Mayor Marion Barry Jr. said Tuesday he welcomed the federal government's planned major drive on narcotics-related crime in the capital but rejected drug czar William Bennett's contention that his administration's poor performance made the intervention necessary.
Bennett's plan, announced Monday, calls for construction of new pre-trial detention and prison facilities, expansion of a local law enforcement task force, efforts to rid public housing of drug users and dealers, expansion of drug treatment facilities and an increase in job training programs.However, the District of Columbia government will receive no direct funding. Instead, Bennett said, the effort's $70 million to $80 million estimated cost will come from existing federal programs.
"I've said this as frankly as possible - the local government has not acted in as responsible a way as it should," Bennett said. "The plain fact is that, for too long and in too many respects, the D.C. government has failed to serve its citizens."
Barry, who is under federal investigation for his relationships with a suspected cocaine dealer, refused to accept reporters' questions Monday, but he went on NBC-TV's "Today" show Tuesday morning to defend the local anti-drug effort.
"The D.C. government, I think, has been vigorous. We've had more people arrested than any other city in America - over 12,000 people in jail, getting longer sentences," Barry said.
"I think we've got to begin to attack the social causes" of drug abuse, he said, noting cuts in federal education, job and housing programs during the Reagan administration. And he said the federal government needed to do a better job of stopping the importation of drugs.
"I'm like any other mayor," Barry said. "We welcome all the help we can. We will fight as hard as we can ... We're going to win this war."
Washington became the nation's per capita murder capital last year with 372 slayings, most of them drug-related. This year, there have been 135 homicides, compared with 87 at the same time last year.
Barry had said Monday he was grateful for extra federal help in the drug war, but abruptly left a news conference before reporters could ask him if he had been stung by Bennett's comments.
"We welcome the idea of Washington being a model (in the war on drugs)," Barry said. "We look forward to a long working relationship."
"We don't feel that the city has failed in its management in this area," said city administrator Carol Thompson, who fielded questions after the mayor's sudden departure.
Rick Blake, a Barry spokesman, said the mayor had staff meetings to attend and could not wait for the completion of the press conference.
Barry said he had discussed the plans at length with Bennett, but Bennett played down the mayor's involvement.