March 31, 2011

WHAT IS SO distressing about D.C. Council member Marion Barry’s latest escapade is not his belief that he can live outside the law. That’s old news. What’s distressing is that he seems to be correct in his assessment.

How else to explain the apparent indifference of police and other officials to the fact of Mr. Barry tooling around town in a car not properly registered? That Mr. Barry is allowed to continuously embarrass the people he was elected to serve erodes the city’s credibility and ability to manage itself.

The most recent instance of Mr. Barry (D-Ward 8) discrediting his office involves, as The Post’s Tim Craig disclosed, his use of a car that has “inactive” D.C. tags and that was not registered with the Department of Motor Vehicles. It’s against the law for anyone to operate a vehicle not properly registered, and violators face a fine of up to $1,000 or up to 30 days in jail. Nonetheless, as Mr. Craig reported, Mr. Barry for more than six months drove his silver 2002 Jaguar — even after the matter came to the attention of police and city parking officials. Police recovered the car in December after it had been reported stolen, but they turned it over to Mr. Barry with a warning not to drive it without registering it. Police say their hands were tied because they didn’t observe Mr. Barry driving the vehicle. In March, the car was booted by parking control officers because — surprise! — Mr. Barry had $705 in unpaid parking tickets. It’s unclear if he ever paid the city’s excise tax on the car’s purchase or if he was able to obtain insurance.

Mr. Barry’s explanation was that the dealership (unnamed) from which he bought the car misplaced the title. In response to our request to interview Mr. Barry, his spokeswoman said in an e-mail to us that “he has parked the car and is not going to drive it until the matter has been cleared up.”

Who buys a car without proper title? Who thinks it is okay to just slap on old license plates from a different car? But, then, every time Mr. Barry breaks the rules, whether it is refusing to file tax returns, failing to pay federal and local taxes or arranging a city contract for a girlfriend, he seems to get a pass. “Oh, that’s just Marion” is generally the response, the noteworthy exception being last year’s unanimous decision of the D.C. Council to censure him for his handling of contracts and council earmarks.

The damage caused to the city’s image by Mr. Barry’s car troubles is diluted only because of controversies involving a number of other officials, starting with Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) and including Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown (D) and council member Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5). The city faces a number of problems in the coming months; its elected officials refusing to abide by the law should not be one of them.