Marion Barry lectures on ethics during chaotic Council session

June 13, 2012

Liz Farmer
Washington Examiner Staff Writer

The D.C. Council is in such disarray that Marion Barry -- convicted of drug and tax offenses -- is lecturing his colleagues on ethics.

"We are the laughingstock of the nation," Barry said Wednesday.

At-large Councilman David Catania took a shot back at the "Mayor for life."

"The worst perpetrators are sitting on this dais," Catania said, lamenting the fact that a "member of the [Finance and Revenue] Committee is a convicted criminal, hasn't paid his taxes and yet he's allowed to lecture others on ethics and vote on tax policy."

The exchange was part of a 100-minute session to select a new chairman that saw another legislator in tears, a would-be chairman declaring he is "the best" and plenty of gavel-pounding and fist-banging for effect.

In addition to being filmed smoking crack cocaine and convicted of a misdemeanor marijuana possession while mayor in 1990, Barry was prosecuted in 2009 for failing to file his taxes eight times in nine years.

Wednesday's meeting marked the first full council session following the resignation and guilty pleas of former Chairman Kwame Brown last week for lying about his income on two loan applications and to a misdemeanor campaign finance charge.

Brown is the second councilman to resign in five months. Guilty pleas from them and others have shaken the city and legislative body to its core as federal investigators have begun picking off key players one by one in their ongoing probe into city corruption.

The body on Wednesday voted in at-large Councilman Phil Mendelson as their chairman to replace Brown.

The skirmishes between colleagues that followed as talk turned to picking Mendelson's No. 2 caused Ward 7 Councilwoman Yvette Alexander to choke back tears, pleading for an end to the "foolishness."

"I'm sick of it," she said. "Stop promoting yourself by the demise of others."

At-large Councilman Vincent Orange later denied he was doing that during his failed bid to win the council pro tempore seat. Orange, who has said he plans to run for chairman in November, pounded his fist on the dais and accused his colleagues of making him "look like an idiot." He later declared: "Today, Vincent Bernard Orange Sr. is the best candidate for council pro temp. The best!"

Orange lost his bid for the seat in an 8-4 vote. The council then selected at-large Councilman Michael Brown for the job, with only Orange voting against.

When asked about the session, Gray said the rules of order are in place to avoid "complete chaos."

"It would have been great if they had gone in there and everybody agreed on the direction they wanted to go and took the direction and that would have been the end of the session, but we're in a democracy," he said.

But to Barry, it's "the worst governmental crisis since Home Rule" was established in 1974.

"The only more serious I can think of is 9/11," the Ward 8 councilman said.

5 months of federal charges
January: Former Ward 5 Councilman Harry Thomas Jr. resigns and pleads guilty to stealing city funds meant for kids. Two officers from the nonprofit that helped him also plead guilty.
May: Two campaign aides to Mayor Vincent Gray plead guilty for their role in using campaign funds to keep a minor mayoral candidate in the 2010 mayoral race so he would keep up his verbal attacks against then-Mayor Adrian Fenty.

June: Former Council Chairman Kwame Brown resigns and pleads guilty to bank fraud, becoming the highest official yet to fall as a result of the probe.


Staff Writer Alan Blinder contributed to this article.