In mid-June, Donna Watts-Brighthaupt had an encounter with Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry. Watts was driving around, taking care of some personal business, when Barry caught sight of her. He made a point of getting her to pull over, and the two quickly got involved in an intense discussion.
The exchange hinged on their roughly yearlong relationship, a bizarre one even by the standards of one of the District’s most-watched womanizers. As Barry attempted to stake out his position on their fortunes, Watts-Brighthaupt was quick to point out the ways in which she felt mistreated. One stood out:
“You put me out in Denver ’cause I wouldn’t suck your dick,” Watts-Brighthaupt yelled at Barry, according to a tape recording of the conversation.
Watts-Brighthaupt was referring to an incident that had occurred about 10 months prior, at the Democratic National Convention. At the time, Watts-Brighthaupt was working on Barry’s ultimately successful re-election campaign and traveled to the Barack Obama-crowning affair. For reasons that remain murky, she ended up assigned to the councilmember’s hotel room in the Crowne Plaza hotel. Once behind closed doors, Barry allegedly asked Watts-Brighthaupt to perform oral sex on him. She refused, whereupon Barry threw her clothes out of the room and barred her from coming back in. She slept in the hotel’s parking garage, in a Cadillac Barry had rented.
Sourcing for the above incidents comes not from Watts-Brighthaupt or Barry, but rather from Delonta Brighthaupt, Watts-Brighthaupt’s ex-husband. Brighthaupt managed to record the mid-June confrontation between Watts-Brighthaupt and Barry, and he also participated from afar in the Denver fiasco, counseling Watts-Brighthaupt after she’d been bounced from her hotel room.
“She called me from the garage,” says Delonta Brighthaupt, who is assisting his ex-wife during her treatments for cancer.
Brighthaupt was present, too, on July 4, when Barry was arrested by Park Police officers for allegedly stalking Watts-Brighthaupt—an event that has called into question their private–public partnership. Barry put Watts-Brighthaupt on his staff two months after they began dating and paid her at least $20,000, according to city records. The arrangement kept Watts-Brighthaupt close to the councilmember, which is really, really where Barry wanted her, according to testimony and documentation provided by Brighthaupt.
The two met early on in 2008, as Barry began politicking around town for his re-election campaign. He came across Watts-Brighthaupt at the councilmember’s campaign kickoff. A former lobbyist for the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists, she was ambitious, smart, and, crucially, unemployed.
“He said that he could assist her in finding employment,” Brighthaupt says. “A lot of people who are his loyalists, that’s the way they get in.”
Got in she did: The 40-year-old started working as Barry’s driver and a personal assistant. She was lightly compensated—campaign finance records show she got only $600 over the course of the campaign. “Like Bugs Bunny,” Brighthaupt says, “where the carrot is there, but the character never gets it.”
But there were fringe benefits: Convention time came, and she accompanied Barry to Denver. Despite the Crowne Plaza encounter—the first sexual overture, to Brighthaupt’s knowledge—and the subsequent drama, Barry and Watts-Brighthaupt left Denver on good enough terms that Barry, not more than two weeks later, invited her to tag along to Jamaica, where Barry was headed for a little post-primary R&R. Come Inauguration Day in January, she tagged along with Barry as a van took them up Pennsylvania Avenue to the special viewing area reserved for city officials. “She didn’t have credentials; she was afraid,” said one councilmember in the group. “Marion was like, ‘Come on, nothing’s gonna happen. I got you.’” In May, she accompanied Barry to Las Vegas for the annual retailers’ convention.
Throughout, the telenovela dynamic was constant, with the two regularly fighting, only to make up within days or hours, sometimes minutes. The tussles happened in private and in public—in an incident recalled to LL by an independent source, a verbal scuffle between the two in Vegas erupted into blows, right in the lobby of the Paris hotel. “She told me she put a shellacking on him,” Brighthaupt says.
Between the blowups, Barry would serenade Watts-Brighthaupt with sweet nothings. “You know I love you—love of my life,” he’d say. “Donna Watts Barry,” he’d call her—“We’re gonna get married.” She’d roll her eyes at such comments, especially since his marriage to Cora Masters never officially ended. He’d stop by the Watts-Brighthaupt residence at all hours; if she had gone to walk her terriers, she’d usually leave the door open. He’d slip in and wait for her.
But in the last couple of weeks, things got rockier. Last Tuesday, Brighthaupt accompanied his ex-wife and her 16-year-old daughter to the John A. Wilson Building, where a screening of a CNN documentary was being held. When Barry found out that Brighthaupt had personally RSVP’d to the event, he dashed off a memo asking the council secretary to ban him from the building, citing threats “by telephone and in person.” Brighthaupt, who denies ever having threatened Barry, was turned away at the door. Watts-Brighthaupt was incensed and demanded Barry retract what he’d written about the threats.
The Ward 8 councilmember couldn’t handle estrangement from the love of his life, as he made plain on numerous voicemail messages to Watts-Brighthaupt. With the assistance of Brighthaupt, LL got access to several of these recordings [listen and read full transcripts], all of which came after the Wilson Building tiff. Some highlights:
- “I’m gone. I’m not gonna think about it anymore. I’m not gonna worry about it like I used to, not gonna pray about it, not gonna do nothing....You don’t even exist. Goodbye, good luck, God bless you.”
- “Wake up, Donna. Come down here and enjoy yourself. Let’s meet and try to resolve this thing. You don’t want to meet? I’m gone.You won’t hear from me again.”
- “I’m getting ready to leave the situation, but call me and we can meet away from your house. I would suggest in a park or something and talk about this....I want to help save your life. So, call me.”
- “Donna, this thing’s gotten outta hand. That’s too bad. I don’t want to continue talking to you about anything and I don’t want to press no charges, I don’t wanna do nothin.’ I just want to be left alone and so you oughtta do the same thing. Don’t call me.”
- “Donna, you don’t have to answer your home phone....Don’t call me back. I will not take a call from you; I’m not gonna call you, so this is it.”
- “Donna, call me....I’d like to apologize and settle this matter. It’s not anybody’s interest to continue.”
- “Call me and let me know what you think ’cause I’m ready to end all this and let it go. I apologize to you. I’m sorry. You know I love you and that after this we gonna go our separate ways and I’ll give up trying to help....Call me.”
- “It’s not in either one of our interests or anybody’s interest to keep this stuff going. I’m prepared...to apologize...And, uh, so call me back. Please. On my cell phone.”
To mend fences, the two decided to take a July 4 trip to Rehoboth Beach, Watts-Brighthaupt told LL on Sunday. When it became clear that Barry had no intent of complying with her wishes that he apologize for the Wilson Building shaming, she turned her Land Rover around and drove the two home, resulting in the encounter that led to Barry’s arrest.
“Some women, they deal with abuse when it comes to people of power, people they can profit from, but it can become very hard depending on what the situation is,” says Brighthaupt. “She found, hey, he’s a weak individual for real, as far as succumbing to his lower desires.”
A Barry spokesperson issued the following statement: “Any sexual relationship that Mr. Barry and Ms. Watts had was consensual. And if Ms. Watts felt at all threatened by Mr. Barry then she should have addressed it at that time. These current allegations have nothing to do with the events that occurred on July 4.”
Additional reporting by Jason Cherkis
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Clip 10: Recorded argument between Watts-Brighthaupt and Barry