D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, saying he dishonored himself and his family, asked Washingtonians yesterday to forgive him for "any hurt I may have caused," and to ease the racial tensions he said were exacerbated by his 10-week trial on drug and perjury charges.
Speaking to a cheering, foot-stomping crowd of several hundred supporters at the Frank D. Reeves Municipal Center -- the same location where he returned from addiction treatment in March for a dramatic reentry in city politics -- Barry portrayed himself as a man both humbled and still proud after months of having his life "paraded before the world."
"I ask all of you, young or old, black or white, Jew or gentile, rich or poor, Northwest or Northeast and Southeast and Southwest, Ward 3 or Ward 8, I ask you to forgive me for any hurt I may have caused," he said. "I'm hoping that any of you who still harbor resentments and vengeance can let go."
Barry appeared one day after being convicted on a single misdemeanor charge of cocaine possession, calling on the U.S. government to join District residents in ending racial polarization, while chastising federal authorities and the news media for their conduct during the months he was under investigation by the U.S. Attorney's Office.
After Barry spoke, his defense attorney, R. Kenneth Mundy, urged federal officials not to press for a "retrial or a regurgitation" of the 12 criminal charges on which the jury reached no verdict.
"It is not time to reload guns, or to prepare for further combat," said Mundy, adding that Barry's defense team was prepared to unleash "the dove of peace or, if necessary, to rearm our arsenal of war."
The mayor left open the question of whether he will run this fall for an at-large seat on the D.C. Council, although sources said late yesterday that he has decided to change party affiliation tomorrow, to leave open the option of running for council as an independent this fall.
Barry also said for the first time publicly that he had been unfaithful to his wife, Effi, but that he had asked her "for forgiveness, and she has granted it."
After eight days of deliberation, a federal jury convicted Barry on Friday on one charge of cocaine possession, acquitted him on a second and announced it was unable to reach a decision on the remaining 12 charges.
The mayor could receive up to a year in prison, although it is rare for a first-time offender to be sentenced to jail for cocaine possession.
U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson, the presiding judge, did not set a sentencing date for Barry.
Although Barry did not dwell at length on his request for forgiveness or issue an abject apology for misconduct while in office, his words of conciliation seemed to satisfy many in the crowd that filled nearly all of the expansive lobby of the Reeves center.
"I heard a lot of humility," said John Wilson, a resident of Shaw in Northwest Washington. "He can set the tone for the healing process, and that's what we need."
Gina White, 25, a freelance film writer from Northeast, said she was glad Barry "was acknowledging he was wrong in some of the things he had done. He's ready to move on, and I hope the city is too."
Not everyone endorsed Barry's address, which he began by slowly reciting the first lines of "Amazing Grace," the religious standard about the redemption of "a wretch like me."
Jeff Hunter, a young man from Fort Washington who said he witnessed the speech to understand Barry better, said the mayor "had lost his credibility and was being hypocritical to talk about amazing grace."
In many respects, Barry's speech was a refined version of his message since his arrest last January at the Vista Hotel and his return to the District after substance abuse treatment in Florida and South Carolina. In those intervening months, as he tried to remain the dominant political force in the city, the mayor apologized on several occasions to groups of senior citizens and young people, describing his road to recovery in Biblical terms, saying he was the District's prodigal son.
Yesterday, as Barry expressed many of those themes, the sweltering Reeves center lobby assumed the atmosphere of a church revival, with the mayor repeatedly invoking God and audience members interrupting with shouts of, "That's right."
"Even though this has been one of the most painful and stressful episodes of my life, I've been able to maintain an even keel," Barry said a few moments later. "For we all are God's children, all brothers and sisters in his sight."
The Rev. Willie Wilson, who has held several services in his Anacostia church to show support for Barry, said he believed Barry had made God a part of his life.
"Anyone can fall," said Wilson, one of several preachers attending the speech. "The question is what happens when they fall."
Barry also issued an impassioned appeal for racial harmony in a city where many community leaders believe racial tensions have been heightened because of the government's prosecution of one of the nation's best known black politicians.
In his many years in D.C. politics, the past 12 as mayor, Barry occasionally has been accused of inflaming racial polarization, but yesterday he recited some of Washington's richest and poorest neighborhoods in a call for racial peace.
"Whether you live in Southeast or Southwest, Georgetown or Deanwood, Brookland or Southeast, Adams-Morgan or Washington Highlands, Lincoln or Kenilworth, Cleveland or Shaw, Palisades, we all must come together under God's eyesight.
"We must lay our burdens down, forget about racism and sexism," Barry said. "Forget about the deep pains that we are suffering. Now is the time to look ahead."
While saying the trial had "helped expose deep divisions" between races in the District, Barry added the city was not the only U.S. city experiencing such tensions.
"I believe that Washington, D.C., can be a model to the world of how people of divergent beliefs and opinions, of various races and religions, can work together for the good of all," the mayor said. "Now is the time for healing."
Barry called on two of his favorite political targets -- the U.S. government and the news media -- to help foster racial healing in the District. The mayor sharply citicized the news media, drawing the longest and loudest ovation of the afternoon, and described federal authorities as a "Big Brother" trampling individual rights.
"American citizens should not have to walk around in fear that their constitutional rights and civil liberties are being eroded and trampled," Barry said.
Mundy delivered a coda to those remarks, telling what by then was a hushed crowd that everyone should "speak in soft and conciliatory terms" in the weeks leading up to Barry's sentencing.
The lawyer also suggested in strong terms that U.S. Attorney Jay B. Stephens should abandon any thought of further prosecuting the mayor.
"I would ask the government to be measured and careful in its thought about whether it wants to inflict further upon this community a retrial or a regurgitation of all that we've been through this winter of 10 weeks proceedings," Mundy said.
"It owes a responsibility to awaken to the fact that sometimes it is better to step back, to reflect and to rebuild," Mundy said.
Stephens was unavailable for comment yesterday. Stephens said Friday that he would announce his decision on a possible retrial of the remaining counts on Sept. 17, when Judge Jackson said he would hold a hearing on the case.
In her brief remarks, Effi Barry, like her husband, tried to strike a note of humility and forgiveness of the mayor.
"This is a time of great introspection, this is a time for prayerful humility," she said. "It is human to err. It is divine to forgive."
Barry's speech, which was broadcast live by the city's major television stations, drew the mayor's Cabinet and staunchest political supporters, as well as the curious and others who wanted to witness yet another turning point in an already remarkable year in Washington.
"This is history, and I wanted to be part of it," said Andrea Bagwell, 29, who brought her son, Zachery, 3, and 11-month-old daughter, Latesha.
Sabrina Hartfield, a 30-year-old systems analyst who had gone to the Reeves center when Barry spoke there in March, said she traveled there again yesterday to "feel the energy."
"I am really proud of him," Hartfield said. "I think he will be a better man for this. He has been humbled. God forgives and we should forgive."
Insurance agent Karen Scott, 27, of Northwest, said she wanted to show support for Barry "spiritually, personally and politically."
"His image has been hurt some, but he still has credibility," Scott said. "If he were to run again, I would consider voting for him among the options." Staff writers Marcia Slacum Greene and Mary Ann French contributed to this report.