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Murder Rate Has Mayor Reeling. Scandals and Barry's ties to alleged drug dealers help threaten autonomy of district. WASHINGTON HOMICIDES

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MARION BARRY, mayor of the nation's capital, recently stood in the glare of television lights trying to explain why murders are being committed in his city at a rate of one every 16 hours. News media grillings, sometimes on national television, have multiplied for Mayor Barry since Washington, D.C., this year achieved the distinction of having the highest homicide rate in the nation.

On Monday, William Bennett, the federal narcotics chief, criticized Barry's administration for not doing more to stem the drug crisis that has yielded the flood of drug-related murders.

``The plain fact,'' Mr. Bennett said, ``is that for too long and in too many respects, the D.C. government has failed to serve its citizens.'' He then proceeded to detail a Bush administration plan to combat drugs in the nation's Capital.

The result: Mr. Barry, whose administration was already weakened by previous scandals, is now fighting for his political life. He also faces the specter of the federal government wresting control of the district's police force after 14 years of district home rule.

Last month, the mayor appeared before a Senate subcommittee and was sharply criticized for his handling of the district's crime problem. Later that day, he requested $102 million in federal aid to hire 800 more police officers, boost drug prevention programs, and expand prison space.

The flurry of public criticism has only added to Washington's deteriorating public image. A recent Washington Post nationwide poll found that about half of all Americans believe the District of Columbia government is more corrupt than other large cities and that problems in the city were out of control.

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