Mayor Marion Barry's wife, Effi, said yesterday that she did not accompany her husband on a recent trip to Jamaica because "one of my dearest friends is ill, and I needed to spend time with that friend."

Marion Barry took a 10-day vacation last month with his son, Christopher, his mother, Mattie Cummings, and Cora Wilds and her teenage daughter. Wilds, a former head of the D.C. Boxing and Wrestling Commission, is a longtime friend of the mayor's.

The trip began shortly after Barry's summer-long drug and perjury trial, which ended in his conviction on a misdemeanor charge of drug possession, his acquittal on another charge and a mistrial on 12 other counts.

Effi Barry's absence on the vacation was noted by the Washington City Paper's Loose Lips column, which questioned the mayor's sincerity in his stated intention to devote his attention to his family and health. "Once outside the courtroom, the mayor and his wife still appear to be going their separate ways, as they have throughout most of their marriage," the column stated.

The columnist said that the presence of Barry's mother on the trip seemed to be a "shield against adverse publicity while Barry made another of his famed forays to the Caribbean without his wife."

In a letter to the City Paper released by the mayor's office yesterday, Effi Barry sharply criticized the column, saying that it made "something sordid and ugly out of a vacation that I wanted my family and friends to have."

She said that Cora Wilds went on the vacation "with my full knowledge."

"Further," she added, "you imply that my not joining my husband on this vacation is somehow indicative of how we are doing as a couple and how he is doing in recovery," she added. "You had no facts to go on, yet you took this unconscionable line.

"What you printed is insensitive, insulting, unfounded and totally misleading," Effi Barry wrote. She did not identify her ill friend.

Barry, she wrote, "has committed himself to recovery {from substance abuse} and he has kept to this commitment in spite of ill-wishers such as yourselves . . . "

Reacting to the letter, Ken Cummins, the author of the Loose Lips column, said: "This has been the standard response of the Barry administration to other things I've written, which later proved to be true. Only time will tell whether Effi's explanation holds up or whether it is just another smokescreen."

"You've heard of Operation Desert Shield?" he said, referring to the codename for the U.S. military deployment in Saudi Arabia. "This is Operation Island Shield."