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Blues for Marion Barry

Marion Barry, Washington's embattled former mayor and current city councilman representing one of the District's poorest neighborhoods, is back in the news again, this time for allegedly stalking a former girlfriend over the July 4th weekend.

Mr. Barry, 73, and Donna Watts-Brighthaupt, a 40-year-old campaign worker he began dating last summer, reportedly quarreled over lunch on Saturday at a restaurant near Annapolis while on their way to Rehoboth Beach, Del. The spat led Watts-Brighthaupt to cancel the planned trip and return home; where she apparently had left her ex-husband baby-sitting the family dog. Mr. Barry reportedly followed her there and refused to leave. Later that evening, when the Brighthaupt's went out to watch the fireworks, Mr. Barry followed them. Police say he was arrested shortly afterwards Watts-Brighthaupt complained to an officer that someone was "bothering" her.

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In the comedy of political errors this month that included South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford's skipping off to Argentina to see his mistress, Nevada Sen. John Ensign's confession of marital infidelity and Alaska Gov. Sarrah Palin's odd announcement that she was stepping down for the good of her state, Mr. Barry's antics would seem almost unremarkable except for the depressing regularity with which he manages to get himself into such jams. He seems to have a self-destructive streak that compells him to commit acts of unfathomable folly just to stay in the public eye, fame and infamy being all the same to him.

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.

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(That's on top of Mr. Barry's most famous run-in with the law: his arrest in 1990, when he was still mayor, after being videotaped smoking crack in a hotel room with a woman who was not his wife. A Washington jury acquitted him of all but a misdemeanor drug charge, for which he served six months in prison. On release, he was promptly re-elected, first to a council seat, then to a fourth term as mayor.)

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.

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