About 6:10 p.m., the guest of honor arrived.

"J.C.!" somebody shouted, and John Clyburn, grinning broadly, descended the steps at Joe & Mo's, a longtime hangout of the inner circle of the Barry administration. The champagne was already waiting, on orders from Mo Sussman, a co-owner of the Connecticut Avenue restaurant.

"You want me to uncork this?" asked the bartender, as if the crowd needed any encouragement to celebrate.

The occasion was Clyburn's acquittal late yesterday afternoon on charges of steering D.C. Department of Human Services contracts to his own company and those belonging to friends. Following on the heels of the acquittal last Friday of fellow defendant David E. Rivers, a former head of the department, there was a giddy air to last night's gathering.

It was a moment the guest of honor had been awaiting for more than two years.

"They didn't have a case," he said, referring to the U.S. Attorney's Office. "When they spent 17 {expletive} months with a wiretap and they can't find anything, you know there wasn't a case."

For the prosecutors, the acquittals, coming after the 16-week trial, were a big disappointment. But there was only relief among the member of the select fraternity at Joe & Mo's.

"Brothers in the same lodge," Clyburn exclaimed, wrapping his arm around a beaming Ivanhoe Donaldson, a former D.C. deputy mayor for economic development who spent three years in a federal prison after being convicted in 1985 of stealing $190,000 from the city's treasury.

Then another lodge brother arrived: Marion Barry.

The mayor, who had a day off from his federal drug conspiracy and perjury trial because a key witness was unavailable, arrived about 15 minutes after Clyburn. The two men embraced tightly.

There were others there as well -- such members of the old Barry crowd as Elijah P. Rogers, a longtime Barry confidant and adviser.

"They're out there," Rogers said, speaking of his deeply held conviction that the FBI and U.S. Attorney Jay B. Stephens are waging a vendetta against black public officials. It was a widespread sentiment among those gathered.