WASHINGTON – Former four-term mayor Marion Barry (search) was at the head of the class as three new members of the District of Columbia Council were sworn in Sunday.
Barry (D-Ward 8), Vincent Gray (D-Ward 7), and Kwame Brown (D-At Large) were elected in November in what was seen by many as a strong statement of displeasure with the city government, especially in poorer communities east of the Anacostia River.
Carol Schwartz, R-At Large, Jack Evans, D-Ward 2, and Adrian Fenty, D-Ward 4, who were all re-elected in November, also took the oath of office, administered by six city judges.
"We're going to make Ward 8 the No. 1 ward in the city," Barry said in his acceptance speech, amid cheers and standing ovations. "Ward 8 (search) is often referred to as the city's stepchild, the forgotten ward, the neglected ward. But we're going to bring a new spirit to Ward 8 and a new spirit to the city."
Barry said he planned to introduce several bills in his first 30 days in office, including a proposal for a mandatory 10-year sentence for anyone caught with a handgun, as well as health care reform legislation, a guaranteed summer jobs program and a plan for 10,000 new units of affordable housing.
The former mayor also pledged to fight against any public funding for a new baseball stadium. The council approved plans last month for some the stadium funding to come from tax dollars.
"This is the biggest stick up since the great train robbery of Jesse James. A billion dollars it's going to cost to build that stadium with interest rates, and we're going to fight against it," Barry said.
Williams, who also heard jabs from Gray and Barry over closing the city's only public hospital, predicted that the stadium would be built.
"I'm vowing to see the stadium through," said Williams.
Barry, who infamously was videotaped by the FBI smoking crack in 1990 and wound up serving six months in jail, resurrected his political career for a second time in 2004. He upset Council member Sandy Allen in the September Democratic primary in one of the poorest sections of the city. Barry defeated token Republican opposition in November.
Barry won an at-large seat on the first elected D.C. Council in 1974 and was elected mayor in 1978 and re-elected to two more successive terms before his 1990 arrest. He won the Ward 8 seat in 1992 after being released from jail. That led to a fourth term as mayor, which he won in 1994. Barry declined to seek re-election in 1998.
In their speeches, other council members said their top priorities would be affordable housing, health care and better public schools.
Brown said he wants more summer jobs for young people. Gray promised to work for more economic development in Ward 7. Evans and Schwartz said they would advocate for affordable health care. Fenty highlighted reform for juvenile delinquents.
Gray and Schwartz also urged city leaders to put the same energy they had put into the baseball debate into discussion of social issues.