News & Politics

Marion Barry Censured By DC Council Over Acceptance of Cash Gifts

After his latest political scandal, DC's "mayor-for-life" says the DC Council's attitude on ethics is changing, but adds that some of the colleagues that voted to punish him are in "glass houses."

Marion Barry addresses after being censured by his colleagues. Photograph by Benjamin Freed.

For the second time in three years, Marion Barry was censured and punished by his colleagues on the DC Council, this time over his acceptance of two cash gifts from contractors that do business with the city government. The 9-4 vote came after a debate in which Barry, sounding meek while he recovers from a cold, pleaded with his colleagues to reject a special panel’s recommendations that he be censured and stripped of his chairmanship of the Council’s Workforce and Community Affairs Committee.

Barry, DC’s “mayor-for-life” and a survivor of numerous other political scandals, landed back in the hot seat in June when he disclosed to the city’s ethics board that he accepted two gifts in 2012 totaling $6,800 from construction firms Forney Enterprises and F&L Construction. Barry reported the gifts on a financial disclosure form, prompting a censure and fine worth double the amount he took from DC’s Board of Ethics and Government Accountability. It also resulted in the creation of a special committee of five of Barry’s fellow Council members to determine if there should be any other repercussions.
In the full Council hearing today, four of Barry’s colleagues came to his side, including Jack Evans, who proposed lessening Barry’s punishment from a censure to a more mild reprimand. “In this case, Mr. Barry recognized that he had done something wrong, came forward with it,” Evans said. Barry did disclose the gifts, and by all accounts has been making payments on his $13,600 fine. Jim Graham and Vincent Orange—who have both weathered ethics scandals this year—also voted not to punish Barry.
Over the course of investigation into his acceptance of the money, it was reported that Barry received one of the cash gifts in a strip club. As a member of the Council, Barry gets to vote on city contracts. Just hours before the vote on his censure, the Council approved modifications to two school construction contracts awarded to Forney worth a collective $4.6 million. Both schools are located in Barry’s ward.
The scene on Tuesday was reminiscent of one in 2010, when Barry received the same punishment after an independent investigation concluded he took a cut of a contract he awarded to a former girlfriend. Once again, Barry implored his colleagues not to take away his committee leadership, sometimes invoking his long relationships with them, such as when he turned directly to Tommy Wells.
After the vote, a somewhat reserved Barry told reporters that the Council’s outlook on ethical matters has shifted drastically over his many years as one of the key players in local government, and suggested that some of the nine who voted to punish him don’t exactly fit the bill as ethical watchdogs.
“The Council’s political views have changed over the years,” Barry said. “We’ve got members of the Council who see themselves as champions of ethics, but those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.”
Technically, the Council’s vote is only an endorsement of the ad hoc committee’s recommendations, which must be reviewed by Council Chairman Phil Mendelson. But as Mendelson was one of the nine to vote for the recommendations, it seems all but certain that Barry’s name will be scraped off his committee’s signage.

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.