with a, "He Can Handle It," theme and Barry's administration produced a copious progress report stating that it had improved operations "in virtually every aspect of government."
This month, in honor of the second, anniversary, the administration has made plans to do . . . nothing. He may invite some citizens for an informal progress review labor in the month, Barry said, but nothing is definite.
Flashes of the familiar, brash Marion Barry still appear, when he boasts of his administration's success in getting work under way on nearly 5,000 units of housing, takes credit for wresting from Congress the highest-federal payment the city has ever received, or grins and challenges one of his high-ranking aides to a $5 bet over who could catch more fish during a weekend trip to Chesapeake Bay.
But Barry's hair now is grayer, his words more carefully measured, the flashes or arrogance less frequent. He has begun to slice in half the 18-hour days he once boasted of working and, having become increasingly image-conscious after a series of battles with the media, he usually arranges his office schedule so that his press aide, Alan Grip, is the first person he sees in the morning and the last person he sees at night.
Barry sat recently at a small, round, conference table in a quiet corner of his spacious office, away from the nouveau-African decor that suffuses the rest of the room, and quietly conceded: "There's no way you can keep the government revved up for four years."
He later told a reporter, "You've got to find a way not to be over-consumed by the job [because] it destroys you. . . . I really understand a lot of politicians winding up as alcoholics or pill-poppers, because the pressures are so enormous."
On the national scene, Barry -- once a rising star -- has been an absolute shrinking violet. This same sort of tentativeness has surfaces in the lowered expectations those close to him now have for history's final verdict on the administration.
"I hope he comes through as a good fiscal mayor in tough times," said Herbert O. Reid, the mayor's legal counsel.
"I think the jury is still out as to whether he will be acknowledged as a good leader and a good money," said advertising man David Abramson, who handled the media work for Barry's campaign.
Sources closes to the mayor blame much of the administration's loss of steam on the budget crisis. It preoccupied and demoralized the Barry team, they say, putting a damper on grand designs.
Barry has been defensive about the budget problems, insisting that they are beyond his control and that they forced him to take actions -- such as those layoffs -- that he never wanted to take.
"Some people treat it the way the Greeks treated their messengers," Barry told a luncheon gathering of Wharton School of Business graduates at the exclusive University Club earlier this month. "You know, they used to kill the messengers. But that didn't stop the bad news from coming."
In his one-year progress report last January, Barry said police response time was down; now, by his own admission, it is up again. He said the waiting lines for many city services had been reduced; now, applicants complain of having to wait for eight hours or more to sign up for unemployment benefits. He touted recreation and senior citizens programs; many of them have since been curtailed, including homemaker service and shipping trips for the elderly.
There also have been some impressive accomplishments.
Barry's campaign to "take the boards off" abandoned housing is widely viewed as working. Infant mortality in the District, once shamefully high, has been cut dramtically. There is a general agreement that the city's accounting system is in better shape than ever before, and the first-ever audit of the city's books is being completed.
But other goals have been abandoned, at least for now. Barry had hoped to streamline the bureaucracy by combining several departments into a single public works agency. It never happened.
He had hoped to institute a one-stop procedure for business licenses
He had hoped to institute a one-stop procedure for business licenses and permits, to cut down on red tape. It never happened.
He had hoped to make strides against unemployment, particularly among public housing residents, but the summer jobs program was botched. Barry's handpicked director of the city's Department of Employment Services resigned, and the department was found to be such a mess that Barry had to dispatch his own top assistant, Ivanhoe Donaldson, to serve as acting director.
When asked what he intends to do about crime, Barry now speaks not of attacking root causes but of establishing a program to compensate victims. He speaks of organizing a neighborhood cleanup campaign to instill the civic pride he feels is missing. He speaks of a need for self-help in a city that he says calls on its government to do too much.
"In Washington, unlike other cities, people have come to depend so much on the government because the federal government is here," Barry said. "The government cannot and should not do everything. I think people ought to help themselves."
Barry says he has detected "more cynicism . . . [more of] a defeatist attitude" among District residents than he had anticipated.
Many Washingtonians, particularly blacks who live in the middle-class Northeast and Southeast neighborhoods that went for former mayor Washington or Sterling Tucker over Barry is the one with the attitude problem.
"Looking as it from the standpoing that Marion was a street person, once you reach a position of power, the people you left behind expect you at least to be sympathetic," said Ethel Olney, president of the Central Northeast Civic Association. "If the system won't let you ease the situation, then at least we expect some empathy and don't expect people in office to ignore us. At least he could say, 'I'd like to do something but I can't.'"
The feeling lingers among many blacks that Barry is more responsive to concerns of the largely affluent and white part of the city west of Rock Creek Park than to the rest of the city -- a charge Barry denies.
"That's a perception, but I don't worry," Barry said. "It's a matter of time, and I'll overcome it. I've tried to reach out to everybody . . . . But all I need is 60 percent of the people to vote for me politically. I'll have it when I need it."
The mayor has not shaken the belief by some blacks that he is too rough and unpolished: well-spoken blacks who wince when he attempts to say "Afghanistan" at a press conference, as he did recently, and it comes out sounding something like "Agamisdams."
Barry also has to contend with persistent, image-damaging rumors that he could be implicated in a federal grand jury investigation of the financial affairs of his former wife and a real estate spinoff of Youth Pride Inc., the self-help group that first launched Barry to prominence.
From the city's largely white business community, meanwhile, Barry has received generally good marks from such influential leaders as former Greater Washington Board of Trade president R. Robert Linowes, who consistently has praised the mayor's decision to "make the hard choices" and impose layoffs and budget cuts to balance the budget. The business community retains some of its initial skepticism, leaders say, but is not antagonistic toward the administration.
Lawyer Max N. Berry, who raised money for Barry's campaign and whom Barry chose as his nominee to head the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation, attributes Barry's largely amicable relations with business to bullishness on new development.
That stance hasn't played so well with another element of Barry's constituency, neighborhood preservationists. They were incensed, for example, at his flip-flop earlier this year in favor of hotel expansion in residential neighborhoods.
Organized labor has been battling the mayor for months over issues such as layoffs, contracting out of city services and, most recently, pay raises for city workers.
In 1978, Barry was supported by three powerful public employe unions -- teachers, police and firefighters. Today, leaders of all three have attacked the mayor's decision to grant only a 5 percent pay raise instead of the 9 percent that went to federal employes. And teachers, who tend to be politically active in the black neighborhoods where Barry never has done well, were hit hard by layoffs.
A more widespread criticism that cuts across racial and political lines is that Barry does too much apologizing and reacting, and not enough leading.
Stanley recalled a recent forum at his People's Congregational Church in upper Northwest. Barry was asked about the problem of increasing crime -- up 29 percent for the third quarter of 1980, compared with the previous year -- and he gave his standard response: The increase is part of a national trend, and is due largely to drug trafficking, which he is powerless to combat.
"He just shrugged his shoulders and said, 'What can I do?'" said Stanley of Barry's response. "A mayor is not supposed to say that. Not once did he just say, "We're not going to have drugs in this town.' I think he's been a good steward, but he's got to stand on a soapbox and let us know where he is, where he cries and hurts for this city. He doesn't do that."
With two years to go before the 1982 mayoral election, however, no strong candidate has emerged to challenge Barry. This fact, more than anything else, may explain why nearly three out of five people who voted for Barry two years ago say they would do so again, despite the widespread dissatisfaction. Barry has not announced whether he intends to run for reelection, but is widely believed to have decided to try to keep his job.
"I think this is a tough time for most incumbents . . . particularly those of us who are in the northeastern corridor, where resources are increasing," Barry said. "There are some who think the D.C. government is unmanageable. I'm explaining, not complaining."
Barry, a former social activist who for years threw himself into confrontation after confrontation with a system that he considered socially unjust, acknowledged that time in office has changed him. But only in style, he maintains, not in substance.
"I still feel as strongly about things," he insisted. "I don't get as upset, as uptight, about things as I used to."
"I'm not a person who goes into a rage; that's not my personality," Barry said. "I'm sort of philosophical about things -- take it as it comes, and work as hard as I can to solve the problems."