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The GW Hatchet


The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

Law professor first to condemn D.C. council member Marion Barry

This post was written by Hatchet Reporter Justin Kits

Law professor and D.C. City Councilwoman Mary Cheh was the first to call for condemnation of fellow council member and former D.C. mayor Marion Barry after a new ethics report accused him of corruption.

The report, which was presented to the council during a hearing last Tuesday, found that Barry had misused thousands of dollars of contracts for himself, a girlfriend, friends and others close to him. According to the report, Barry arranged for a “personal services contract” of $15,000 to be awarded to Donna Watts-Brighthaupt, “with whom he had a sexual and close personal relationship.” The report also said that Barry then received portions of the payments he arranged for her.

“Nothing has been hidden. Nothing held back,” Cheh said in a statement. “It is important that the Council condemn the transgressions of Councilmember Barry.”

Cheh, who represents Ward 3, which covers the area around American University, also urged the Council to act on the report’s recommendations to refer the matter to the United States Attorney’s office and the Board of Elections and Ethics.

Additionally, the report found that Barry – who represents Ward 8 which covers many neighborhoods in Southeast D.C. – abused his Council earmark grant privileges. Many of the organizations that Barry steered funds to were “rife with waste and abuse,” according the report. They also provided “substantial financial benefits” to his close friends and supporters.

Last Tuesday, Barry spoke at a church in Southeast, apologizing for his actions but denying any legal wrongdoing.

“I know my actions, my lack of sound judgment … led to embarrassment to the city and put political pressure on my colleagues,” Barry said. “Truly apologize … I am truly sorry. I intend to work as hard as I can to help repair the damage.”

The council is expected to take action on the report on March 2. Although the council can censure Barry and strip him of committee positions, they cannot remove him from the council. Only voters can remove elected officials from office.

During the hearing Barry insisted that the Council had “no procedures, no guidelines” for administering personal service contracts and other reports for earmark requests. Because of this, Barry said he cannot be “held accountable for violating something that didn’t exist.”

“I’m a different kind of council member,” Barry said, adding that he was elected to get resources to uplift the people of Ward 8. “I don’t apologize for getting as many resources to Ward 8 as I can. If I could of quadrupled it, gotten 100 more. I don’t apologize for that.”

This is not Barry’s first encounter with legal trouble. Barry served as the mayor of D.C. from 1979 to 1991, before being sentenced to six months in prison on drug charges. In 2005, Barry plead guilty to charges that he did not pay his taxes. Federal prosecutors also claimed that Barry did not file his 2007 tax returns. In 2006, Barry was found not guilty of driving under the influence.

Despite previous legal troubles, Barry said that in 55 years of public service, “my public enemies, my political enemies, my other enemies, have never, ever implied I took a penny that didn’t belong to me.”

“I would support a resolution of censure—and other steps the Council may agree on,” Cheh said. She also emphasized that the Council needs to come together and decide on a course of action. Her office confirmed that she would “definitely” be willing to support censure.

A request for comment to Barry’s office was declined.

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