Standing up to Marion Barry

The council votes 12-0 to censure Ward 8 Council member Marion Barry and refer public corruption allegations against him to the U.S. attorney's office -- actions that could severely reduce his authority and extend his legal troubles.
Wednesday, March 3, 2010

MARION BARRY (D-Ward 8) tried every tack as he sought to persuade his colleagues on the D.C. Council not to sanction him. He said he had broken no laws, claimed he was being treated unfairly, attacked the investigators and -- in a final, emotional appeal -- cited the history he shares with many on the dais. It was clear, though, that his council colleagues finally had had enough as they unanimously voted unprecedented punishments against Mr. Barry. Their actions Tuesday, while no cause for celebration, were a necessary affirmation that the public's trust is not to be violated.

The council censured Mr. Barry, stripped him of his committee chairmanship and voted to refer allegations of his wrongdoing to the U.S. Attorney's Office. The action -- the first time the council has ever condemned one of its own -- came in the wake of a withering report that concluded that Mr. Barry steered public funds to a girlfriend and other associates, that he shared in the proceeds and that he tried to impede the investigation. So damning were the findings of the report by D.C. attorney Robert S. Bennett that words of explanation from council members were unnecessary.

So, there were no speeches. Instead, there was only Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) soberly reading a statement that said the council needed to express its collective disapproval "to ensure the self preservation and institutional integrity of this council and its proceedings."

The somber mood befitted the seriousness of the situation and was in keeping with the sure leadership displayed by Mr. Gray as he steered the council through uncharted waters. Mr. Gray recruited a top-notch investigator, gave him complete autonomy and had the resolve to follow through. It couldn't have been easy. Mr. Barry unabashedly singled out the chairman, telling him they go back 35 years: "I love you, you're my friend. . . . I think you got caught up." But for all Mr. Barry's protestations about being railroaded, there were 11 other council members taking a stand that no matter how popular you are or what you think you have contributed, there are consequences for wrongdoing. At last, Mr. Barry came face to face with them.

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