Marion Barry can't keep his nose clean

Mayor famous for drug use is back in the news; ex says he kicked her out of a hotel room for refusing oral sex

By Vincent Rossmeier
July 9, 2009 1:30AM (UTC)
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City officials usually don't generate national headlines, but even if you don't live in the nation's capital or its suburbs, you know the name Marion Barry. The former mayor, who's currently on D.C.'s city council, has been a household name and running joke since he was arrested for crack cocaine possession in 1990. Barry famously blamed a woman -- though that's not the word he used -- he was involved with for setting him up in the FBI sting that led to his arrest and subsequent prison time.

Now the man who went on Sally Jessy Raphael's talk show and said that he was a sex addict is in trouble again because of his relationship with another woman. Barry was arrested Saturday on charges that he was stalking an on-again, off-again girlfriend named Donna Watts-Brighthaupt.


While that may seem a relatively mundane accusation compared to those of Barry's past and the recent escapades of South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford and Nevada Sen. John Ensign, the Washington City Paper has a story, including voice-mails left by Barry, that outline his obsession with Watts-Brighthaupt. Relying on recordings made by Watts-Brighthaupt's ex-husband, the article recounts in graphic detail an exchange Barry had with Donna Watts-Brighthaupt in mid-June in which she said, “You put me out in Denver ’cause I wouldn’t suck your dick." (The paper used that quote in order to produce a very memorable cover for its latest issue.)

Watts-Brighthaupt worked for Barry's reelection campaign  -- the incident she was referring to occurred when she traveled with him to Denver for the Democratic National Convention last summer. According to the Washington City Paper, after Barry kicked her out of their hotel room, Watts-Brighthaupt ended up sleeping in his rental car. It was one of several trips the two took together, though they often fought in public.

Barry has denied the charge that he stalked Watts-Brighthaupt, but he did hire her to work for him while the two dated and paid her at least $10,000. In a press conference Tuesday night, a spokeswoman for Barry repeatedly described Watts-Brighthaupt as "unstable." But according to Watts-Brighthaupt, she still sees Barry frequently.


Tuesday, the Washington Post laid out Barry's long, sordid history of personal relationships. Explaining Barry's appeal to women, Kim Dickens, one of the women in his life who donated a kidney to Barry last year said, "He was raised by three women, and so he truly understands women and he speaks to your need ... And if there is no need, he will create the need for you to be with him. He knows how to get into your life."

It's unclear whether Barry will eventually face any serious repercussions for the July 4th stalking charges, but Glenn McNatt of the Baltimore Sun speculates that Barry will be forgiven once again. He writes:

Still, one can readily predict how this latest episode will play out. Mr. Barry will claim police are harassing him, as he did in 2002 when park police claimed to have found traces of marijuana and crack cocaine in his car, and in 2006, when he was pulled over and cited for driving on a suspended license ... All of which suggests the people of Washington, or at least Mr. Barry's legions of ardent supporters, are willing to forgive him almost anything. He's currently on probation for failing to file income taxes, and technically his arrest last weekend constitutes a violation that could return him to prison. But virtually nobody believes that's likely. As has happened so often in the past, the charges will be dropped, Mr. Barry will claim vindication and his career as a once esteemed leader now sadly reduced to cartoonish bufoonery will continue apace toward its predictably calamitous end.

Vincent Rossmeier

Vincent Rossmeier is an editorial assistant at Salon.

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