- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 17, 2000

Mayor Anthony Williams is doing well, so say a lot of District residents. Impressively, 77 percent of D.C. residents approve of the way Mr. Williams is handling city affairs. The evidence, they say, is in noticeable improvements in public safety, public schools and motor vehicle services. This despite the fact that problems with other basic municipal services chief among them schools, street repairs and trash collection dog Mr. Williams as much as his predecessor, Marion Barry. Interesting, then, that as residents begin feeling a measurable sense of optimism, Mr. Barry may be on the verge of a comeback, too.

You see, the legislative branch did not fare well with the poll's 811 respondents. While the D.C. Council's approval rating is up from 38 percent in May 1997 to 50 percent in February, when the poll was taken, this is hardly a measure of confidence. Although the Williams administration has made reform and accountability its mantra, the council pretty much conducts business as usual.

Still, business as usual may look pretty good when you consider what would happen should Mr. Barry decide to run for public office again and win. A city council with Mr. Barry on board will have a completely different dynamic. Mr. Williams will find himself in danger of being overshadowed by a charismatic political presence. Critics of the District's political scene will yet again find a reason to shake their heads in dismay.

A Barry candidacy is on the minds of many voters mostly because of town talk that says Mr. Barry is considering placing his name on this year's ballot. Not as a mayoral candidate, mind you, but in the at-large council races. Two at-large seats are up for re-election this year. One is held by Harold Brazil, a Democrat and former Ward 6 council member who garnered only 4 percent of the votes in the 1998 Democratic primary for mayor. The other seat is held by Carol Schwartz, the most popular Republican in the city and the only mayoral nominee who has ever waged a close run against Mr. Barry. In 1986 she won 43 percent of the votes in the general election vs. Mr. Barry's 51 percent. There could be a similar showdown in this fall's general election, when the two seats will be won by the two top vote-getters.

All this, of course, would bring excitement to this year's elections because, traditionally, D.C. elections have been mere popularity contests, elections determined by a candidate's charisma and name recognition. It is unquestionable that Mr. Barry gets high marks in both areas, explaining why voters returned him to office after his imprisonment on a federal drug charge. Mr. Barry has lost but one race in the District, and that was as an independent council candidate in 1990, the year of his drug bust.

You can be sure Mr. Barry is dissecting the numbers from The Post poll, calculating potential risks and potential support, and trying to gauge how to transform those ratings into votes should he decide to run. The Barry dynamic will gin up interest in the otherwise predictable council races. Marion Barry remains a factor in D.C. politics, whether he runs or not.

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