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Don’t delay, launch investigation of Barry
A much younger ex-girlfriend. Angry voicemails. Run-ins with the United States Park Police. When Councilmember Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) was arrested for stalking his ex-girlfriend last July, all the right plot ingredients were in place for another installment in the tragicomic saga of Washington’s former mayor. The situation was bizarre enough for Washingtonians to wonder, as they so often do with the councilmember, “What do you do with a problem like Marion?” only to let his improprieties slide after another crushing victory on Election Day.
But the recently released council-mandated report on Barry’s arrest, and the revelations that followed, paints a much more sordid picture, one that the District and its Council cannot ignore or laugh away.
To start with, Donna Watts-Brighthaupt, the woman Barry was allegedly stalking, wasn’t just his ex-girlfriend. She was also his employee, receiving thousands of dollars from the D.C. Council for producing reports. The investigation discovered, however, that portions of those reports were plagiarized from the Internet. According to the report, Barry received a cut of each of Watts-Brighthaupt’s paychecks for her dubious work.
Watts-Brighthaupt wasn’t the only employee with whom Barry tried to mix business and pleasure, according to Sharon Wise, who previously worked on an alcohol rehabilitation program in Ward 8 for the Council. Wise claims Barry sexually propositioned her “probably 562 times,” and was soon fired after she approached the Inspector General with her concerns.
Barry’s colleagues on the D.C. Council should forward the report to the United States Attorney’s Office and push them to investigate the alleged criminal activity. The outlook for prosecution might not seem positive—after all, many of these allegations have been around since the summer, and the U.S. Attorney is not known to be investigating Barry. But with a new U.S. Attorney appointed for the District just last week, the case has a better shot at receiving the investigation it merits.
While the Council may encourage the U.S. Attorney to prosecute the case and—at the very least—censure him, Barry will only truly be expelled from public life if his constituents repudiate him. The traditional explanation for Barry’s baffling popularity in his ward is that he steers jobs and contracts to a marginalized portion of the city. This is true, to an extent—Barry has been providing residents with work since 1968, when he founded a jobs training program, and as mayor he was instrumental in founding the District’s summer jobs program for teenagers.
After this report, however, Barry is crippled as a councilmember. He will likely lose his chairmanship on the Committee on Housing and Workforce Development. Other councilmembers will be wary of sponsoring future legislation with Barry, lest it be loaded with kickbacks for former girlfriends. This should give pause those who voted for him because of his ability to channel much-needed city money into neighborhoods across the river.
Now that Barry’s improprieties have been revealed, it’s time he resigned. If he won’t do it on his own, the Council and Ward 8 should certainly help him along.