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Barry era ends today in D.C.

When the District of Columbia swears in a new mayor today, the curtain will fall on a generation of madcap politics and unfulfilled promises in the nation's capital under the leadership of Marion Barry.

The outgoing mayor, who took the city on a roller-coaster ride for two decades, will be replaced by Anthony Williams, a self-described "big-eared bean counter" with Ivy League credentials and a penchant for bow ties.

Barry, reflecting upon his years of political service including 16 as mayor, said that, at the very least, he had never stolen from the city's coffers.

"I have been a good mayor. One reputation I don't have is stealing money from the public," he said this week.

But Barry, a 1960s civil rights activist and a masterful politician, did get caught smoking crack cocaine, embarrassing Washington residents, and himself, before the world.

Prosecutors spent years investigating Barry, his family, his friends and his political connections. The mayor seemed almost to thumb his nose at them, continuing what many considered reckless personal behavior by frequenting late night clubs of low repute, attending parties on the fringes of society and keeping company with women other than his wife.

A self-proclaimed "night owl," Barry often was seen prowling the city in his limousine until the early hours of the morning, smoking and drinking with political cronies.

He maintained a security detail rivaling that of the vice president, partied at the Super Bowl in sunny California while a foot of snow paralyzed Washington, traveled worldwide sometimes at taxpayer expense and put friends and political allies into government jobs.

While several close Barry associates went to jail for crimes ranging from drug abuse to embezzlement, the mayor was never charged with any crime except the cocaine offenses.

In 1990, the FBI set up a sting operation in which an ex-girlfriend lured Barry to a downtown hotel where he was videotaped smoking crack cocaine.

After serving six months in prison on a misdemeanor conviction for cocaine possession, Barry was elected to the City Council and then won a fourth term as mayor in 1994.

He has since portrayed himself as a prodigal son, an example for those forced to face drug and alcohol dependence.

As he relinquished his hold on D.C. politics, Barry, 62, took credit for new development in downtown Washington, for championing the causes of the poor, the elderly and the underprivileged and for providing opportunities to middle class African-Americans.

Others see Barry's legacy differently.

"At the end of 16 years at the helm," the Washington Post concluded in a Thursday editorial, "Marion Barry's name is engraved on what may be the most politically discredited administration in D.C. home rule history. On balance, his were destructive years in which the city was taken beyond its means."