D.C. Council votes to censure Barry, strip him of chairmanship

The D.C. Council has censured Marion Barry and referred allegations that he misused taxpayer funds to the U.S. Attorney's Office for possible criminal investigation.
By Nikita Stewart and Jonathan Mummolo
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, March 3, 2010

D.C. Council member Marion Barry, at times slumped in his seat, pleaded with fellow Democrat Muriel Bowser, reminding her that he had known her since she was 7 years old. He appealed to Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray, recalling their 35-year friendship, filled with intimate conversations.

Once the city's most powerful politician, Barry dropped his usual defiant tone in Tuesday's council meeting, where he was reduced to calling on longtime friends to save what's left of his stature. "You don't want to be known as the person who took Mr. Barry's due process away from him," Barry told Gray. "You're too good a person. I know you better than that. I love you. You're my friend. You got caught up."

But his pleas and his argument that he was being unfairly "singled out" did not persuade Gray or any other council members, who voted 12 to 0 to censure Barry, strip him of his committee chairmanship and refer allegations of public corruption to the U.S. attorney's office for possible prosecution.

The unprecedented sanctions stemmed from an investigation by Washington lawyer Robert S. Bennett, who concluded that Barry took a cut of a $15,000 contract he awarded to his then-girlfriend, Donna Watts-Brighthaupt. Barry violated conflict-of-interest rules and impeded the investigation, the report said.

Barry (Ward 8) twice implored colleagues to wait for an ethics review before they passed judgment. He told them that the report "reduced Marion Barry, 40 years of service, to a petty thief . . . to a Southeast hustler."

The sanctions further stain a career littered with scores of missteps, including Barry's 1990 arrest and later sentence for cocaine possession and his more recent tax troubles, which resulted in probation.

After the council meeting, Gray (D) was reflective and said in an interview that he did not mind Barry's mention of their longtime friendship. "You were looking at a man who's given 40 years of service to the city. He wanted to make the best case he could," Gray said. "He was appealing to everything he possibly could."

Bowser (Ward 4) said she had heard Barry tell the story of meeting her as a child before, but she was stunned that he shared the recollection on the dais Tuesday. "I was very perplexed. . . . I don't know. I don't know what to say," she said in an interview. "I feel very sad about it, but I think the process was fair."

'That's not justice'

At the council meeting, Gray gave Barry leeway to state his objections. Barry gave a series of long speeches, each before the resolutions that punished him and reformed the council's rules on reprimand and censure.

His first speech, which clocked in at 16 minutes and 30 seconds, came before the council unanimously approved the first resolution that censured him and referred the findings of the probe to the Office of Campaign Finance and the U.S. attorney's office for possible criminal prosecution.

He argued that Bennett's report was "inflammatory, accusatory, drawing conclusions without fact," and he said he did not violate the law. He urged his colleagues to refer the matter to the Board of Elections and Ethics before making any decisions. "Some people say, 'Well, let's just punish him anyway and see what happens,' " he said. "That's not justice. That's not due process. That's totalitarianism. You expect that in Russia, Iran or somewhere. Not in America."

When Gray called for the vote, Barry, whose microphone was not on, said, "Roll call." He repeated it. And when the last "aye" was spoken, he said, "I'm going -- what's the word?"

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