Inauguration caps comeback by Barry

January 03, 1995|By Michael A. Fletcher | Michael A. Fletcher,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- Marion S. Barry Jr. completed his remarkable political comeback yesterday, triumphantly taking the oath of office that returned him to the mayor's job he left in disgrace four years ago.

The inauguration ceremony, held before about 3,000 people in the University of the District of Columbia gymnasium, was rich in the symbols of redemption that have fueled Mr. Barry's campaign to recapture his old job.

The poet Maya Angelou, who spoke at President Clinton's inauguration, praised Mr. Barry for being strong enough to win, "despite it all." The mayor's stepdaughter, Tamara Masters Wilds, sung a resounding rendition of "Amazing Grace," her voice soaring on the lyrics, "I once was lost but now I'm found, was blind but now I see."

And after being sworn into his fourth term as mayor, Mr. Barry himself said, "I am grateful to the citizens of Washington for giving me a second chance to lead our great city to a new dawn."

Mr. Barry has indeed been given an extraordinary second chance. In 1990, he was caught smoking crack in an FBI sting operation that was captured on videotape and shown around the world.

After serving a six-month prison sentence for a misdemeanor drug conviction, he was elected to a four-year term on the City Council in 1992. And last May, he announced his candidacy for mayor, eventually winning the primary and general elections by comfortable margins.

Throughout his political comeback, Mr. Barry claimed to be a new man. He was newly married (to his fourth wife), claimed to have been spiritually reborn, and said he was free of drugs and alcohol.

As he launched his candidacy for a fourth term as mayor, he said that his life could be an inspiration for this city, which is struggling under the burden of a high murder rate, an eroding middle-class population and debt that has pushed the government to the brink of insolvency.

He again sounded that theme during his inaugural address.

"I believe we can turn the impossible into the possible," Mr. Barry said to thunderous applause. "I know we can do this, because I've done it. If Marion Barry can do it, then my city can . . . rise up and believe in itself again."

Celebratory air

This city might be down on its luck, but that did not diminish the celebratory air that surrounded the inauguration. In the lobby outside the gymnasium, vendors sold sweat shirts, T-shirts, caps and buttons -- all with Mr. Barry's name on them. A high school choir provided a rousing musical prelude.

And LaToya Royal, an elementary school student from Southeast Washington, provided a touching introduction. In a clear, commanding voice, she went through Mr. Barry's resume, recalling his days as Eagle Scout, chemist, doctoral candidate and civil rights and political leader.

She then lauded Mr. Barry as a man who "never gave up," before turning and offering him a tight hug.

"Who said nothing good came out of Anacostia?" Mr. Barry asked as the crowd roared.

In his speech, Mr. Barry promised to make city government more efficient, to urge young people to turn away from violence and to encourage District businesses to hire unemployed city residents.

"There are 670,000 jobs in Washington," he said. "We just want our fair share."

The swearing-in ceremony marked the high point of two days of inaugural activities. On Sunday, Mr. Barry attended an inaugural church service at the Southeast Washington church that served as the base for his political comeback.

Yesterday, Mr. Barry took part in an early morning prayer breakfast attended by 3,000 people at a downtown hotel. He went on to the inauguration and then led a parade up wind-swept Pennsylvania Avenue.

Waving and mingling

Several hundred people were sprinkled along the parade route as Mr. Barry, accompanied by his wife and a gaggle of close supporters, waved from an open trolley bus. The mayor and his wife, Cora Masters Barry, who chaired the inauguration events, later got off the bus to mingle and shake hands with some of the well-wishers, some of whom had waited along the route for hours.

"Even though I live in Maryland, I wouldn't have missed this for theworld," said Jeane Walker, a Prince George's County resident who attended the parade with her daughter and three grandchildren.

Asked how she felt about Mr. Barry, Ms. Walker said: "Grateful. Grateful. I'm so happy for him."

The celebration, which organizers said was privately financed, was to be capped last night with a $50-a-ticket ball at the D.C. Armory.

Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke was among the elected officials who attended the inauguration.

"Marion Barry has been a friend of mine," Mr. Schmoke said. "There are some regional concerns that we will need to work on together."

Mr. Schmoke added that he was also drawn by Mr. Barry's personal and political comeback.

"He still has to struggle against the problems he faced before," Mr. Schmoke said. "He's made a tremendous turnaround. But with alcohol and drug addiction you can't use the term cured. You can only say he is recovering."

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