(March 10, 2010) – Councilman Marion Barry’s supporters questioned the fairness of the District of Columbia Council’s censure of their Ward 8 peer last week. While Barry was taken to task for awarding $15,000 of taxpayer money to a former girlfriend, they say, Mayor Adrian Fenty hadn’t been held accountable for the $86 million he allegedly doled out in contracts to his buddies for projects in the Department of Parks and Recreation.
The issue around those contracts—which were awarded without the Council’s nod—question if the governing body has played favorites, particularly when its approval is required for any contract exceeding the $1 million mark. However, their sentiments were short-lived when the Council announced over the weekend that, as in the case of Barry, it had also appointed a special counsel to look into Fenty’s actions.
When asked how much more the public can stand of such controversy, retired University of Maryland political science professor Ron Walters responded, “Much more,” but added that the larger concern would be how things will work out.
“Washington is used to the media ,” Walters said. “And with all that’s going on with other Black politicians, Barry and Fenty seem to be fair game.”
He said the interesting thing about Fenty is that he has been compared to “ Cory Booker and some of the others” who constitute the new wave of Black politicians.
Alluding to a recent front-page Washington Post article on Fenty’s contract issues, Walters added that despite the mayor’s propensity for pragmatism, being detail-oriented and non racial, he has not only lost the support of the Black community but of the Post, which had always been in his corner.
“This shows that he is not immune as a politician,” Walters said. “He’s got a touch of cronyism, arrogance and a whole lot of other things that make very good meat for the media.”
On the other hand, Marion Barry’s a totally different case. According to Walters, he pops up like a bad penny every other month. “And people are used to this,” the political analyst said. “He’s been part of the media circus for forever. As far as Barry’s concerned, that goes with the territory.”
In a March 5 statement from his office, Ward 5 Councilman Harry Thomas announced that the Council has retained Robert Trout of the law firm Trout Cacheris PLLC to head up an inquiry into the mayor’s dealings. The councilman was not available for comment by AFRO press time.
Fenty reportedly set aside contracts for at least two close friends with whom he either attended Howard University or were members of his fraternity.
According to the Post, one friend in particular had been running a failed dry cleaning business during the time Fenty served as a representative on the Council. The friend did a lot of stumping for Fenty during his mayoral campaign, going door to door in his efforts to help get him the mayor’s seat. Then, after Fenty assumed the city’s helm, that friend and others suddenly began to prosper in their businesses after being awarded top-dollar contracts for parks and recreation projects.
Meanwhile, Barry and his supporters have called the Council’s reprimand and the report that prompted it both wrong and downright unfair.
Barry said the 104-page Bennett report was totally wrong in its assessment of him, and equated it to a witch hunt to remove him from the Council on which he has served for more than 30 years.
During last week’s 12 -0 censure, Barry, 73, was stripped of his chairmanship of the Committee on Housing and Workforce Development and has been relegated to little more than a side seat on the 13-member Council.
At-large Councilman Michael Brown will now oversee that committee which has an annual budget of $350,000.
The report spearheaded by special counsel Robert Bennett accuses Barry of side-stepping ethics rules and details at length his romantic involvement with Donna Watts-Brighthaupt, a 40-something divorcee, with whom he negotiated the $15,000 personal services contract.
Following release of the report – which also highlighted other Council members’ spending – Barry offered a profuse apology to the Council and his constituency, saying he used poor judgment in his dealings with Watts-Brighthaupt.
“I feel that I didn’t get a fair deal, a fair shake,” Barry said. “The report itself was not written in normal investigatory . That report was accusatory, inflammatory and made to make things look like they weren’t.”
Howard University radio host Harold Fisher, who once worked for Barry, featured him as a guest on his “Daily Drum” talk show following the Council’s censure. Fisher said that based on phone calls to the March 3 show, Barry’s constituents still support the beleaguered lawmaker.
”Marion Barry is and remains extremely popular,” Fisher told the AFRO. “That is not a secret and I think that people know that very well.”
According to Fisher, residents of Ward 8 know about the man, and they know about his history.
“There are many people who are products of his summer youth employment initiative,” Fisher said. “Those people are grown now, in their 30s and 40s and they’ve benefitted in some way. So when you start getting down into the minutiae of Council protocol, I don’t think that they care about that.”
Nevertheless, Addie Cooke, president of the Fort Stanton Civic Association, said investigations of both Barry and Fenty have shed a negative light on the city.
“Especially for its African-American residents,” she said, “because we worked hard . Now it seems that morals have just gone out the window – there doesn’t seem to be anything that’s above the law.”