Mayor of DC to be stripped of his powers

Marion Barry, the much-criticised Mayor of Washington DC, faces losing the bulk of his powers under proposals agreed yesterday. Mr Barry, re-elected in 1994 after serving a jail term for drug offences, will have to hand control of nine committees, including public works, housing, personnel, schools and police, to a federally appointed financial-control board whose job will be to ensure probity and sound accounting.

It is the latest stage in a struggle for control of the capital, which for decades was administered by the federal authorities until it was decided in 1973 that it should have an elected administration, just like any other US city. The move was largely a response to pressure from the city's black majority. Mr Barry, who like most of the councillors is black, benefited.

But his conduct during his first term, which included being discovered smoking crack cocaine with a prostitute in the lobby of a hotel (he insists it was a set-up), made him even more controversial.

His race, and his influence with the black majority, guaranteed him re- election when he left prison.

But it also ensured city politics would be perpetual guerrilla war between Washington's growing black population and its declining white population.

Mr Barry's return to office prompted many whites to move from the Washington- administered District of Columbia into the adjacent states of Maryland and Virginia, a process that continues.

Now joined by better-off blacks, they complain not just of poor city services, but of mismanagement, corruption and neglect of the infrastructure that leaves Washington unworthy to serve as a showcase for the US.

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