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Brisbane, a reporter on The Post's Metro staff, covered Marion Barry from 1985 until last January.

Marion Barry Just Wants to Be Loved

By Arthur S. Brisbane
Sunday, April 26, 1987; Page W20

HIS POLLSTERS HAD WARNED HIM. People in that part of town didn't like him. They thought he was a crook, they'd never give him their votes. But that didn't stop Marion Barry. On the Fourth of July, he went to them.

The Palisades neighborhood in Northwest Washington was a picture of small-town America that day last summer. A beautiful sunny sky flashed blue through an umbrella of spreading trees. Old people rocked on their porches along MacArthur Boulevard as a scraggly parade of floats and marching bands trooped by. Into the homemade pageantry of a largely white district stepped Marion Barry, and it wasn't long before the booing started. From the high ground to his right, a group of constituents rained scorn on their mayor.

He could have leaned smartly into his Lincoln Town Car and telephoned public works to shut off the water to Palisades. But he didn't do that. He just kept on strolling in his khaki slacks, oxford shoes and red sport shirt, waving and smiling. When the parade wound to its destination at the Palisades Recreation Center, he started working the crowd, and working it hard. He shook hands, he kissed babies, he posed for pictures. He even climbed on one of the horses there for the kids and galloped maniacally across the field.

Just when it seemed the mayor was through demonstrating his oneness with the people, he stepped onto the outdoor basketball court for a game of 2-on-2 with some neighborhood guys. He wasn't very good, but he hustled. Boy, did he hustle. Then he fell down on the concrete. The afternoon wore on and on, and so did the mayor. Finally, when the crowd was beginning to break up, he conducted an impromptu inspection tour of the recreation center building, taking note of the worn-out indoor basketball court, the dilapidated exterior of the building, the debris and unruly brush in the back. He would take care of this, he said.

Two months later, Barry was back to throw a party for the Palisades neighborhood. The whole recreation center had been beautifully rehabilitated; the hot dogs and Cokes were free. He rode the horse again. He shot some hoops on the refinished basketball floor. He made a campaign speech announcing the improvements and staking his claim to a third term.

None of this did any appreciable good. Three days later in the Democratic primary, a little-known candidate who had been out of politics for 12 years trounced Barry in the same precinct of the city's Third Ward that booed him on the Fourth of July.

Barry was still undeterred. After the primary, he invited a steady stream of white community leaders into his office, plied them with friendly talk and promises and asked them, almost plaintively, "Why don't people in Ward 3 like me?" It wasn't that the veteran politician was worried about losing the November general election. He knew he could win without those voters, and he did -- by a margin of almost 2 to 1. What bothered him was the rejection, the whole idea of it. These people did not like him and he needed to find a way to change their minds.

To understand Marion Barry is to recognize this obsession, an obsession that has shaped his whole life. It drives him. It explains him.

The obsession has propelled him on the path to power, creating the paradox of a politician who today is entrenched yet embattled, ratified in office yet still reaching out for approval. And not just approval from whites. Barry has struggled hardest to win those blacks who have disdained him variously as an interloper, parvenu, opportunist.

An old political warrior and sometime enemy, D.C. Board of Education member Calvin Lockridge, argues that the mayor is a living example of Machiavelli's ideal. "To understand Marion," says Lockridge, as he removes not one but two dog-eared copies of The Prince from his top drawer, "you must read this." But Machiavelli was concerned only with power, not love. Marion Barry exercises power in order to be loved, or at least accepted, and no 16th-century political tract could have predicted the circumstances that produced this obsession in a 51-year-old black American. MEMPHIS, THE EARLY '50S Two small girls, no more than 10 years old, are standing on a street corner singing their hearts out for passersby. A sprawling public housing complex stretches behind them, an ugly rebuke to the innocence of children. The two girls seem to have a manager of sorts, a scrawny teenager who takes the nickels and dimes people donate in appreciation. The manager's mother doesn't know he has developed this singing sisters act. She thinks Marion is just escorting them to school. Actually, he is saving up for a new suit. MARION BARRY WAS A RESOURCEFUL, dogged and methodical kid. He struggled feverishly in the segregated Memphis of the 1940s and 1950s to acquire everything that was denied him: money, respect and, most of all, a pass to the larger world outside. There was a drumbeat of rejection in the Memphis air, and he took it personally. On every street corner, he would say later, there was always somebody telling him, No, Marion, you can't, you're not good enough.

Barry's struggle to prove them wrong was disguised in the breadth of his exertions; his Memphis friends never fully understood him or what he was up to. One of them, Kenneth Cole, now says Barry never "peeled away all his garments so we could see what he was going to do." At parties, his friends would dance; Marion would bring a book. After school, he was a busy entrepreneur. At LeMoyne College, a predominantly black school in Memphis, he had eyes only for the prom queens or intellectuals his friends felt were "out of his class."

The future mayor always set his sights higher than others did. In his senior year in college, he and some friends went to Nashville to see a football game. Over beers at a bar, they discussed their plans for getting jobs when they graduated. Barry got up to leave. "Sit yourself down," they said to him, but he would have none of it. He had to go see a Fisk University professor about a graduate school fellowship. He would catch up with them later.

Barry was different. But why was that? Lots of kids had histories like his: born on a plantation, moved to the city. Most of them drifted into regular lives of no special note. Barry, though, railed against the insignificance of his history. It is hard to say why precisely. The root cause of his great drive remains a mystery that can be traced only so far and is, like Barry's beginnings in the Mississippi Delta town of Itta Bena, fundamentally obscure.

The Barrys were serfs in the fertile cotton barony of the Delta, a legendary place of black soil, plantation houses and fields broken by creeks and bayous. Barry doesn't know the exact place of his birth in Itta Bena. His mother can't give a reason why she married, and says she doesn't remember what killed her husband when their son was only 4. All the mayor retains now of Itta Bena is a lingering image of riding the tail of a cotton sack down a dark furrow at picking time. It is as if none of it ever really happened.

From this place, the Barrys blew away like dust. The boy arrived in Memphis at age 5 with almost no claim on the world, moving with his mother and two sisters into a tenement duplex now obliterated by urban renewal. Marion began early styling himself a Horatio Alger character, finding ingenious ways to make a nickel. In an environment of shared want, his family seemed to have even less than others.

He worked incessantly, sometimes two or more jobs at a time. He picked and chopped cotton in the outlying areas. He had two paper routes and sold a third paper on the street corner. He bagged groceries, inspected soda pop bottles, waited tables. He attended choir practices of a church he didn't belong to because the choirmaster promised car fare to all comers. He couldn't sing, but he could walk -- and save the quarter. His mother, who worked at a slaughterhouse, got special rates on the bologna that was so prized at the Florida Avenue School Marion attended. He sold his sandwiches to the other kids.

A triumphant moment in his life came one day in his junior year at the Booker T. Washington High School when he took his hard-earned cash to a Beale Street shop to purchase his first store-bought suit. Money bought him the respect that comes with a suit that fits. But the future mayor didn't content himself with superficial satisfactions. He wasn't some ghetto dude, intent solely on looking slick. He was also a junior achiever, a nerd, actually.

Barry was a Boy Scout, and it was no passing thing. He went on to become one of the first black Eagle Scouts in Memphis, pursuing scouting well beyond what his pals considered dignified. "As a younger person, he was nondescript," insists William J. Hawkins, a Memphis friend who has known Barry since his childhood. "He just collected merit badges."

The step-by-step ascent to Eagle status appealed to him. Achievement was laid out in a prescribed course. All it required was effort, and he had a boundless supply of that. If racist, segregated Memphis wouldn't let him go to the zoo except on certain days, if Memphis wouldn't permit him to sit in the front of the bus, if Memphis wouldn't grant him access to certain libraries or parks -- well, Marion would pin so many merit badges to his breast that surely Memphis would reverse its verdict against him. In later years, he would say, "Some people are destined and some are determined, and I am determined."

Memphis also stirred something else in Barry, a dark side of this Eagle Scout. In later years, when he had power, it would take the form of an arrogance that waxed and waned according to how secure he felt. As a youth, it was rage, fluttering erratically inside. Barry controlled it, mostly, venting it secretly and with great satisfaction.

He had a job waiting tables at the American Legion post, a place that gave little consideration to the innermost feelings of a sensitive black teen-ager. The men would look at Marion in his little white coat and say, Hey, boy, come here, bring me my dinner.

Marion fought a private war with these men. He taught them, all right. While they weren't looking, he spat in their food.

Here's your dinner, sir.

KNOXVILLE, 1962 Barry is at a blackboard at the University of Tennessee writing out a problem in advanced organic chemistry. A 26-year-old doctoral candidate, he is the only veteran of the burgeoning civil rights movement in his class, the only black. His black peers have no interest in the rarefied study of chemistry. Many of them have dropped out of school altogether to join the movement. But Barry is different. He is struggling to become a chemist and an activist at the same time.

Two years before, when he was a leader of lunch counter sit-ins in Nashville, he had been catapulted into the political jet stream as the first chairman of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. He traveled to the Democratic and GOP presidential conventions that summer to address the party platform committees.

Now he is back at the blackboard in a classroom full of whites, acutely conscious that the only other black in the department has flunked out. While he is writing, some white students are looking through the papers on his desk. Barry seems to know his stuff and they don't know theirs.

"Hey, Marion, what are you doing tonight?" they ask after class.

"I don't know," he responds warily. "Why?"

"Why don't we have a study session?" they say.

"I'm busy," snaps Barry, and walks away.

THE MAYOR TELLS THIS STORY WITH relish. He truly enjoyed his victories over whites back then. He had bested them on "their" field. But why was Marion Barry studying to become a research chemist when his peers were bloodying themselves in the most critical battle facing black Americans in the 20th century? Because chemistry was his career; civil rights was not, not then. Barry's initial commitment to the movement was distinctly part-time. At LeMoyne in 1958, he narrowly escaped expulsion when he criticized a college trustee for making patronizing remarks about blacks. The next year, at Fisk, Barry kept his head down, concentrating on his studies. In 1960, though, the student movement caught fire and Barry joined in the lunch counter sit-ins that were staged in Nashville and other cities after four blacks tried to integrate a Woolworth's in Greensboro, N.C.

When students met at Raleigh, N.C., that April to organize SNCC, they made Barry their compromise pick to be its first chairman. The graduate student from Fisk was not even the leader of the large Nashville contingent, but he was in the right place at the right time. Diane Nash, who was the Nashville leader, was at the YWCA changing clothes when the key vote was held.

Then, as swiftly as he had been thrust into prominence, he walked away. Five months after he was chosen as a top student leader in the civil rights movement, Barry left the South to go to Kansas. Kansas was not a hotbed of civil rights activity then and Barry had no plans to start anything up. He was going there to begin his doctoral studies in chemistry at the University of Kansas. There, and later at the University of Tennessee, chemistry presented an accepted avenue to a professional career, a way out of south Memphis and everything it stood for. Nobody could argue with a man who had a proven record in an exact science. Barry stuck to his goal of professional stature, still believing down deep that he could win the hearts and minds of the larger society the straight-arrow way.

As it turned out, Barry's years in chemistry were not an irrelevant digression in the life of a future mayor. The study of chemistry was the perfect prologue to his career in politics. Chemistry is about using catalysts to transform things. It's about taking one molecule and adding another and another until you have something completely new: a new compound or, in politics, a coalition. It teaches that you can achieve a desired result by working backward, methodically thinking through the steps that will produce what you want.

Like chemistry, Barry's politics are subject to laws and they are, to a degree, predictable. Dwight S. Cropp, a longtime friend and Barry's top policy adviser, recalls a saying that went around when Barry was on the D.C. school board in the early 1970s: "While you are sleeping at night, Marion Barry is up planning his next move." Cropp relates another, more contemporary axiom: "The mayor will spend more time cultivating his enemies than his friends."

These are, respectively, the first and second laws of Barry politics: 1) outthink your enemy; 2) love your enemy. If you do these two things, your enemy will like you, or at least he will have to pretend to like you because you control him.

The chemist turned politician has never hesitated to use himself as a catalyst, consciously transforming himself to elicit desired reactions. He didn't invent this tactic in a laboratory; he gleaned it from the civil rights movement. It was doctrine in SNCC, for example, that in the city you dressed like city folks, and in the country, you dressed like country folks. That way you mixed well.

The protean Barry, eliciting reactions, has put on so many suits of clothes he has lost track of them all. The dirt-farmer overalls of his first years gave way to a ghetto youth's Beale Street suit. The suit was hung in the closet for a return to the South in the overalls of a SNCC worker. The angry dashiki appeared next, only to be discarded in favor of the grotesquely loud plaids of his early career in elective politics. Ultimately, it all led to the pin stripes of power.

If the secret dream of science is alchemy, then Marion Barry's secret dream has always been to remake himself. WASHINGTON, AUGUST 1967 It is a hot summer's evening and President Johnson's secretary of labor, a white attorney named Willard Wirtz, has gone to a church in Anacostia to announce a new jobs program to keep restless black youths busy through the summer.

Wirtz and an aide arrive in a government-issue Cadillac. Inside, the church is filled with young black men. "My God, it's quiet in here," thinks Wirtz. The two federal men stand up with no introduction and present their plans. There is no grateful response, no sound at all. Finally, a tall man in a dashiki gets up.

"You are wondering why we are not saying anything," he says. "There are three reasons. First, we know you are here to buy us off. Second, you don't know how to talk our language. Third, if we said anything at all, you wouldn't know what we are saying. So go ahead with your program."

Dismissed, Wirtz and his aide file out of the church, but just as they are getting into their Cadillac, the man in the dashiki shows up to apologize. "My name is Marion Barry," he says. "I'm sorry we gave you a hard time. We didn't have any choice."

The next day, Barry and Wirtz begin laying out plans for an organization called Pride Inc., which was destined to make Barry simultaneously an underclass hero and a confidant of the secretary of labor. BARRY HAD COME A LONG WAY FROM the blackboard, but there was a logic to the twists and turns of his route. He was probing for ways to penetrate a society that had always shut the door on him. Chemistry, it had turned out, wasn't the perfect vehicle he thought it was; there were barriers erected around the laboratory.

In Kansas, the white students' parents had objected that Barry was tutoring their kids. So he left Kansas after a year and went to the University of Tennessee. There, Barry was told he couldn't even think about tutoring white chemistry students. Worse, unlike the wives of white students, the wives of black students (Barry was married by then, albeit briefly) couldn't get jobs at the university. The civil rights movement, meanwhile, was on the verge of great triumphs -- the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Barry had stayed involved part-time, conducting nonviolent workshops, registering voters and raising funds during the summers. The movement was drawing him out, revealing leadership qualities he didn't know he had. In 1964, Barry decided to take chemistry to the streets, quitting school to join SNCC full-time.

After a brief stint in New York, Barry came to Washington in 1965 to be a fund-raiser. He found a city in ferment, with large numbers of blacks increasingly alienated from the old-line black leadership. Sensing a vacuum, he strayed almost immediately from SNCC to start his own wildcat movement, staging boycotts, criticizing the police, attacking the establishment. SNCC was adopting an exclusively black outlook, driven by the philosophy of black nationalism. But Barry wasn't in the business of rejecting; he was too busy winning over. The Wirtz confrontation was a paradigm of the Barry strategy: intimidate establishment whites, then befriend select ones; style yourself a champion of the forgotten man.

Charles Cobb, a SNCC worker and now a writer for National Geographic, looks back on Barry's militant stage in wry wonderment: "I was probably more surprised when I saw Marion in the dashiki than when I saw him take it off."

The strategy worked. By the fall of 1966, little more than a year after Barry's arrival, black residents rated him fifth after four longtime Washingtonians in a poll that asked who had done the most for blacks in the area. Some whites also began to recognize him as a vigorous leader who was both firebrand and conciliator. Five years after his arrival, The Washington Post credited him with cooling tempers during street disturbances and dubbed him "D.C.'s man for all stormy seasons."

"Four years ago widely considered a young black power militant with almost no constituency, he has become a man who is listened to -- if not fully accepted -- on all sides," the newspaper said in a front page article.

Barry had star quality. He was a method politician with charisma. And there was something else about him that was appealing, too. He seemed to be trying so hard to win people over. Sharon Pratt Dixon, a native Washingtonian and a prominent Democrat, ascribes the Barry charm to his "genuine desire to be liked."

"Some of your greatest stars," she says, "are people who wanted to be liked."

The desire to be liked didn't diminish with Barry's successes. Quite the opposite. Every time the Eagle Scout from south Memphis penetrated a new segment of society, he found somebody new standing there with a message of rejection. It wasn't just whites. A particular segment of blacks didn't like him either.

Washington was a citadel for blacks who had achieved much without the civil rights movement of the 1960s: the black intelligentsia who gravitated to Howard University, the old-line families who traced their roots here back to the 19th century, the professionals and ministers who also occupied the upper rungs of black society. They looked on Barry as a rabble-rouser and, worse, an inarticulate one. Many of them had no idea that the dude in the dashiki was one thesis short of his doctorate in chemistry.

"There were two black Washingtons when Marion came here," recalls Herbert O. Reid Sr., now the mayor's legal counsel. "There were the highly affluent, older families who had accommodated themselves to the limitations. And this was also a time when a great in-migration of southern blacks was taking place."

Barry had a strong affinity with the latter group, and little rapport with the former. Reid saw this and watched with sympathy Barry's long, and only partly successful, campaign to earn the support and affection of the black upper crust. Twenty years the mayor's senior, Reid is the closest thing to a mentor in Barry's life. Reid defended him in the 1960s against legal charges related to his many protests, and he defends him today against efforts to paint the Barry administration as corrupt. He may know the inner Barry better than anybody.

"He really wants to be loved and liked by everybody," says Reid. "He is proud of his achievements and comfortable with his achievements. But I think the background and struggle have left some scars. I think there is some concern about being accepted."

In politics, Barry found the ideal vehicle for satisfying his yearning. As a street activist, he cast himself in the role of guerrilla, working the fringes and negotiating with the entrenched powers. As an elected official, he could actually take the reins of power, influence people, win friends. WASHINGTON, 1971 Barry has come to the offices of Abramson and Himelfarb to talk with David Abramson and his partner Marvin Himelfarb, owners of a small ad agency that is beginning to make a mark in D.C. politics. The Pride leader plans to run for the school board, and he wants to make sure he wins.

Abramson casually asks him what he thinks his chances are. The candidate's eyes narrow. "We'd better win . . . ," he says darkly. The two white ad guys wait uncomfortably for Barry to complete his thought. Finally, the more excitable of the two, Himelfarb, cannot contain himself anymore, and he blurts out, "Or what?"

"Do you think," answers a man who in eight years will control a billion-dollar government, "you could outrun a bullet?" THE EXCHANGE WAS PURE THEATER, OF course, the future mayor employing the threat of violence for effect. Barry passionately wanted to win and Abramson, who would serve him as a political consultant in all his campaigns, liked that about him. Barry's intelligence, his hungry ego and his desire "to be loved by everybody" struck Abramson as tremendous assets.

So are his political instincts. Barry doesn't go for something until he is pretty sure he will get it. He plunged into politics in 1971 only after he was approached by half a dozen school board members who implored him to run against board President Anita F. Allen. Barry would agree only if they helped him raise campaign funds and promised to name him the next board president, a title conferred by board members and not the voters.

"I was smart," Barry says now.

He was doubly smart, because by this time Pride Inc. was in trouble. The organization had received millions in federal funding to create jobs. But in 1970 a grand jury indicted 17 current and former Pride employes in connection with $10,000 worth of payroll irregularities. Mary Treadwell, Barry's successor as the head of Pride and his wife from 1972 to 1977, was convicted four years ago in a real estate scam that was an offshoot of Pride. The future mayor was never implicated in any of the Pride cases or the Treadwell case. With an uncanny sense of timing, he simply moved on.

Barry's segue into elective politics in 1971 was colorful, catching him freeze-frame between his street-dude phase and his "respectable" phase. To some candidates' forums, he came dressed in long-collared, puff-sleeved body shirts. At others, he appeared in a coat and tie. Even when he was late, he always made sure he had a campaign aide there on time to hear, and tape-record, the comments of his opponent. Allen, who was destined to lose the election by 10,000 votes, became infuriated because Barry was reviewing her rhetoric on tape, stealing her best lines and using them verbatim in his own campaign. Barry saw nothing wrong with this, telling reporters, "That's sophistication."

Barry's next steps up the political ladder were equally deliberate. When the first elections for the D.C. City Council

were held under the city's new home rule charter in 1974, Barry ruled out running for council chairman because he didn't think he could win. When he ran instead for an at-large council seat, getting the second highest vote total, it seemed like a tough break that he would have to serve a truncated two-year term because of the need to establish staggered council elections. In reality, it was a boon.

Barry was easily reelected to the council in 1976 and was perfectly positioned to run for mayor two years later. He would have nothing to lose. If he failed to defeat his principal opponents, incumbent Mayor Walter Washington and council Chairman Sterling Tucker, he could stay on the council and run again later. As it turned out, it was Washington and Tucker who lost their jobs, not Barry.

SAN ANTONIO, DECEMBER 1986 It is a magical night in the gentle Southwest. Where the San Antonio River winds past the city's new convention center, the nation's municipal leaders are streaming into a gaily lit courtyard for a reception kicking off the annual National League of Cities meeting.

At the right moment, when the guests are all assembled, a dashing figure with film star looks appears on the balcony with his wife and an aide. It is Mayor Henry Cisneros of San Antonio, a natural, the minority mayor with perhaps the most promising future in America. His moves, his speeches are effortless. He is destined. The next day, a San Antonio paper will publish an adoring account of his career under the headline, "Oh, Henry." All eyes are on him as he descends the staircase to greet his guests.

But wait, the grandest entrance is yet to come. Now appearing on the balcony is the mayor of Washington. Also handsome, some say dashing, he has a different kind of retinue. A beaming Barry has arrived bristling with aides de camp. All eyes are drawn to this flash act with an armed escort as it hits the crowd in a hand-pumping salient: the mayor, his legal counsel, a top policy adviser, his out-of-town-events coordinator, two security officers and assorted hangers-on.

THIS WAS BARRY UNCHAINED, THE MAN as he is today, soundly reelected and launched on his third term. Not a natural, not destined, just determined. And bursting, at least for the moment, with the satisfaction of being Marion Barry. San Antonio couldn't help but notice. "It was Mayor Barry," the San Antonio Light reported, "and a group of about 75 . . . who danced up a storm at Memory Lane, a new 'jazz disco' in St. Paul Square on the East Side, Sunday night. And club sources tell us Barry really cuts the rug."

Here was a full tableau of the Barry style that has grown increasingly imperial during his years as mayor: the glamorous venues, the chauffeur-driven car, the large entourage, the women. Especially the women. Women flutter around the Barry party constantly, whether in San Antonio, Washington or wherever. Even some of the mayor's friends and aides admit he possesses an admiring eye. "He's no different than Teddy Kennedy or Lyndon Johnson," says one. "They're all that way. It comes with the territory."

Barry demurs, "I have a reputation that far exceeds anything I ever do."

Among the first changes Barry made as mayor were new clothes for his closet and better manners. In his first term, friends like former corrections director James Palmer took him on shopping trips for the power suits and red ties he wears. These days, the mayor favors double-breasted fashions and sports lizard skin shoes in the manner of David Rivers, the stylish secretary of the District. Barry has also learned some things about mayoral etiquette. One day during his first year in office, he bought chicken at Popeye's on the way back to work and brought the box with him into the District Building. "Mr. Mayor," an aide protested, "you can't be walking around with a chicken box in your hand."

A security officer carries the chicken boxes now. Barry never goes anywhere without his security detail, a select group of D.C. police officers who form a kind of Praetorian Guard. The presence of two or three ear-wired aides adds gravity to the Barry entourage. The officers are a security blanket, too, for a person who is acutely aware of his mortality.

In March 1977, while still a council member, Barry was shot by Hanafi Muslims during their siege of the Islamic Center, B'nai B'rith offices and the District Building. A ricochet shotgun pellet struck him in the chest, and rescuers were unable to evacuate him promptly because of gunfire. The wound proved to be superficial, but Barry still hasn't shaken the scare he got that day. Some mornings still, he awakes with a sense of foreboding and tells his security men to keep a careful lookout.

The aura that Barry has created extends beyond personal style. Using city government as a backdrop, the mayor has started a number of splendiferous events that revolve around him. There's the city's annual "State of the District" address at the Washington Convention Center, where he masses thousands of government workers, senior citizens and school kids for a mayoral speech and a glitzy sound-and-light show put together by the PR firm that employs his wife Effi. The Potomac Riverfest and the New Year's Eve celebration at the Old Post Office provide showcases for mayoral pomp. In January, Barry outdid himself with an exhausting four-day marathon of parties, breakfasts, a parade and a ball that went far beyond his previous inaugural ceremonies.

When the action fades here, he travels out of the city, sometimes to network with political figures as he did in San Antonio, other times to vacation in the Caribbean or attend an important prize fight or football game. He says he has adopted a high-profile life style because his constituents "appear to expect that," but Barry likes the fast lane. On at least two occasions, he has partied himself into the hospital for treatment of a hiatal hernia that does not respond well to champagne.

Despite his taste for the high life, the mayor vocally prides himself on keeping close to his roots, often declaiming, as he did during the campaign, that he "can walk with kings and queens and not lose the common touch." He seems intent on convincing anyone who will listen that he is a social gymnast, swinging with queens and paupers, exercising the extraordinary ability to relate to every kind of person. It is a Barry fantasy -- nobody is so adroit -- but it is one that takes on meaning for the son of a sharecropper who has faced as much rejection as he has.

It is a fantasy that even some of his detractors believe. Robert L. Green, who resigned as president of the University of the District of Columbia in 1985 after reports that he misspent school funds, criticizes the mayor as a "cold, hard political type" who left him twisting in the wind. But Green remains impressed by Barry's social dexterity. "When Luther Hodges has a cocktail party," Green says, "Marion Barry will be the most charming person there."

Hodges, a Barry ally and president of the National Bank of Washington, recalls such occasions somewhat differently. When the mayor attends a cocktail party with the white males who dominate the city's financial community, Hodges says, "They will be nice to him there and talk about him {behind his back} the next morning."

Intimations that Barry still lacks the proper graces infuriate him, but power has soothed much of his anger. Five years ago, for instance, a newspaper article suggested that Barry's home wasn't fully furnished. Worse, the story drew comparisons of Barry to George Jefferson, television's noisy model of the black nouveau riche. Barry fumed but he did not retaliate. He is no longer the powerless young man who used to spit in the food at the American Legion post.

Now that dark side of the Eagle Scout expresses itself in the flaunting of power and perquisite. That's what the Barry style is really all about. Even this arrogance, however, comes equipped with a fail-safe device. If the mayor indulges himself one week in the excesses of empire, the next week he emerges contrite, currying favor. He rarely permits himself the visceral satisfaction of a good bloodletting, of revenge. That would be a violation of his second law of politics, to cultivate -- rather than cut off -- your enemies.

Only in the cases of a few select sinners has the mayor set aside his second law. These are men who, from within the ranks of the Barry administration, have criticized him or his top lieutenants. Jose Gutierrez, a member of Barry's cabinet, publicly accused City Administrator Thomas M. Downs of trying to influence the award of a multimillion-dollar contract. Gutierrez was publicly flogged, then fired.

Then there was the case of Alvin Frost, a Harvard MBA who spent several years as a cash management analyst for the city government and developed the view that his superiors were incompetent. Frost did some offbeat things. He addressed a torrid critique directly to the mayor. He changed the password to a sensitive finance computer, refused to reveal the new one and then held a guess-the-password contest for kids. Frost was fired.

The real problem with Frost, though, was that he was so often right. He harangued his bosses about their investment of $100 million with a high-flying securities firm. The city barely managed to recoup its money when the firm went bankrupt. He publicly questioned the actions of Alphonse G. Hill, the city's deputy mayor for finance; Hill was later indicted on extortion, fraud and income tax charges.

Perhaps Frost's deepest incision was a letter he wrote to Barry last October 13, a kind of psychoanalytic complement to his other observations.

"The press devotes considerable attention to what you've done since your activist days as a college student and your work with SNCC," Frost wrote. "I believe that the real story goes back to your very early days and holds important clues as to your psychological development . . . The combination of poverty, race, loss of father, etc., created very conflicting drives of insecurity and vulnerability with your ambition and aggressiveness. At bottom, you have always been an opportunist, willing and prepared to take advantage of anything and anyone to achieve your own personal need for power, control and acceptance. Isn't it frightening to be so powerful and yet so insecure?" BEVERLY HILLS, JANUARY 22, 1987 The New York Giants and the Denver Broncos have come to sunny California for the Super Bowl, and so has Marion Barry. His itinerary calls for him to make a political speech on Saturday and attend the game on Sunday. But first, he plans to enjoy himself with a game of tennis at the Beverly Hills Hilton and a manicure. Alas, even as the mayor is getting his nails done in lotus land, a chill wind is blowing in the East.

THE MASSIVE SNOWFALL BACK HOME in Washington produced a very public pratfall for the mayor, and another chapter in the story of Barry Agonistes. The mayor was completely out of touch with the furious reaction that was mounting to the city's inept plowing effort, and he didn't get back until the next week. Having already briefed reporters on his tennis game, his nails and his plans to take more time off in the future, Barry commandeered a police chopper to get an aerial view of paralyzed Washington. Then he made the mistake of defending the city's performance. "We're not a snow town," he noted. The imperial mayor may as well have said, "Let them eat snow."

Within 24 hours, he found himself buried under an avalanche in the news media, on street corners, on talk shows. There was even a bumper sticker that said "Impeach Barry." Digging out, the mayor reversed himself completely, apologized profusely and conceded, "We have been humiliated and laughed at around the country."

The snow episode was melodramatic, but it revealed the basic outlines of an abiding Barry conflict: to prevail and yet to be loved. Just when he had prevailed and was basking in his victory, a chorus of derision snapped him out his euphoria and sent him into a tailspin of contrition.

In more subtle ways, the conflict has set the pattern for his whole political career. The mayor made his exhaustive, though futile, attempt to win white voters in the election last year in part because he once had those voters in his pocket. Without whites and the endorsement of The Washington Post in 1978, he never would have been elected that year. He didn't need whites in 1986, but he wanted them badly.

As mayor, he has consistently gone after those who spurn him, and he has not hesitated to use his mayoral powers to win them over. His frantic courting of constituent blocs, whose interests are sometimes mutually exclusive, has produced a curious effect. Over the years, Barry's electoral base has shifted 180 degrees from the coalition of black activists, white liberals, gays and women who elected him in 1978 to the more mainstream black voters who returned him to office last fall. In the November election, Barry overwhelmingly carried the four wards that rejected him in the decisive 1978 primary. Conversely, he was defeated in the two wards that gave him his highest percentages eight years earlier.

When Barry first ran for mayor, the city's clergy distrusted him because of his alliance with gays, his street militant reputation and his defeat of Anita Allen, the wife of a prominent Baptist minister. He confided to his Memphis friend Ken Cole in 1977 that he knew he was "weak with the church," and said he planned to "join a church and then I will be well-rounded."

The ministers remained unconvinced the first time around, but in 1982 they flocked to him. Barry had quietly courted them by expanding city government support for church-sponsored programs in housing, nutrition and aid to senior citizens. In recent years the mayor has put a number of city-funded drug programs under the purview of the clergy as well.

White businessmen didn't support him in the beginning, either. Indeed, the Greater Washington Board of Trade did not endorse Barry in 1978 or 1982, yielding only last year to his assiduous lobbying. He won over business and real estate interests by mounting an aggressive economic development program, cutting red tape and supporting the rollback of rent-control provisions. Also, by reshaping the way the city handles its finances, Barry gave banks, financial underwriters and bond attorneys city business they hadn't had before.

Even as he harvested the big-business endorsement, Barry retained the backing of organized labor, a neat trick. He accomplished it, says Washington AFL-CIO leader Joslyn Williams, by a "tenuous" juggling of favors and IOUs stretched thin across the gap between management and labor in the city. "The thing about the mayor," says Williams, "is that he can fight you, and at the end of the fight, if he whips you, he will still come back because he wants you in the stable. If you whip him, he will court you because he may need you in the future."

The city's buppies are another Barry acquisition. Shying away from him at first, the rising black professional class now embraces the mayor because he has positioned himself as a champion of black economic empowerment. Barry's program to set aside at least 35 percent of all city contracts for certified minority businesses has directed about $185 million to minority firms in the past year.

The Barry residence on Suitland Road in Southeast Washington is a testament to the appearance, at least, that the mayor has quietly dropped the mantle of street savior and donned the tailored suit of the buppie. With a hint of Tara in its tall white columns out front, the house he bought for $125,000 in 1979 recalls the Delta from which he sprang. The irony is that he hasn't the leisure time to enjoy it, he is so busy riding his political fences in search of breaks. Disaffected liberals represent one very large break in that fence. "Where is his anger?" wonders Mark Plotkin, a Ward 3 liberal whose complaint symbolizes the frustration of many, black and white, who feel Barry has shed his identity as champion of the needy. "We would like to see some of his anger back. The word 'unjust' doesn't appear in his vocabulary anymore."

To assuage the Plotkins, to reassure the bankers, to buttress the buppies: it's an almost impossible task. The demands on his time leave little left over for his 6-year-old son Christopher and his wife Effi, who has on occasion revolted openly. Barry disclosed recently that in 1984 the burden grew so heavy that he decided to quit at the end of his second term.

"It was one of those low moments, I guess, when Effi was unhappy with politics," he says. "I was discouraged by how things were happening, what was going on. The Donaldson situation . . . I said, I am tired of all this. Why do I have to subject my life to all of this? Why do I have to have all this abuse going on when I am trying to do good? Why do I have to always be suspected of lack of integrity and being party to some allegations about drugs, about Effi and I breaking up? . . . She and I talked about it at length. She said, I don't think you ought to run . . . I decided not to run."

The "Donaldson situation" is a specter in the House of Barry. One of the mayor's oldest compatriots, Ivanhoe Donaldson was thrown in prison last year for defrauding the government of nearly $200,000. Barry didn't immediately see a connection between Donaldson's disgrace and his own fortunes, but when he realized that the taint of corruption might rub off on him, he was devastated. "The pain in the Donaldson thing hurt," he says. "I cried a lot, hurt a lot. It wasn't really because of what he had done. But I knew that it was going to hurt me personally -- and it did -- and politically. And it was just going to cast too many spells and doubts . . ."

Donaldson's destiny had been so closely entwined with Barry's. Like the mayor, he was a former SNCC activist who had seen the political potential in a predominantly black city ruled until 1975 by Congress. With Barry, Donaldson rose in government, managing Barry's campaigns and ascending in 1983 to the post of deputy mayor for economic development. Donaldson styled himself Barry's Svengali, devising political strategies, cracking the whip on slow-footed subordinates, charging into the breach. Wherever there was trouble, there was Donaldson.

When the city government was plunged into a fiscal crisis in Barry's first year as mayor, the mayor summoned Donaldson, City Administrator Elijah B. Rogers and Al Hill to solve it. "Al was the numbers man," remembers one lesser light in the group. "Ivanhoe was the idea man." A year later, when the Department of Employment Services couldn't seem to manage its jobs and unemployment insurance programs, Barry sent Donaldson over to straighten things out.

"The hoe," as the New York policeman's son was sometimes called, complemented a mayor whose strength as a politician was sometimes a weakness in an administrator. Barry's ingratiating personality made him a poor disciplinarian, while his aide seemed to revel in the stick.

Just when Barry needed Donaldson the most, though, the hoe was moldering in a federal penitentiary. Barry had conquered his malaise and reversed his decision not to run, but the accumulated problems of his second term wouldn't go away so easily. By early 1986, he was besieged by breakdowns in corrections, public housing, youth rehabilitation and drug treatment programs. He seemed loath to make the tough personnel decisions necessary to turn the situation around. Council member John A. Wilson carped that procrastination had become "the code word of this administration." The gathering cloud of corruption grew darker in March when Al Hill resigned in the middle of a grand jury investigation into an alleged kickback scheme.

The mayor tried to project confidence, insisting that "I am my own best adviser," but he seemed somehow alone in his troubles. Chilled by the censorious stares of those who thought he must be a crook if his former wife and closest political aide were, he launched an around-the-clock reelection effort. He would win despite, and without, Ivanhoe Donaldson.

The landslide victory brought something less than redemption. Ratified in office, Barry still seeks approval. Entrenched, he remains embattled. The obsession is sustained in a man even his friends don't fully understand, a guarded human being behind a flamboyant public fac ade. Barry is, in the words of David Abramson, "the most private person I have ever known intimately." In his own words, he is someone who doesn't know "who all they are, who consider themselves my closest friends. I don't even know yet. I really don't. It is hard."

Marion Barry is a prince of power, sure; but he is also a constant suitor of something that is closer to the bone: approval, acceptance, love, vindication. How else to explain a mayor who wins an overwhelming mandate to govern and then, on a cold night in February, turns up in the far corners of his city to plead his case with a snow shovel?

That night the fire chief had ordered firefighters to remove the snow from the lawns around their stations and put it in the street. Citizen complaints began pouring in to the mayor's command center. Angry firefighters tipped the news media to the chief's inexplicable order. Camera crews were dispatched. The damned snow was back in the street!

Now comes the mayor, storming the fire stations in his Lincoln Town Car. Clothed in a dress overcoat and sneakers, he bends to the task, a distant Memphis drumbeat echoing in his ear, his mind set on clearing the streets by himself.

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