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Absent Host Barry Prime Topic at Mayors Conference

January 24, 1990

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Marion Barry, the absent host mayor, was a prime topic of private and sometimes-public discussion Wednesday as colleagues in the U.S. Conference of Mayors began a three-day meeting marked by growing concerns about the nation’s drug problems.

″As we see him moving to get treatment for himself, we are caused to realize once again how important it is that treatment be available not only to those in high places, but to everyone who needs it,″ the conference’s president, Houston Mayor Kathy Whitmire said after a speech at the National Press Club.

Members of the big-city mayors’ task force on drugs convened for a strategy session, meanwhile, with panel member Barry absent - undergoing treatment in Florida.

No mayor publicly mentioned Barry’s arrest last week on a cocaine possession charge during the task force meeting, but he dominated their talk outside the meeting room.

″It was a tragedy for the mayor, and it was a tragedy for the District of Columbia,″ said Philadelphia Mayor Wilson Goode. ″I don’t see how it has any impact on what we do here.″

″It epitomizes, it symbolizes, the extent of the drug problem in this country,″ said Boston Mayor Raymond Flynn.

Flynn said, ″I’d like to see an acknowledgement of Marion Barry’s problem″ by the mayor. He said that if Barry is cured of any substance dependence problem, he should spend ″the rest of his life as an example″ to young people about the problems of drugs.

Whitmire praised the Bush administration’s anti-drug efforts in her speech at the press club, but said mayors are looking for more direct federal aid to the cities, without the grants going through state governments.

Her only mention of Barry came in response to a question. She said the arrest and his decision to seek treatment at a Florida drug-and-alcoholism center underscored the broader need for drug treatment opportunities. She said that as long as there is a demand for drugs, dealers and producers will find ways to meet that demand.

She and other mayors shied away from saying whether they believed Barry should resign from office because of the cocaine arrest.

″I’m not going to try to give any political advice to any other mayors,″ she said.

Barry’s appointed anti-drug official for the city, Sterling Tucker, sat in Barry’s chair at the meeting of the drug task force. Barry is also chairman of the mayors’ transportation committee. Conference spokesman Mike Brown said another mayor would fill in for Barry when the panel meets Thursday.

The mayors are awaiting President Bush’s latest plans for federal anti-drug efforts, and they released a study concluding that only a small portion of federal drug-enforcement aid has made it to the nation’s cities.

The study said city governments received just 15 percent of the $150 million in federal funds available for drug enforcement through the two main grant programs during the last fiscal year.

Bush plans to address the mayors - most of whom are Democrats - on Friday. It will be the first time since Jimmy Carter in 1980 that an incumbent president has spoken to the organization of big-city mayors.

Among black mayors, Sharpe James of Newark, N.J., said he did not embrace the suggestion of NAACP executive director Benjamin Hooks that the arrest was part of a pattern of harassment of black elected officials and a ″rising tide of racism.″ But he said racism would be a factor in law enforcement ″until we rule out racism in our country.″

Another black mayor, Cardell Cooper of East Orange, N.J., said: ″I do believe black leadership has come under, certainly, scrutiny. ... I don’t know if you’d call it undue or not.″ He said Barry ″might have put himself in position to invite″ attention and scrutiny.

A third black mayor said he did not see Barry’s case as a particular embarrassment for black officeholders or one that makes their anti-drug efforts more difficult.

″It only proves mayors are human,″ said Mayor John Daniels of New Haven, Conn.

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