Mayor Marion Barry, saying he wanted "to have a little fun" in rewarding some city workers, took a 90-minute spin along the Potomac River last night on a moonlight cruise that cost the D.C. treasury $17,000.
Barry, who this week has brushed aside criticism of the cruise, appeared cheerful as he arrived two hours late for the floating party aboard the sternwheeler Cherry Blossom.
"You know, all work and no play makes Washington a dull city, and we're going to have a little fun tonight," Barry told reporters, who were barred from accompanying the mayor and a crowd of 200 on the cruise.
Barry hosted the event for recreation workers who helped stage the city's Riverfests before the festival was canceled this year because of budget constraints.
Earlier in the day, Barry gave in to D.C. Council pressure in announcing he would use most of a $109,000 Riverfest fund to open seven city pools ahead of schedule.
The mayor kept $17,000 of the fund to pay for the boat rental and food costs for last night's party aboard the Cherry Blossom.
The cruise, which orginated at the municipal dock in Southwest Washington, capped a day that included Barry's attendance at a federal court hearing on his scheduled June 4 trial on perjury and cocaine charges. The mayor said he was late arriving for the cruise because he had been in upper Northwest Washington attending an addiction counseling session as part of a recovery program that he described last night as "first in my life."
Before the Cherry Blossom pulled away from the dock, Barry -- tieless and wearing a cap emblazoned with the words, Seafarers Boat Club -- ushered some of the 50 young people aboard the boat to the bow, where he led them in a cheer of "Washington's Great!"
Barry's decision to open the pools three weeks ahead of schedule resulted from a political accommodation reached with council member Frank Smith Jr. (D-Ward 1), one of several critics of the Cherry Blossom cruise.
"Politics is a give-and-take business," Smith said at a news conference with Barry at the Banneker Community Center, where the pool was being filled yesterday afternoon in anticipation of its scheduled opening at noon today, weather permitting.
However, the mayor's decision to earmark most of the Riverfest fund -- an account that some council members said they did not know existed -- did not entirely defuse the flap about the cost of the Riverfest cruise.
For example, Smith said before his joint appearance with Barry that the cruise "looks bad. It conveys an image that we don't have our priorities straight." At the same time, Smith said, Barry's decision to open the pools "takes some of the edge off" the controversy about the moonlight cruise.
The city government operates 18 major outdoor pools. The seven scheduled to open today under Barry's order include the East Potomac pool in Southwest, the Oxon Run pool in Southeast, the McKinley, Rosedale and Kenilworth-Parkside pools in Northeast and the Georgetown pool in Northwest.
Paul Woodard, director of the city's Recreation Department, said it costs about $3,000 a day to operate one city pool, meaning most of the Riverfest fund will be consumed by opening the seven pools early. The remaining 11 pools are scheduled to open June 16. Weekend hours at the pools are noon to 7 p.m., Woodard said.
At the news conference, Barry defended the Riverfest fund, saying he did not attempt to shield the fund from scrutiny by the public or the council.
"I maintain when you look in the budget books, you can find where most of these funds are," Barry said. "We're not trying to hide anything. I've known about this since . . . whenever Riverfest started."
"It's all in the D.C. treasury," Barry added. "It's not in my pocket, it's not even in Frank's pocket. It's just a matter of accountability and where it is."
"We know exactly how much has been spent and how much will be spent," Barry said. "We account for all the money. We are very prudent about the taxpayers' money, seriously." Asked if he had any other money salted away in special funds, Barry replied: "I doubt it, I don't know."
D.C. Auditor Otis Troupe said in a letter to a council committee this week that he had inquired on several occasions about special funds such as the $100,000 account used to pay for the cruise, but at no time did the Barry administration provide any information "about the existence of the fund in question."
"Further, the executive has on several occasions specifically denied the existence of such funds," Troupe said.