It started with an arrest, as it often does. There was a woman involved, as there usually is. And there were the denials, controversial behavior by the police and extraordinary news conferences that feed a local media obsessed with former Washington, D.C., Mayor Marion Barry. Within his inner circle, there were the normal efforts to get Barry to back off. As always, he largely ignored the advice.

The initial reaction from outside Barry's world was just as routine: near silence from his fellow D.C. Council members and unwavering support from his constituents, even though to much of Washington, Barry long ago ceased being a power player.

The drama could have ended Tuesday evening when authorities announced that they were dropping the stalking charges that again put Barry's personal life on display. For his backers, this was evidence that the former mayor is as much a victim of overzealous police as he is a man who seems to court trouble. But there's the likelihood of an investigation into his then-girlfriend getting a $60,000 council contract from Barry, a Democrat who represents Ward 8 on the council, which means the sideshow spectacle could continue.

His friends and supporters said they are worried about the job given to Donna Watts-Brighthaupt, the woman who police say accused Barry of following her, leading to his arrest Saturday. Records indicate that the payments and cancellations of the contract coincide with their makeups and breakups. So far, Watts-Brighthaupt has been paid $15,000, and at Barry's request, the secretary of the council has approved an additional payment of $5,000.

"Everybody's better off walking away from [the stalking charge], but he has a raft of other challenges he has to deal with," said Frederick D. Cooke Jr., Barry's attorney, referring to the contract.

D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles said yesterday that he will investigate if the council doesn't. "My strong preference would be to have the council look into it," he said. "After all, it's money allocated to the council. If the council chooses not to look into it, then I certainly would."

Barry's former campaign manager, Joe Louis Ruffin Jr., also questioned yesterday why Watts-Brighthaupt was paid $500 in campaign funds a week after she received the city contract

According to U.S. Park Police, Barry, 73, was arrested and charged after Watts-Brighthaupt, 40, flagged down an officer in Anacostia Park and complained that Barry was "bothering" her. It was a murky incident, made more complicated when it was revealed that the two had planned a day trip to Rehoboth Beach, Del., but canceled it and returned to the District after an argument.

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