For Barry, a Familiar Script Takes an Unfamiliar Twist
Thursday, July 9, 2009
It started with an arrest, as it often does. There was a woman involved, as there usually is. And there were the denials, controversial behavior by the police and extraordinary news conferences that feed a local media obsessed with Marion Barry. Within his inner circle, there were the normal efforts to get Barry to back off. As always, he largely ignored the advice.
The initial reaction from outside Barry's world was just as routine: near silence from his fellow D.C. Council members and unwavering support from his constituents, even though to much of Washington Barry long ago ceased being a power player.
The drama could have ended yesterday evening when authorities announced that they were dropping the stalking charges that again put Barry's personal life on display. For his backers, this was evidence that the former mayor is as much a victim of overzealous police as he is a man who seems to court trouble. But there's the likelihood of an investigation into his then-girlfriend getting a $60,000 council contract from Barry (D-Ward 8), which means the sideshow spectacle could continue.
At a 9 p.m. news conference, Natalie Williams, Barry's spokeswoman, said Barry was "thankful" that the U.S. attorney's office decided not to prosecute.
"The short answer is, this is over," she said later.
However, there were calls for an investigation into Barry's use of public funds. His friends and supporters said they are worried about the job given to Donna Watts-Brighthaupt, the woman who police say accused Barry of following her, leading to his arrest Saturday. Records indicate that the payments and cancellations of the contract coincide with their makeups and breakups. So far, Watts-Brighthaupt has been paid $15,000, and at Barry's request, the secretary of the council has approved an additional payment of $5,000.
"Everybody's better off walking away from [the stalking charge], but he has a raft of other challenges he has to deal with," said Frederick D. Cooke Jr., Barry's attorney, referring to the contract.
Last night, council member David A. Catania (I-At Large) urged a probe into the contracts, though it is unclear whether council members can investigate a colleague.
"These are public funds," Catania said. "There needs to be an accounting."
D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles said that he will investigate if the council doesn't. "My strong preference would be to have the council look into it," he said. "After all, it's money allocated to the council. If the council chooses not to look into it, then I certainly would."
Williams said last night that Barry will provide a fuller accounting today of the work performed by Watts-Brighthaupt.
Barry's former campaign manager, Joe Louis Ruffin Jr., also questioned yesterday why Watts-Brighthaupt was paid $500 in campaign funds a week after receiving the city contract. "She didn't do any real work for the campaign," Ruffin said.