In wake of Catania-Barry blowup, D.C. Council resolves to watch language


Council members David Catania, center, and Marion Barry, shown in March 2011, got into a profanity-laced shouting match at a D.C. Council retreat. (Bill O'Leary/WASHINGTON POST)
February 21, 2012

Without debate, the D.C. Council unanimously approved new rules Tuesday requiring members to “treat other members with dignity and respect and refrain from using profane, indecent or abusive language” during public meetings.

Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown (D) pushed the resolution, designed to amend the council’s Code of Conduct, after members David A. Catania and Marion Barry got into a profanity-laced shouting match at a council retreat on Valentine’s Day.

If a similar spat occurs at another meeting, Brown will be empowered to try to remove members from the proceeding, assuming it does not interfere with their ability to cast a vote in formal meetings.

Brown said the policy puts into code internal policies he implemented as chairman in the fall and extends expectations for behavior to any nonformal meeting covered by the Open Meetings Act, including council breakfasts and retreats.

But the resolution did little Tuesday to cool the tension between Catania (I-At large) and Barry (D-Ward 8), who have been needling each other for months.

After the vote, Barry called on Catania to “apologize to the council” for lashing out at him on Feb. 14.

When Barry tried to question Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi about United Medical Center’s finances at the retreat, Catania swore at the former mayor and called him a “despicable human being.” The ensuing argument grew so heated the facilitator hired by the District to run the retreat had to step in to refocus the group, witnesses said.

Though Catania supported Brown’s resolution Tuesday, he told reporters after the meeting he was disheartened by Brown’s decision to bring it up for a vote.

In a barbed critique of his colleagues, Catania said it was ironic that the council was worried about bad language at the same time the body was struggling with numerous ethical lapses.

Catania noted that few of his colleagues spoke up when former council member Harry Thomas Jr., a Democrat who represented Ward 5, was accused of stealing more than $300,000 in city money.

“For this body to inject itself as [etiquette columnists] Emily Post or Miss Manners while last year the majority of members said nothing when a colleague essentially admitted to stealing,” Catania said, letting his words trail off. “Civility is rooted in respect, and civility is rooted in integrity.”

Catania said he has tried to conduct himself with “honor and integrity” but has been increasingly frustrated by the council’s “backslide” amid corruption and ethics concerns.

“It’s devolving into a place I don’t like,” said Catania, who also was frustrated that the media was asking about Brown’s resolution instead of Catania’s bill to reform support services for at-risk youths, which cleared a council committee Tuesday.

But Catania’s shouting match with Barry has generated lots of buzz in political circles across the District, as supporters of both men weighed in.

Some Barry supporters have called on Catania to apologize, but Catania told reporters Tuesday he would not.

“I meant every word I said,” Catania said.

Barry said in an interview that he is confident Brown will “deal with David.”

“The council will deal with David Catania, not me,” Barry said. “The Code of Conduct will deal with that. . . . I am not going to fall into the trap of making this personal. . . . He ought to apologize to the council.”

Tim Craig is The Post’s bureau chief in Pakistan. He has also covered conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and within the District of Columbia government.
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