Loose Lips

Did D.C. Taxpayers Help Pay to Write Marion Barry’s Book?

LL_Barry-1 Pack away your “bitch set me up” gags, folks. After countless performances of “Stormy Monday” and comparisons to Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, the book tour for Marion Barry’s autobiography Mayor for Life is winding down.

Thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, though, LL can now give the Ward 8 councilmember’s tight-lipped tome the Behind the Music treatment. For example, thanks to emails between Barry’s staffers and his publisher, LL has learned that Barry originally wanted to swap out the book’s title for the somehow even more aggrandizing “Marion Barry: A Badge of Courage,” an idea Barry’s publisher ultimately quashed.

There was some drama between Barry and his co-author, novelist Omar Tyree, too. After seeing drafts of the book’s cover, Barry worried that Tyree’s name loomed too large on the front cover, and requested that it be shrunk down to a more mortal size.

Neither of those requests came directly from Barry, though. Instead, they were emailed—from her government email account, which is how LL obtained them under open-records laws—by LaToya Foster, a former Fox News columnist who now works as Barry’s D.C. Council spokeswoman. Foster’s work earned her a coveted spot in Mayor for Life’s acknowledgements chapter, where he thanks her for the “nights, weekends, and many long hours of assistance” she spent on the book.

As long as he’s acknowledging Foster, though, Barry should be thanking the District residents who pay her $69,010 Council salary. According to calendar entries and emails reviewed by LL, Foster’s work on the memoir stretched far beyond her off-hours and into the D.C. Council workday, an arrangement that appears to violate D.C. Council ethics rules. Perhaps Barry does deserve that badge of courage after all—or at least a badge for chutzpah.

Much of Foster’s workday contributions to the book centered around meetings in 2013 with Barry’s associates meant to jog Barry’s memory as Tyree wrote the book. In the appointments, described as “memory refreshers,” Barry and Foster spent hours in either his Wilson Building office or his Anacostia constituent service office meeting with Barry acolytes like advisor-turned-felon Ivanhoe Donaldson or former City Administrator Elijah Rogers.

Foster, who didn’t respond to LL’s requests for comment, is also listed as a participant on calendar entries for meetings between Barry and Tyree. And she’s listed as attending meetings with just Barry to go over old newspaper clips. In an email, Tyree urged Foster to compile articles about Barry “to jar his memory” for the book. Emails also show Foster tinkering with a biography of Barry meant for promotional materials during the workday.

Thanks to a Council rule that allows the $132,990-a-year legislators to hold second jobs, Barry could write his book whenever he wanted; he’s in the clear even if he spent frequent afternoons in the middle of the week working on his memoir. But his use of Foster in the book’s production is murkier. According to the calendar entries, Foster spent 61 hours in meetings during workdays last year for her boss’s book. The Council’s ethics rules prohibit staffers from using the business day for “other purposes other than official business or government-approved or sponsored activities.”

Ethics rules also prohibit councilmembers from asking their staff to work on non-Council projects during the workday. Not that Foster likely needed much convincing. “I want people to realize that there is more to this man than what meets the eye,” she wrote in one email to the publishing director at Strebor Books, which produced Mayor for Life.

Foster’s emails left LL thinking Barry needs a staff more skilled in Wilson Building subterfuge, or at least in registering some Gmail accounts. Some councilmembers, aware that FOIA requests could expose their emails, have turned to private addresses to conceal their work, a practice that became so widespread that open government activists sued to stop it.

As Barry’s indiscretions go, this is hardly steering city money to a girlfriend (which earned him a censure from the Council in 2010) or taking money from a city contractor in a strip-club parking lot (which helped earn him the same punishment last year).

While it’s nice of Foster to help her boss’s literary career—albeit for a book that compares snorting cocaine to an orgasm—she still helped make him money on Council time. Consider if Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans had used his staff to prepare briefs for his law firm. Or if Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh, who moonlights as a George Washington University law professor, used her Council staff to grade exams.

Give Foster credit for one thing, though, in her use of Council resources to work on the book: transparency! By using her government email account, Foster gave LL a clear glimpse into the development of the memoir. Draft copies of the book emailed to Foster feature sections deleted from the final copy, including a less apologetic version of Barry’s “Dirty Asian Shops” remark and an account of the earmark steering scandal.

Foster’s emails to people working on the book also show how Barry’s camp balanced between profiting from Barry’s sensational 1990 arrest for smoking crack and trying to play down what Barry implies in the book could have been an FBI attempt to murder him. “I know I hit heavy on the shock of January 1990, but there’s no way of getting around telling Barry’s full story in this book, so let’s just SELL the thing first!” Tyree wrote in one email about promotional materials.

Foster’s assistance didn’t seem to help Barry meet his deadlines. Last September, Strebor Books founder Kristina Laferne Roberts, who writes erotic fiction under the pseudonym Zane, complained to Foster that Barry’s changes came in so late that she would have to edit the text herself. Maybe she should’ve asked his Council staff instead.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

  • anon

    why don't you ever post these emails? you know how to use scribd.

  • Sunshine Heals All

    African American U.S. Representative J.C. Watts, Jr. best characterized Marion Barry, Jr. when he referred to Barry as a "Race Hustling Poverty Pimp"

  • What the hell?

    Joke joke joke joker jokey joking jokester.

    But it's serious, the joke.

  • Marion the Magnificent

    “I want people to realize that there is more to this man than what meets the eye,” she wrote in one email to the publishing director...

    I want people to know that this man has the biggest set of barbells east of the Mississippi.

  • Angelina, DC

    So what, I'm buying the Book anyway...Next!

  • Will Sommer


    Good point, I added the emails at the bottom.

  • joan

    Harold Brazil got into trouble because he used his council staff to make court appearances on behalf of his private law practice -- too much trouble to do a little research?

  • Corky

    Now you know why so many government workers and officials use means of communication other than their government email accounts. DC's ridiculous FOIA law and the City Paper.

  • Big Daddy

    Yeah Corky -- shame on FOIA and City Paper for exposing Barry using the city dime to promote his sorry self.

  • Typical DC BS

    I guess old school DC residents don't have a problem with Barry being a non-stop corrupt SOB, as long as he symbolizes civil rights, like the equally scummy Al Sharpton.

  • Corky

    You are missing the point. By making so much communication accessible to anyone for any frivolous reason, government workers have decided it is not worth the trouble in many instances to commit anything to writing in DC government emails. That makes government less efficient and more secretive, not more open. I'm not saying FOIA is a bad thing. It's just that DC's FOIA law is far too permissive and it is routinely abused by journalists, lawyers and persons with personal vendettas.

  • tony

    Marion Barry was the best Mayor Black folk had in this town. He ensured that blacks got a seat at the table. He opened up employment opportunities within the highest levels of city government for generations of blacks. He gave blacks access to city contracts and other economic opportunities that were historically denied them. But above all, he served as a champion for the black middle class and a passionate defender of the working poor.

    His politics was and is rooted in political, social and economic justice for a people who had/have the system stacked against them.

    Black Mayors like Barry, Maynard Jackson of Atlanta, Harold Washington of Chicago, etc. represented the kind of high quality and fearless black leadership that helped create and stabilized the black middle class in this Country. As a result, black folk, in general, are now a serious political and economic force in this country.

    In essence, Barry and Co. used their political power to create economic power for their own. And for this, they were constantly attacked by the white establishment who felt threatened by such politics that forced them to share the city's resources.

    Now, it’s the responsibility of the young black emerging leaders in this city to continue the legacy of Barry, Jackson, Washington and others. Now, it’s their time to carry forth the political baton which is soaked with the blood of black folk from a different era who were determined to set in motion a chain of events that would forever change the political, social, and economic course of this City and Country.

  • Big Daddy

    Too bad he let just about anyone who was black at the table whether they were corrupt or not, capable or not, etc. and in many cases they were not. Bring in the control board.

  • SayWhat

    Nothing here, she is his press person, she writes for him, wherever he is. Need to check on Councilmember David Catania and all the dirt he has done, snatch his chief of staff's computer and see how he spies on every Councilmember on Govt. Time and has been doing it for years. But that's right he is white and Mike Debonis is so far up his ass, he would never print anything about David. Most times I see Mike DeBonis as unethical and biased. He prints whatever David Catania tells him to write, whether it is true or not. Terrible!

  • Chateau4M Barry & Tommy Broadwater

    Sept 7, 2014 Marion Barry and Tommy Broadwater will be at the CHATEAU for a tribute hosted by Hollywood Breeze (former owner of the METRO Club in NE). Black folk and others are invited to bear witness to their being honored by Hand Dancing Blacks of PG & DC because these two upstanding Black Politicians never feared their Blackness.

  • DC Guy


    I don't have as much of a problem with the method, but I do have a problem that rather than that income and investment returning to the District, it created a Ward 9 in PG.

  • SEis4ME

    Unfortunately, I can't get back the time I wasted reading this cover story.

    A politician's staffer performed personal tasks for them? Really? Oh wow, I would have never ever even imagined that.

  • Roscoe’s Wetsuit

    SEis4ME, the same could be said for all of your posts.

    Glad you crawled out from under the onecitidot rock though. Pray tell, although you may (not) be surprised that a staffer performs personal tasks for a politician, if doing so is illegal this is still a problem, no?

    You still have a very flexible notion of the law and right and wrong, I see - at least when it comes to your heroes.

    Anyway, since your prediction for the primary was spot-on, who do you have in the mayor's race? LOL'z.

  • Pingback: yellow october

  • Pingback: blue ofica