You are using an outdated browser.
Please upgrade your browser
and improve your visit to our site.
Skip Navigation

Honest Marion Barry

In 1967 the Mamas and the Papas recorded a song called "Creeque Alley" that included the refrain, "And no one's gettin' fat except Mama Cass," a rude but accurate reference to the band's caftan-wearing star, Cass Elliot. The line is repeated three times, but on the fourth go-round it's changed to "And everyone's gettin' fat except Mama Cass." Which comes as a humorous surprise because in fact all the other band members were quite svelte. (According to one plausible reading, "gettin' fat" actually referred to the rising and falling financial success of individual members of the band. But given Mama Cass's notable corpulence--which would eventually lead to an untimely death by heart attack at 32--the literal meaning could not be ignored.)

When I survey the scandals rocking Washington, D.C.'s City Council, I think: "Everyone's gettin' fat except Mama Cass."

Earlier this year City Councilman Harry Thomas, Jr. pleaded guilty to embezzling $353,000 in city funds. Earlier this month City Council Chairman Kwame Brown pleaded guilty to bank and campaign finance fraud. Meanwhile, two aides to Mayor Vincent Gray's 2010 campaign have pleaded guilty to obstructing justice and making false statements in connection with a harebrained scheme to fund another mayoral candidate, a loose cannon named Sulaimon Brown, so he would hurl mud at the incumbent, Adrian Fenty (who lost). Folks are now wondering whether Gray (himself a former City Council chairman) will also be implicated in this scandal.

In 2011, the chief of staff to City Councilman Jim Graham pleaded guilty to accepting illegal gratuities and making false statements, and City Councilman Michael Brown got hit with a $50,000 lien by the IRS because he forgot to pay some income tax between 2004 and 2008. "Today," writes the veteran Post columnist Colby King, "we are a city under the sway of narcissistic, third-rate petty crooks, liars and hypocrites; the most disreputable city leadership since the start of home rule in 1975." Corruption is so prevalent in D.C.'s City Council that people write law review articles about it.

But here's the weird part. You want to know who isn't implicated in any of these scandals, or any other scandals, at this particular moment? City Councilman and former "Mayor-For-Life" Marion Barry. It was Barry who in 1990 made city government in Washington a national joke when he got nailed in an FBI sting for smoking crack cocaine with his girlfriend. ("Bitch set me up," Barry, who was married at the time, famously commented). During the aughts Barry got himself in trouble repeatedly for failing to pay his taxes, and more recently he's been a bit sloppy about paying his parking tickets. Barry also got caught up two years ago in a scandal in which he procured a $15,000 city contract for his girlfriend (a different one); mysteriously, that turned out not to be a prosecutable offense. Oh, and this year he had to apologize for making offensive comments about Asians and Poles. But compared to what his fellow City Council members are getting nailed for, that's nothing.

Just about everybody in D.C. government seems headed for jail except Marion Barry. It's a bit like everyone in the Mamas and the Papas getting' fat except Mama Cass. Marion Barry may turn out to be the most honest person on the D.C. City Council.