Beleaguered Councilman Marion Barry said he broke no laws in awarding a controversial contract to a former aide with whom he also had a romantic relationship. However, the councilman and former leader frequently dubbed “Mayor for Life,” admitted he showed poor judgement by continuing a relationship with the woman.
“I didn’t use good judgment in recommending a contract to a person whom I was involved personally,” Barry said during a Feb. 23 press conference at Union Temple Baptist Church in Southeast Washington. “I should have known that even though there is no law against it, it didn’t look good.”
Barry, who was accompanied by his attorney Fred Cooke, also said he erred in continuing the relationship with Donna Watts-Brighthaupt, whom he contracted to develop a report that focused on emerging leaders in Barry’s Ward 8. The contract was later terminated after Barry expressed discontent with Watts-Brighthaupt’s work on the project.
Noting the embarrassment he’d caused both the city and City Council, Barry, 73, offered his apologies, insisting that he should have ended the relationship after Watts-Brighthaupt signed the contract back in October 2008. He said that in not doing so, he further exhibited poor judgment.
Barry, a former District mayor, has been involved in several indiscretions in the decades he’s served on the Council. The latest debacle with Watts-Brighthaupt was among a long list of allegations outlined in the “Bennett Report,” an investigation that also sought to scrutinize the Council’s awarding of contracts and grants.
The report was released Feb. 16 and Barry – who was vilified for allegedly taking his cut of the $15,000 Watts-Brighthaupt was paid in accordance with the contract —had one week to respond before Council began discussion over how to proceed with the matter.
In comments made immediately after the report’s release, Barry contended that there were no written policies and procedures in place by which he could be indicted.
However, the investigation, which was conducted pro bono by special counsel Robert Bennett, yielded 107 pages of documentation that also accused Barry of misappropriating about $1 million in taxpayer money connected to grants and contracts given to organizations he allegedly had a personal interest in or controlled.
The funds in question were part of the councilman’s earmark money – funds that are routinely set aside for each councilmember’s pet projects.
According to the report, in 2009 Barry sponsored 41 earmark grants involving more than $8 million – and which amounted to more than one-fourth of earmarks proposed by the Council.
Councilwoman Mary Cheh joined forces with Bennett and said recently that allegations against Barry warrant review by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
“I was deeply saddened and disturbed by the findings and conclusions,” Cheh said.
“ it’s vital to the integrity of the Council that all of what happened be fully disclosed to the public,” she continued. “Nothing has been hidden, nothing has been held back and now we must implement the recommendations in Mr. Bennett’s report and move forward with reforms already started by the Council.”
In terse comments to reporters, Cooke – who openly disagreed with many of the report’s conclusions – said both he and Barry “consistently maintain that no laws were broken” in the Watts-Brighthaupt situation.
When asked if Barry broke any ethical laws, Cooke responded, “I don’t know; that’s difficult to say.”