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Except for Murders, City is Safe, Mayor Says

March 24, 1989 GMT

WASHINGTON (AP) _ District of Columbia Mayor Marion Barry Jr. said Thursday that the nation’s capital remains safe for tourists and visiting business people, even in the face of a record murder rate.

″For the most part, the targeted killings and drug activity take place in a small section of the city,″ Barry told a luncheon audience at the National Press Club. ″Except for the killings, Washington has one of the lowest crime rates in the country.″

Barry’s address, the first delivered by a Washington mayor to the press club in 81 years, came in the midst of a drug-related crime wave that has thrust Barry’s government into the international spotlight.

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In 1988, a record 372 people were killed in the district; police say drugs played a part in 60 percent of those killings. Through Thursday, 119 people have been murdered this year in the nation’s capital, roughly twice the number at the same time last year.

Barry stressed repeatedly that Washington’s drug-related killings are occurring in poorer neighborhoods far from the downtown and the national monuments.

″Congress is safe; everyone is safe,″ Barry said. ″I hope to come back here next year and tell you Washington is safer than ever before.″

Barry, who is under federal investigation for his ties to a drug suspect, said that the city’s crime problems - not his personal difficulties - are behind the city’s public relations difficulties.

″Drugs are the problem, not Marion Barry,″ the mayor said. ″I urge the media to be fair.″

The mayor said he welcomed assistance from federal officials in curbing the city’s drug problem.

He said he has had ″productive″ conversations recently with Bush administration drug policy coordinator William J. Bennett, who is considering giving the city extra federal aid and personnel to fight its drug problem.

He also said he would welcome the opportunity to talk with Rep. Stan Parris, R-Va., who said Wednesday he plans to introduce legislation in the House to have the federal government take control of the city’s police force.