The best apology Marion Barry could make: stepping down

Thursday, February 25, 2010

IT WAS JUST a week ago that a defiant Marion Barry tried to bully the special investigators who had detailed his latest ethical transgressions. He defended his conduct ("I'm a different kind of council member"), took umbrage ("even my public enemies . . . have never implied that I ever took a penny that wasn't owed to me") and impugned the investigation ("Asking people about sexual relationships. Asking people if [they've] seen me do drugs. That is totally inappropriate"). So forgive us if Mr. Barry's newfound words of regret ring hollow to us.

"I am truly sorry. I am truly sorry," the Ward 8 council member said Tuesday as he apologized for improperly giving a city contract to a girlfriend who, according to the findings of special counsel Robert S. Bennett, did poor work and shared the proceeds with Mr. Barry. He owned up to a lack of judgment but insisted he violated no laws. He said nothing of allegations that he steered thousands of dollars in city money to questionable groups that benefited his close friends and political supporters.

The event -- during which Mr. Barry took no questions -- was cynically staged inside Union Temple Baptist Church in Southeast. It brought to mind a similar scene in 1990 when, days after the then-mayor was caught on tape taking drags from a crack pipe, he showed up at another church in Southeast Washington to confess a "weakness" for which he would seek help. Or the day four years ago in U.S. District Court, when Mr. Barry apologized profusely for failing to file tax returns and relapsing into drug use.

"How much longer do we have to hear a 73-year-old man discuss his lack of judgment?" asked council member David A. Catania (I-At Large). It is clear that Mr. Barry is hoping his apology will dissuade his colleagues from taking any action when the council meets next week; after all, it's worked before. The council can't remove Mr. Barry from office, but it could censure him, strip him of important committee assignments and refer the allegations to the U.S. attorney's office and the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance.

Even if the council invokes the toughest sanctions available to it -- and we think it should -- it won't be enough to make up for what Mr. Barry's repeated misbehavior has cost the very people he professes to serve. It frankly is disgusting to hear Mr. Barry talk, as he did Tuesday, about the needs of his resource-poor community when his main agenda has been his own welfare. He seems not to recognize the connection between the deprivations of Ward 8 and his lack of effective leadership. If Mr. Barry were really sorry, he would realize it is time for him to make way for someone who can deliver. Or, at the very least, to pay back the money wasted on girlfriends and cronies.

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