As 1987 came to an end, there was a common thread of dismay among even some of District Mayor Marion Barry's most ardent supporters.

"Honestly, I hope that we have a better year in 1988," sighed Max N. Berry, chairman of the mayor's 1982 and 1986 reelection campaigns and treasurer of his initial upstart bid for mayor in 1978. "I hope there is less confusion, less turnover, good people coming in, vacancies filled and more of a confidence restored somehow in city government."

The past year, filled with news of federal probes, staff upheavals, Barry's life style and questions about city services, was supposed to have been a fresh start as Barry began his third term in office. Coming off a strong reelection victory, the mayor shook up his Cabinet, waltzed through a glitzy inauguration and pledged to invigorate a slumping bureaucracy.

But as the days of 1988 unfold, Barry is back to shaking up his staff, vowing to fill critical vacancies. Although he publicly maintains that all is well, Barry is pledging privately to associates that he realizes that he must get a grip on his government and his lagging personal image, which so strongly influences public perception of the District.

Equally as clear in the early days of 1988 is Barry's resilience, a trait that sustained him through 12 months of fire and remains his best hope for a year of redemption, observers say. Barry's supporters are counting on the durability of a mayor who seems unabashed, despite the mishaps and embarrassments.

"He is remarkable in his ability to bounce back," said Dwight S. Cropp, a senior adviser to the mayor who contends that Barry's adversaries and critics consistently underestimate him.

Barry demonstrated these qualities in early December when The Washington Post reported on Barry's trip to the Bahamas, where he vacationed with Bettye L. Smith, a woman he describes as a "family associate" who worked at the time for a firm that holds a major financial advice contract with the District government.

While many of his aides were chagrined and worried about the public reaction, Barry privately expressed relief that the story was not as accusatory as he had expected.

Later that week, the mayor even found time to play a joke on a Post reporter who helped write the Bahamas story. Pretending to be in Las Vegas at the National League of Cities convention, Barry telephoned the reporter in an attempt to trick him into flying needlessly to Nevada.

Barry's friends caution, though, that the mayor's thick skin and strong personality, which he attributes to battling as an underdog for most of his life, sometimes undermine Barry the politician. They say Barry believes unrealistically that he can maintain a freewheeling life style and still do the demanding work of a mayor.

"Just because he was elected, he thinks he can eat, sleep and {go} anywhere he wants to," one aide said. Barry, the aide said, fails to recognize that blunders and personal indiscretions have a cumulative effect on the public and the media.

"It would help if his own personal life was a little more low key," said Stuart Long, a close personal and political ally of the mayor. "He knows it." Another friend counseled, "If he wants to do anything {after being mayor}, he has to be successful {now}."

Despite the bad year, Barry appears to be holding his own politically, a Post poll showed in August. With three years remaining in his term, the mayor has suffered erosion of support, but no major opponents have emerged to challenge him consistently on his leadership of the city.

Potential challengers are not only wary of Barry's formidable power as the incumbent, they also fear being branded as opportunists siding with outgoing U.S. Attorney Joseph E. diGenova, an emotional symbol for some blacks who see diGenova as a white conservative Republican out to undermine black political power. DiGenova's apparent decision to join a Washington law firm next month may alter the political dynamic, however.

In a year-end interview, Barry said his 1987 problems began in January with two paralyzing, back-to-back snowstorms that hit the city while he vacationed at the Super Bowl in Southern California. And like an avalanche, the year tumbled downhill from there.

Acknowledging that his decision to remain at the Super Bowl had been a mistake, Barry said he was too lenient last year on department heads and staff members. He added that most of the highly publicized comments that caused him trouble -- such as those about poor people abusing city services -- would not have been made had his staff and department heads done a better job.

"This is a unique city with 3,000 programs and services," Barry said, "a vast domain I have to look over -- some of which {such as schools} I don't have much control over."

Barry said he would take blame for some of his personal actions.

For the first time, he described as "20 minutes of craziness" his visit to part-time model and dancer Grace T. Shell. Barry's attorney previously has said the mayor simply went to Shell's home to visit her 3-year-old son, an explanation that Shell sharply disputed and many said they did not believe.

His encounter with Shell was one of several incidents involving women that became a dominant theme of the year.

"There's tremendous frustration with the mayor's . . . personal style as it relates to setting an image for this city," one longtime businessman said, recalling published accounts about the Shell incident, Barry's former relationship with convicted cocaine dealer Karen K. Johnson, the Bahamas vacation with Smith and the hiring of Sallie Melendez, a $63,185-a-year staff assistant who was on the payroll nearly two months before she was given a specific job assignment.

Barry complained several times in the interview that the news media's harsh perceptions of city problems exaggerated their importance. He said that the "public needs to see" that the media "filters out" good news and that he will step up recent efforts to publicize city programs.

Barry's administration recently put together a 15-page document detailing innovative or improved city services.

"So many of what have been called our 'failures' were our initial efforts to try new solutions," wrote Edward M. Meyers, a longtime Barry assistant who now heads the Office of Policy. "If we can step back from these momentary news items, the significance of what we are doing can be seen."

Barry's staff particularly resents comparisons to Baltimore, whose Harborplace project has won urban revitalization honors. Meyers' report notes that the District has revitalized virtually all of its downtown under Barry, not just a portion.

Barry, like many politicians, has a love-hate relationship with the media, often complaining that reporters do not cover the routine but important city services that work well in the District. Despite this view, Barry seems drawn to a give and take with reporters, exchanging banter and comments that frequently become big news.

Aides, including press secretary John C. White, have cautioned Barry to be more willing to say "no comment." It seems that every few months the mayor announces that he will not be as accessible as he has been, but his vows generally last only a few days or weeks at best.

"He's his own worst enemy," one aide groused, noting that while Barry often complains to staff members about leaks in his administration, the mayor's comments help reporters unravel the workings of his government.

His wife Effi Barry, who generally keeps a low profile, made news when she gave midyear television interviews in which she was harshly critical of the media and her husband's opponents. While some aides applauded her willingness to defend her husband, others worried that her comments only served to keep unflattering stories on the air.

Barry's problems, though, extend far beyond his relationship with the media, according to many city leaders. Substantive issues continue to press the District, including its overburdened Corrections Department and the increasing violence and youth assaults that officials trace to the city's epidemic drug problems.

One former city official, who said that he recently spoke privately with Barry about the problems of 1987, summed up: "You could call it the year of lost opportunities. You know, new term, fresh start . . . . It was the year the mayor told the city there was light at the end of the tunnel -- and it was a train."