Donna Watts-Brighthaupt
Donna Watts-Brighthaupt

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Throughout Robert S. Bennett‘s investigation of Ward 8 Councilmember Marion S. Barry Jr.’s official ethics, Donna Watts-Brighthaupt had one wish: to have her work vindicated. She believed in the research and writing she’d done on young leadership under the contract awarded to her by the councilmember. Even after her project had become the subject of headlines and council scrutiny. Even after her rocky personal relationship with the councilmember had been thoroughly dissected. She still believed she had done good work.

Today, Bennett’s investigation declared that her contract work was not worth the $15,000 and contained “significant portions” that “were copied without attribution from publicly available materials located on the Internet.”

No plagiarism took place, says Watts. If anything, she cut and pasted sections from her own college papers. Anything else she clearly marked as “samples” of what the project might entail.  Watts stands by her work: “I went beyond what was promised on the original contract. And I could no further until [Barry’s] office replied to my draft.”

Watts says she never saw the contract approved by the Council until her deposition before Bennett’s team.

Whatever the case, Watts was working without an editor, she says. After she turned in her work, she says she was given no feedback from Barry’s staff.  She was supposed to report back to Barry’s chief of staff every two weeks. And every time, Barry’s chief of staff blew her off. “She never made the time,” Watts says. “From then on, that program remained a draft. They didn’t edit and tell me what they wanted further.”

Barry took a limited role in Watts’ actual work product. “He thought it was good,” Watts says. “But he would refer me to his chief of staff.”

But Barry’s interest peaked when Watts’ check would arrive. According Bennett’s investigation, Barry would take out portions of her check to cover gifts he had given her——jewelry, clothes, and payments for utility bills.

Barry would personally deliver the checks to her. He would then insist she cash the check at a nearby bank and give him a portion of the money.

Watts says she didn’t think of it as a kickback. But she was shocked when he started making her give him a cut of the checks. “I thought I had earned my money,” Watts says. “I thought that was money that I had earned…. I never wanted to owe him anything. I never wanted to owe Marion anything….I didn’t want to be beholden to him.”

Watts couldn’t say how much Barry took from her checks. “In short, I don’t know,” she says.

*file photo by Darrow Montgomery.