Council Leader Plans Investigation of Barry's Contract to Then-Girlfriend

D.C. Council member Marion Barry (Ward 8) speaks at a press conference on Thursday in response to his arrest for alleged stalking an ex-girlfriend in Anacostia Park. The charges have been dropped and Barry refused questions that the woman was paid government funds through a work contract. Video by NewsChannel 8/The Washington Post
By Tim Craig, Nikita Stewart and Hamil R. Harris
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, July 10, 2009

D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray will enlist an independent law firm to investigate the $60,000 contract that council member Marion Barry awarded to his then-girlfriend, sources said.

The probe, which Gray will formally announce today, comes amid mounting pressure for city leaders to respond to Barry's use of tax dollars to hire Donna Watts-Brighthaupt, the woman at the center of his July 4 arrest on a misdemeanor stalking charge that was later dropped.

In an interview yesterday with The Washington Post, Watts-Brighthaupt raised further questions about the contract when she said she was hired to study Barry's political life. That would appear to contradict the terms of the contract, which said she would consult on "poverty reduction strategies."

Yesterday, in his first remarks since the arrest, Barry, 73, refused to comment on the $5,000-a-month contract. Instead, he blasted the U.S. Park Police, saying they inappropriately arrested him.

"They have caused great pain to my family, this community and the nation," Barry (D-Ward 8) said at a news conference in front of the John A. Wilson Building. "This has led to embarrassment all around the nation, and the buck ought to be put right at the officer who made the arrest."

But the focus is increasingly shifting away from the arrest and toward his use of public funds. Council members plan to meet today to discuss the issue, sources said. They will probably discuss the possibility of censure or stripping Barry of seniority or of his committee chairmanship, council members said.

Barry hired Watts-Brighthaupt, 40, as a contractor in his office in October, two months after she said they began dating.

According to the initial contract Barry submitted to the secretary of the council, Watts-Brighthaupt was supposed to focus on poverty issues "with a particular focus on affordable housing, supportive services, special needs populations and government income support programs."

Watts-Brighthaupt said she was actually tasked with boosting civic participation. She said the project, "Emerging Leaders of Ward 8," studied Barry's political techniques to create a program to develop young leaders.

"I wanted to know how Marion Barry kept getting reelected and how people choose to vote," Watts-Brighthaupt said. "I learned quite a bit about Marion I am going to take . . . away from this."

Watts-Brighthaupt provided a draft of a brochure for the "Emerging Leaders of Ward 8" program. According to the brochure, the leadership program would train Ward 8 residents, ages 18 to 40, on everything from how D.C. government works to public speaking.

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.

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