- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 2, 2005

Newly elected D.C. Council member Marion Barry, two political newcomers and three incumbents were sworn in to office yesterday amid calls for the new council to rechannel its baseball energy toward fixing schools and improving health care.

The most high-profile figure on the 13-member council, Mr. Barry drew laughs in a short speech during the swearing-in ceremony at the D.C. Convention Center, when he rattled off the elected posts he has held since 1971: “School board, city council, mayor, city council, mayor and now city council again.”

The Ward 8 Democrat also took the unusual move of calling to the stage a political opponent, former council member Sandy Allen. Mr. Barry beat Mrs. Allen in the Democratic primary before winning the council seat in November’s general election.

“This wasn’t personal; it was political,” the 68-year-old said of the race against Mrs. Allen. “We’re still friends.”

Mr. Barry said he wants to turn Ward 8, the city’s poorest, into “the number one ward in the city.”

Mr. Barry said that even though the council approved funding the construction of a new baseball stadium for the Washington Nationals, he still plans to fight the use of public financing.

“I don’t want to be controversial, but I don’t mind it,” he said.

“When you look in the dictionary and look under the word courage, you’ll see my picture,” Mr. Barry said.

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams, who attended the ceremony but did not give a speech, said afterward that he is confident Mr. Barry won’t be able to derail the baseball stadium.

“I’m vowing to see the stadium through,” he said.

Among the proposals that Mr. Barry plans to introduce this month is a bill calling for a mandatory 10-year prison sentence for anyone caught using a handgun during a crime.

“There’s too much violence on the streets of the District of Columbia,” Mr. Barry said.

Mr. Barry, who said he usually opposes mandatory sentencing, was captured on an FBI video smoking crack in 1990. He was convicted of misdemeanor drug possession and sentenced to six months in prison. After his release in 1992, he won the Ward 8 council seat, which helped propel him to a fourth term as mayor in 1994.

The latest return to elected office by Mr. Barry has overshadowed the upsets staged by two political newcomers — Kwame R. Brown and Vincent C. Gray — over longtime council incumbents.

Mr. Gray, who beat council member Kevin P. Chavous in Ward 7, drew loud applause when he said that city officials should have never closed D.C. General Hospital in 2001. He called for the construction of a new public hospital.

Mr. Williams said after the ceremony that he also supports building a new hospital, though not a public hospital.

He said the city is in talks with Howard University to help construct a hospital on the site of D.C. General in Ward 6. The site now is used as an outpatient health clinic.

Mr. Gray also echoed a statement earlier in the ceremony by council member Carol Schwartz, at-large Republican, who said city elected officials should bring the same passion and urgency to health care and schools as they did to the debate over building a baseball stadium along the Anacostia River.

The council narrowly approved financing for the baseball stadium last month. Mrs. Schwartz called the debate the most “emotionally charged” she has seen in the District in 30 years.

Mr. Brown, who upset at-large council member Harold Brazil, called for making schools safer and for providing more affordable housing to the city’s police officers and teachers.

“We will never be a great city as long as our children are not safe in our streets and in our schools,” he said. “The residents of this city are no longer willing to have their dream deferred,” Mr. Brown said. “Their patience is running out.”

In addition to Mrs. Schwartz, two other incumbent council members took the oath of office yesterday. Ward 2 Democrat Jack Evans, the council’s most vocal supporter of building a baseball stadium, said he will focus on health care and improving city schools during his 14th year in elected office. “We’re spending $1 billion a year on our public school system,” he said. “We have to do better.”

Adrian M. Fenty, Ward 4 Democrat, said the city needs to do a better job at reforming juvenile delinquents.

“People on Wall Street think very highly of this government,” Mr. Fenty said, noting improvements in the city’s bond rating in the past four years.

However, he said the city continues to hear from parents who complain that they can see the paint peeling off of the walls in their children’s schools.

“People in this city know there is much work to be done,” Mr. Fenty said.

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