D.C. Council members Marion Barry Jr. and David Catania engaged in a profanity-laced shouting match that nearly turned physical at the annual council retreat Tuesday, according to eyewitness accounts and interviews with both men.
After the argument over the future of United Medical Center in Southeast settled down, Barry (D- Ward 8) accused Catania (I-At Large) of harboring a long-standing disrespect for “black men.”
Catania, in turn, said Barry’s legacy will be one of failure because he has turned his back on his constituents and has allowed his life to be overtaken by personal drama. In the interview, Catania also strongly refuted Barry’s assertion of racial bias, saying the claim was “vintage Marion.”
Catania and Barry have had a poor relationship since Barry voted against Catania’s same-sex marriage bill in 2009, often sparring on the dais and in committee meetings.
The dispute on Tuesday happened at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, where all 12 council members gathered for a day of public and private meetings.
During a briefing by Chief Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi, Barry asked a question about the future of the hospital, which Catania takes credit for helping to rescue from bankruptcy.
According to eyewitnesses, Catania began hurling expletives at Barry.
Washington Examiner reporter Alan Blinder, who was in the room at the time, said Catania called Barry a “despicable human being” along with a stream of expletives.
At one point, according to eyewitnesses, Barry stood up to direct his ire back at Catania.
“All right, come on,” Catania responded, according to sources, who asked not to be identified so they could speak freely about the matter.
After the tension subsided, Gandhi ended his briefing and the council members went back to discussing the year’s legislative agenda.
In an interview with the Washington Post, Barry said he wants Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown (D) to look into Catania’s behavior.
“He doesn’t respect a whole bunch of us on the council, particularly us black men,” Barry said.”Its a pattern of him being rude, disrespectful. He has one vote. I have one vote.”
Barry added he nearly came to blows with Catania, but restrained himself because he respects the council.
“If I wasn’t on the council, there would be fisticuffs,” Barry said.
In a separate interview, Catania said he “absolutely” does not back down from the language he used with Barry.
“If he can’t take me swearing at him, too bad,” Catania said.
Catania said he has “hit a wall” with Barry because he “hasn’t done anything to improve the lives of the people in his ward.”
“Elvis has been to United Medical Center more than Marion Barry,” Catania said. “If I were Marion, I’d be upset to when you look back at his legacy.”
Catania added Barry was wrong to question the success of United Medical Center because the hospital turned a profit last year.
Barry said the recently updated council code of ethics includes a prohibition of profanity.
In an interview, Brown said he’s inclined to let Catania’s outburst pass because it happened at a retreat instead of a formal council meeting.
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