D.C. Mayor Marion Barry and his wife accepted free use of a suite costing $1,500 at the Willard Inter-Continental Hotel for a private party over the Fourth of July weekend as part of what Barry explained yesterday was his policy of frequently using complimentary hotel rooms around the city.

"Every hotel has invited me and Mrs. Barry," said the mayor, who said that he has promoted the hotel industry in Washington and that the hotels have provided him rooms as a good-will gesture. "Whenever we get the opportunity to do so, we will. We have done it in the past and will do so in the future."

Neither Barry nor his wife Effi had any official duties during the holiday weekend, according to their staffs. "I didn't ask for it, it was offered," Barry said of the $750-a-night suite.

According to hotel sources, the mayor and his wife left the Willard without paying a separate $965.21 bill that covered the cost of room service, telephone calls, parking for guests and a private party for 25 persons. Barry said yesterday that the party was for "eminent and outstanding citizens," but he declined to name them.

That bill was charged to Barry's personal American Express card the following Monday after the hotel contacted the mayor's office about the outstanding expenses, according to sources. Someone other than the mayor signed the card slip, but that person's relationship to Barry was unclear.

The $1,500 cost of the hotel suite was never billed to Barry, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post.

Barry said it was "disrespectful to even suggest the mayor should not" accept free rooms and complained that the "real" story is how the hotel boom in Washington has created thousands of jobs for District residents. "We like them and they like me . . . . If anybody is benefiting, it is the city and D.C. residents," Barry said.

The mayor said he will stay this weekend at the Washington Hilton for the annual meeting of the Congressional Black Caucus, but said he did not know whether he is being billed for the room. The Hilton, like many other Washington hotels, usually allows the industry standard of one complimentary room for every 50 rooms rented by a group.

The general managers of several Washington hotels said yesterday that it is not their policy to offer free rooms to political officials outside of convention or conference groups.

"We don't offer complimentary rooms to unions, politicians, et cetera," said Paul Limbert, general manager of the Park-Hyatt. "That would be inappropriate. My feeling would be, it could be considered a political contribution."

Although the mayor's acceptance of free hotel rooms does not in itself violate the city's conflict-of-interest laws, officials of several other cities suggested that similar actions in those areas would not be allowed.

Keith Vance, the director of the District's Office of Campaign Finance, said in a telephone interview that the acceptance of free hotel rooms by Barry or other ranking city officials would not violate the District's ethics standards so long as nothing was expected of them in return.

"I can't see anything that he's going to make a decision on concerning the hotel," Vance said. "He has agency heads and they make decisions. He's at a much higher level. I'd say there's no problem unless other facts come out. I'm sure this isn't the first time a hotel has offered the mayor free rooms."

Vance said that while the mayor has the authority to accept gifts from companies doing business with the city, such as the Willard and its majority owner, the Oliver T. Carr Cos., the gifts should be disclosed on the mayor's financial disclosure forms that are filed each year in May.

"The mayor is very conscientious about amending and reporting on his forms," Vance said, adding that he was sure Barry will report the complimentary room on his 1988 disclosure forms.

In 1986, Barry reimbursed the city for more than $4,700 in personal expenses, including travel and hotel bills for which he had not submitted complete documentation. That year, Barry's disclosure form stated that although the mayor had accepted complimentary hotel rooms, "to the best of his knowledge, none of these hotels are regulated by or do business with the D.C. government."

Vance said his opinion about free lodging for Barry at the Willard would not change if the mayor made a decision affecting hotels in general, but might present a problem if a decision specifically affected the Willard and not others.

The Oliver T. Carr Cos., which is the managing partner of the Willard, is one of the city's leading developers of commercial real estate, and as such works with city government officials in developing major projects.

A spokesman for the Carr Cos. could not be reached for comment late yesterday.

"It would seem to me, the difficult issue is how many things do they have pending that the mayor has discretion over," said one ethics official of another major city who asked not to be named. "I would think anything of that nature in this city would be regarded fairly scandalously."

In Boston, acceptance of free rooms for personal reasons by elected officials "would be considered a conflict," said Lee Regan, director of public education for the State Ethics Commission, which regulates state, county and municipal officials. "The way we look at it is, why is he being offered a free room? If it's being offered to a public official simply because of the office he holds or to foster goodwill, it doesn't matter what the motivation is, it's prohibited," she said.

"The general policy is to decline gifts of $50 or more that might raise questions of impropriety," said John L. Hendricks of the Chicago Board of Ethics. "Even if no understanding existed between the hotel and the official . . . public perceptions are important."

The mayor and his wife stayed at the Willard as V-4 guests, a level of treatment afforded VIPs such as governors and chief executive officers of major corporations. The suite, on the 10th floor, includes free champagne, flowers, a fruit basket and designer chocolates.

J.T. Kuhlman, general manager of the Willard, said he could not confirm or deny whether the mayor had stayed at the hotel on a complimentary basis. "I don't think we would ever discuss any of our guests' situations," he said. "We consider guest information private."

When told that a hotel guest history obtained by The Post listed the Barrys as complimentary guests on the July 4 weekend, and that his initials were part of the document, Kuhlman said: "I can't deny that if you have a document." However, he said it is standard procedure to enter his initials as approving complimentary guests, even though other members of the hotel staff also can approve complimentary rooms.

Kuhlman said he could not recall other elected officials who have stayed at the hotel as complimentary guests. "We don't have a policy {on complimentary rooms}. It varies from country to country," said Kuhlman, who added that sometimes the hotel does offer complimentary rooms to large groups.