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Barry Elected Mayor of Nation's Capital : Washington: His victory over strong GOP challenger completes his comeback from a federal drug conviction for cocaine possession.

November 09, 1994|ROBERT L. JACKSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Former Mayor Marion S. Barry, in a stunning comeback from a 1990 federal drug conviction, regained his role as chief executive of the nation's capital city, defeating an unexpectedly strong showing by Republican challenger Carol Schwartz.

Surrounded by supporters at the Washington Convention Center late Tuesday, he invited all segments of the city's diverse population to "join me in rebuilding Washington together."

"Now is the time to forget about yesterday," he said, referring both to his own troubled past and to the deep political divisions that have developed in the city.

Elected to the City Council two years ago after being released from prison in 1992, he built on his base by reaching out to the young, the poor and other groups that had never before voted in large numbers.

Having handily defeated his successor, Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly, in the Democratic primary in September, Barry had been considered a shoo-in in Tuesday's general election over Schwartz, a white accountant.

But Schwartz apparently drew stronger support than expected from Republican and independent voters, as well as from crossover Democrats, some of whom said Barry's election would be an embarrassment to the nation's capital. The capital, however, has never had a white mayor.

Following his victory in the Democratic primary, Barry told white voters to "get over" any negative feelings they had due to the six-month prison term he served for cocaine possession.

He hit hard at the theme of "redemption" in his campaign, once telling a group of former drug offenders that their votes could help him change the district's corrections and parole system. Barry said he had overcome his addiction to cocaine and promised to resign from office if he regressed. But he said he would not pledge to take periodic drug tests, calling them meaningless.

Schwartz matched Barry in the vigor of her own campaign. Her theme was that Barry had caused many of the fiscal and social problems that he was offering to solve, and that his failures had hurt many of the same people whom he was asking for votes.

In a dramatic incident that gained national attention, Barry had been photographed in an FBI sting operation smoking crack in a Washington hotel room with a former girlfriend who was cooperating with authorities. That videotape, played for jurors at his subsequent trial and shown to television viewers nationwide, alienated many jurors in the belief that the then-Republican federal Establishment had sought to discredit one of the nation's most prominent black politicians.

In what was considered a defeat for U.S. prosecutors, a jury convicted Barry of only one of 14 drug-related charges, a misdemeanor drug possession. It cleared him of a second drug charge but failed to reach a verdict on 12 other counts, including three felony charges of lying to a grand jury.

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