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D.C. Council set for a vote on censuring Marion Barry

By Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 2, 2010; B02

The D.C. Council is likely to vote Tuesday on censuring Marion Barry, stripping him of his committee chairmanship and referring public corruption allegations against him to the U.S. attorney's office -- actions that could severely reduce his authority and extend his legal troubles, several council sources said Monday.

Barry (D-Ward 8), whose political career has been defined by setbacks and comebacks, apologized last week for using "poor judgment" in securing a $15,000 contract for an on-again-off-again girlfriend. The apology came a week after Washington attorney Robert S. Bennett reported the findings of an investigation into council earmarks, concluding that Barry misused public funds and violated conflict-of-interest rules in awarding the contract to Donna Watts-Brighthaupt and earmarks to organizations in Ward 8. The report also said Barry personally benefited from the contract and impeded the investigation.

Though he maintains that he broke no laws, Barry acknowledged he later received "several thousand dollars" from Watts-Brighthaupt for loans he made to her, according to a supplemental report Bennett filed with the council on Monday. Council members also received written responses to Bennett's initial report from Barry and Rev. Anthony J. Motley, a Barry confidant who received $54,000 in payments from the earmarks.

Frederick D. Cooke Jr., Barry's attorney, said the council should not sanction his client because policies regulating earmarks and personal-service contracts are nonexistent, and a code on conflict of interest does not apply to "romantic relationships."

Most council members do not appear to have been persuaded by Barry's position. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) worked most of the day Monday crafting a resolution that would address sanctions against Barry and reform the earmarks system. He had contacted council members over the weekend but said he did not want to be rushed into a decision Tuesday.

The resolution is expected to include approval of Michael A. Brown (I-At Large) as the new chairman of the Committee on Housing and Workforce Development, now headed by Barry, council sources said. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment publicly on the case. Several council members have endorsed stripping Barry of the chairmanship, said the sources, who added that he would remain a member of the housing committee.

Brown, a freshman with the least seniority, does not chair a standing committee. He heads special committees on statehood and the taxicab industry. He took the lead on taxis after council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) voluntarily relinquished oversight after the arrest last year of his chief of staff, Ted G. Loza, for allegedly taking bribes on taxi issues.

"Clearly, he has a historical perspective I don't have," Brown said of Barry. "The thing about politics is you never know what's going to happen until you get on the dais."

Brown, who said he would consider "bringing one or two people" from Barry's staff "for transitional purposes and continuity," served as interim chairman while Barry recovered from a kidney transplant in February 2009.

At that time, federal prosecutors were making their second request in two years to revoke Barry's three-year probation on misdemeanor tax charges because he failed to file a timely 2007 tax return. They wanted him placed in jail or in a halfway house but backed off after learning that those sites could not handle someone in Barry's medical condition. In May, U.S. Magistrate Judge Deborah A. Robinson extended his probation by two more years.

Federal prosecutors have already been looking into the recent council probe, sources have told The Washington Post.

According to Bennett's report, Barry personally delivered a check to Watts-Brighthaupt, drove her to the bank and waited for her to cash it. Barry maintains, however, that he received no "personal gain."

But Bennett's supplemental report included a harsh retort: "This claim does not withstand scrutiny. It disregards evidence that Council member Barry used his office to secure a public contract for his financially-distressed girlfriend, thereby making it possible for her to repay the several thousand dollars he testified he loaned her. He thus used his office to obtain personal gain."

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