Marion Barry says he's 'truly sorry' about giving a contract to a girlfriend

By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 24, 2010; B01

D.C. Council member Marion Barry apologized Tuesday for causing the city what he called "great embarrassment" for improperly awarding a city contract to a woman he had been dating, but the former mayor said he will not give up a political career that spans nearly five decades.

Standing near the pulpit in Union Temple Baptist Church in Southeast, Barry (D-Ward 8) said he did not use "good judgment" when he hired Donna Watts-Brighthaupt after they began a romantic relationship in 2008.

"I apologize for my actions and lack of sound judgment and for causing great embarrassment to the city and the city council," Barry said. "I am truly sorry. I am truly sorry. I intend to work as hard as I can to help repair the damage, and I am also committed to work even harder for residents of Ward 8 and the city."

Barry's mea culpa came one week after lawyer Robert S. Bennett had accused him of public corruption in a report to the council. His apology represents a significant change from remarks he made after the report was released, defiantly denying that he did anything wrong because there are no rules governing personal service contracts.

Bennett, who was hired by the council in July to investigate earmarks, concluded that Barry took a cut of the $15,000 contract he secured for Watts-Brighthaupt and that he impeded the investigation in potential violation of District and federal laws.

Bennett, best known for representing President Bill Clinton during the Paula Jones lawsuit, also found that Barry steered city earmarks to friends and political supporters. Bennett recommended that the council refer his findings to the U.S. attorney's office for possible criminal prosecution.

Barry, who was videotaped smoking crack with a former girlfriend in 1990 and is on probation for failing to file tax returns, had until Tuesday to file an official response to Bennett's report. Fred Cooke, Barry's attorney, said that a rebuttal had been drafted, but he declined to release it.

The D.C. Council plans to use the Bennett report and Barry's response to determine, perhaps as soon as next week, whether to censure Barry and strip him of his committee assignments. The council could also refer the matter to the U.S. attorney's office, although sources have told The Washington Post that federal prosecutors have been examining the facts of the case.

'I should have known . . .'

Barry denied Tuesday that he violated any laws. Without offering specifics, he said his behavior amounted to a personal but not criminal failing.

"Even though there was no violation of conflict of interest, there was a violation of law of good and sound judgment," Barry said. "I didn't use good judgment in recommending a contract to a person whom I was involved with personally. I should have known that, even though there is no law against it. It didn't look good, and doesn't smell good."

Despite Barry's previous legal troubles, the controversy over Watts-Brighthaupt's city contract represents the first time Barry has been accused of pocketing tax dollars. According to the Bennett report, Barry awarded Watts-Brighthaupt a contract to work for his council office a few months after they began a sexual relationship. But Bennett concluded that Watts-Brighthaupt did little work for the $15,000 she received from taxpayers.

"I should have decided either to end the relationship and kept the contract or canceled the contract and kept the relationship," Barry said Tuesday. "I did neither, and again, this was very, very poor judgment on my part."

Barry's statement marks the second time in less than a year that he has been forced to publicly explain his relationship with Watts-Brighthaupt.

In July, Barry was arrested in Anacostia Park on allegations of stalking Watts-Brighthaupt. Although the charges were dropped, the case led to news reports about her contract and Barry's use of earmarks. Barry, 73, said at the time that he had ended his relationship with Watts-Brighthaupt, 40. But the two have been seen together in public multiple times in recent months. According to the Bennett report, Barry had stayed at Watts-Brighthaupt's house in November.

Regrets over relationship

On Tuesday, Barry said again that he regretted the relationship.

"I should have given up much earlier on trying to repair a relationship that was not repairable," he said. "If I had used sound judgment at the very beginning, we would not have had" the arrest July 4, Barry said. "I know my actions, my lack of sound judgment and just plain good sense has led to embarrassment to the city."

But Barry, who did not take questions after he read his statement, made no mention of Bennett's allegations that he diverted $450,000 in city to money to six nonprofit organizations that were designed to boost his political standing in Ward 8. The Bennett report also alleges that Barry secured earmarks for his friends, including the Rev. Anthony Motley.

Motley, a possible candidate for an at-large seat on the D.C. Council this year, has scheduled a news conference Wednesday to respond to the allegations.

"Without proper discourse and disclosure concerning this matter, it leaves one to believe that I, and the organizations I represented, received funds based solely on political favoritism and friendship," Motley said Tuesday. "I want to dispel that notion and continue to serve the people of the District of Columbia."

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