William Bennett, stepping down Thursday as President Bush's anti-drug abuse chief, said his job was made harder because Mayor Marion Barry was a crack cocaine user.
Bennett said that as head of the Office of National Drug Control Strategy, he devoted special attention and resources to the District of Colombia not to make it a showcase, but because it was "a basket case."Bennett was asked how Barry's cocaine problems - which resulted in a conviction for cocaine possession and a six-month prison sentence - affected the Bush administration's efforts on drugs.
"Did the fact that the mayor used cocaine and crack make it easier or harder? It made it harder," he said. "You got a real serious problem when the chief executive officer of the city that has a drug problem is taking crack. . . . I didn't know it at the time. But I suspected that his interest in the topic was different from mine, and we were going to get less than 100 percent cooperation."
He said, however, he did not "find any hard evidence that would have held up in a court of law" about Barry's drug use.
"I did not think he was part of the solution. He's part of the problem," said Bennett, who was criticized in some quarters for bringing the federal anti-drug effort into Washington, D.C., without much consultation of city officials.
Bennett gave a vote of confidence to the city's mayor elect, Sharon Pratt Dixon, a Democrat who beat the Republican Bush supported, Maurice Turner.
Bennett also said that a frequent critic of his drug policy, Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., chairman of the House Select Committee on Narcotics Abuse and Control, "is a gas bag. He has nothing to do with drug policy."
President Bush, accepting Bennett's resignation, said he had done a "superb job for this country" in fighting the war against drugs.
Asked if he had anyone in mind to replace Bennett or Labor Secretary Elizabeth Dole, who resigned two weeks ago, Bush said, "Not yet."
Bennett said that he is leaving government to become a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank.
As to speculation he might seek public office, the outspoken conservative said, "Not any time soon."