Rehabilitated Barry wins Washington mayor's race ELECTION 1994

November 09, 1994|By Michael A. Fletcher | Michael A. Fletcher,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- Marion S. Barry Jr. completed his political rehabilitation last night, recapturing the mayor's office he left in disgrace nearly four years ago.

Mr. Barry, who was humiliated publicly after being caught on videotape smoking crack during an FBI sting operation, won 53 percent of the vote to 45 percent for his Republican opponent, Carol Schwartz.

The victory margin was based on about two-thirds of the votes cast in this overwhelmingly Democratic city.

Appearing with Ms. Schwartz before a cheering throng at his victory party at the Washington Convention Center, Mr. Barry said he wanted to build coalitions with those who opposed his candidacy.

"It doesn't matter who you voted for in the general election, the general election is over," he said. "Join me in rebuilding Washington."

In a tearful concession speech earlier in the evening, Ms. Schwartz told cheering supporters: "You have sounded a wake-up call that will ring through out our city for years to come."

Backers of Mr. Barry said they admired his ability to rebound from his embarrassing downfall.

But critics said he ran a corrupt administration as mayor before succumbing to drugs -- a point pounded home in the general election campaign by Ms. Schwartz, a former member of the City Council and the school board.

After his stunning -- and decisive -- Democratic primary triumph in September, Mr. Barry's general election victory was seen by many as a foregone conclusion because four of five registered voters in Washington are Democrats.

Despite the long odds, Ms. Schwartz, 50, aggressively hammered Mr. Barry throughout the campaign, making it plain that she thought he mismanaged the city during his last term as mayor.

The nation's capital is saddled with debt, middle-class flight, a problem-plagued school system and a murder rate that ranks among the worst in the nation.

Ms. Schwartz went so far as to say that Mr. Barry's problem with crack, which culminated in his arrest and conviction on a misdemeanor drug charge four years ago, contributed to the city's high rate of violent crime.

She also reminded voters that more than a dozen top government officials were indicted during Mr. Barry's 12 years as mayor.

The prospect of his election even prompted some talk of secession among some residents of a predominantly white, upper-middle-class section of the city where Mr. Barry is highly unpopular.

Ms. Schwartz's criticism apparently took hold during yesterday's election as Mr. Barry found himself struggling in sections of the city where he was expected to do well.

"I had no idea it would be this close," said Margo Magruder, a southeast resident, as she watched the early returns flashing on a large-screen television at the Barry party at the convention center.

Mr. Barry later praised Ms. Schwartz's effort. He embraced and kissed her before his victory speech, saying: "I'm glad to see Carol Schwartz, who fought a tough fight. But that fight only built my character better."

Mr. Barry, 58, crafted a political campaign that inspired many young and poor people to register and vote.

After serving six months in prison for his drug conviction, Mr. Barry won a seat on the City Council in 1992, married for the fourth time and proclaimed himself spiritually reborn -- a theme that has resonated with much of this city's black-majority population.

Throughout the campaign, Mr. Barry trumpeted his spiritual rebirth and said that the city could experience a similar renewal under his leadership.

He presented himself as the one politician with the fiscal hTC expertise to put the city's budget in order and the person to bridge its vast social and racial chasms.

Mr. Barry's claims brought sneers from his detractors, who view him as an incorrigible hustler. But his promises won over many district voters.

Washington faces serious financial trouble, in part because of the spiraling costs of entitlement programs, such as Medicaid, and an eroding tax base caused by a fast-shrinking middle class.

Powered by support from black voters of all economic levels, Mr. Barry easily won the Sept. 13 primary over Councilman John Ray and Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly.

His surprisingly strong showing prompted a popular councilman, William Lightfoot, to abandon his independent mayoral candidacy.

Ms. Kelly endorsed his general election bid, as did Eleanor Holmes Norton, the district's nonvoting delegate to Congress.

Mr. Barry's campaign was also embraced by Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.

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