WASHINGTON -- Voters in the nation's capital next Tuesday will render a decision on Mayor Marion S. Barry Jr. that will be their judgment of his personal conduct as much as it will be a verdict on his political future.
In personal terms, Mr. Barry, who was convicted in August of drug possession and was sentenced last month to a six-month jail term, is challenging voters to decide whether he is any longer fit for public office.
Mr. Barry, having served 12 years as mayor, is seeking election to an at-large seat on the City Council.
"One thing I've learned about recovering from substance abuse is that you have to do something meaningful, something that makes you feel good," Mr. Barry said this week. "I'm sharper now, and more prepared to do this job than I was two or three years ago."
While he is both candidate and issue -- and it is uncertain how he will come out as either -- Washington's voters will be precluded from a simple thumbs-up, thumbs-down decision.
Mr. Barry is one of eight candidates vying for two at-large seats. The two candidates drawing the largest number of votes will win the seats.
He is one of three principal candidates for the two posts. His main opponents are both veteran winners in Washington's electoral politics, and both are black.
Hilda Mason, a 74-year-old former teacher and counselor in the city school system, has won election to City Council ward seats three times as a member of the D.C. Statehood Party. She is regarded as one of the council's most forceful and capable members.
Linda Cropp, 47, has been elected to the D.C. Board of Education three times and was president of the board in 1988 and 1989. She is the candidate of the Democratic Party. About 80 percent of Washington's registered voters are Democrats.
Mrs. Mason's campaign manager, David Splitt, predicted that Mr. Barry would finish third. "It's time for Marion Barry to take his rightful place in local political history -- right along with Spiro Agnew and Marvin Mandel," he said.
Mr. Barry, a lifelong Democrat, left the party in August and became an independent to get on the ballot. He had waited until after his conviction to announce that he would seek an at-large council seat, and by that time Washingtonians had selected party candidates through a primary vote.
Now Mr. Barry must rely on retaining a personal political constituency, built up over his years as mayor and before that as a political activist in Washington's streets. It is a predominantly black constituency in a city that has been racially polarized by Mr. Barry's prosecution.
U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson sentenced Mr. Barry last month to six months in jail, although federal sentencing guidelines for conviction on a first-offense drug-possession count, a misdemeanor, recommend only probation and community service.
Judge Jackson took the unusual step last week of criticizing the Barry jury, which was unable to reach a verdict on 12 of the 14 counts against the mayor.
"I am not happy with the way the jury addressed the case," Judge Jackson said at a forum at Harvard Law School. "Some people on the jury . . . had their own agendas. They would not convict under any circumstances."
Mr. Barry, appearing on "Donahue," said of his sentence, "I believe I should have gotten community service. What we here in Washington don't like is the unfairness."