On a mid-June evening, Delonta Brighthaupt found himself in a familiar role as caregiver to his ex-wife, Donna Watts-Brighthaupt, and her two children. Donna was suffering from cervical cancer and had started another round of chemotherapy; she was laid up in bed. Delonta stepped in and promised to cook everyone dinner at her Ridge Place SE home.
Delonta got started in the well-stocked kitchen, frying chicken, simmering his greens, and preparing mac and cheese—all family favorites. As he prepared the meal, Donna’s two children, Olivia and Briana hung out in the den.
Then Marion Barry showed up. The Ward 8 councilmember formerly dated Donna after she joined his primary campaign the previous summer. The two had broken up before his kidney transplant surgery in the spring. But Barry still came around.
Though Barry wasn’t invited or expected, he’d arrived at just the right time. There he was, hobbling through the front door, smelling Delonta’s cooking.
“What’s cooking?” Barry asked, Delonta remembers. “I can’t wait.”
Delonta recalls Barry kept repeating his request, turning it into a bit of a taunt.
“Delonta, is it ready yet?” Barry asked, in Delonta’s recollection. “Is it ready yet?”
Barry eventually went upstairs to see Donna, 40, who was recovering from treatments for the cancer that she’d fought on and off for 12 years. At one point, Barry walked to the top of the stairs and demanded delivery of his food. “He was just egging me,” Delonta says. “I told him he could come and get his plate.” Barry came down the stairs and got his dinner.
The man had to be served. It was just one of the highhanded demands that the councilmember made when he stepped into Donna’s house. With his legendary sense of entitlement and his neediness, Barry routinely managed to wear out his welcome there. The result was a number of awkward moments among himself, Delonta, and Donna.
The group dynamic, however, didn’t derive its tension entirely from Barry. Delonta and Donna had their own stormy history. They’d had a difficult marriage and a contentious divorce. But by the time Barry came along, in the summer of 2008, they were developing a quiet, platonic relationship in which Delonta would help out with any number of tasks at Donna’s house.
It was this relationship—between Donna and Delonta—that the 73-year-old councilmember couldn’t abide. And before long, he’d seek to deploy the powers of his office to undo it.