When Robert S. Bennett last Tuesday unfurled his findings on the transgressions of Ward 8 Councilmember Marion S. Barry, he ran into a stone wall. Accused of unethically steering a contract to his girlfriend, among other serious allegations, Barry contended that he couldn’t have broken rules that didn’t exist. “I’m a different kind of councilmember,” he said, defending his actions as necessary to leading the city’s poorest ward.
No contrition whatsoever.
One week later, the sense of denial has ebbed, and into the mix has creeped some remorse. “I should have known better,” said Barry at one point in his remarks at a 2 p.m. press conference today at the Union Temple Baptist Church in historic Anacostia.
That slight admission of culpability was actually one of the few ad-libbed remarks that Barry made at the presser. The rest came off a prepared statement that Barry delivered before leaving without answering substantive questions from reporters. Here are some highlights of the proceedings, as reported by Loose Lips columnist Mike DeBonis. In parentheses are the logical questions that would have been asked if Barry had been accepting them.
Here are some snippets from the performance: “I serve and represent a community that is in distress both economically and otherwise….a community that is resource-poor.” (Then why steer a contract to a girlfriend and also endow hastily created nonprofits with city money?)
“Therefore, a councilmember who represents such a ward has to be more than just a legislator. He has to push for resources and to demand quality city services. He has to help uplift the people of the ward and give them a sense of hope.” (How does steering a contract to a girlfriend supply hope?)
“Even though there was no violation of conflict of interest, there was a violation of law of good sense and law of sound judgment….I should have known that even though there is no law against it, it didn’t look good. It raises too many questions.” (Are you just now coming to this conclusion?)
At this point, Barry acknowledged that he should have either ended the relationship and continued the contract or continued the relationship and ended the contract. “I did neither and, again, it was very, very poor judgment on my part. On the personal side, I should have given up much earlier on repairing a relationship that was not repairable. If I had used sound judgment at the very beginning, we would not have had July 4th.” (You mean, we would have gone straight from the 3rd to the 5th?)
“I apologize for my actions and lack of sound judgment and for causing great embarrassment to the city and the city council. I am truly, truly sorry. I intend to work as hard as I can to help repair the damage and I am also committed to work even hard for the residents of Ward 8 and the city.” (Have you had any discussions with D.C. Council Chairman Vince Gray or other councilmembers on what tone you needed to strike to avoid a censure resolution?)
One other tidbit from the presser: Barry lawyer Fred Cooke has drafted a response to the Bennett report, but the councilmember’s camp would not share it with reporters.
On-the-scene reporting by Mike DeBonis; on-the-scene photo by Darrow Montgomery