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Councilmembers get into profanity-laced argument at retreat

Wednesday - 2/15/2012, 11:18am  ET

Mark Segraves, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - The annual retreat of the D.C. Council turned into a bitter confrontation between two members with a contentious history, who slung curse words and personal attacks at each other on Tuesday.

Councilmembers Marion Barry and David Catania were standing up and yelling at each other by the end of the meeting -- Catania calling Barry a "despicable human being" and Barry countering that Catania treats black councilmembers with little respect.

The brouhaha came during a council meeting Tuesday with the intention of winning back public trust after a string of corruption scandals that have tainted the city government. Although the meeting was focused on the importance of open government, the first order of business was a vote to close the meeting from the public.

Nine of the 12 councilmembers voted in favor of closing the meeting, which Council Chair Kwame Brown said was necessary so members could talk candidly and ask the general counsel specific questions.

Several councilmembers said the training was very productive and educated them on their new disclosure requirements.

The cost to taxpayers was about $4,100, including $1,500 for a meetings facilitator and $2,600 for food, labor and audio visual equipment provided by the convention center, which is funded in part with local taxes.

Security officers and council staff kept a close eye on reporters who staked out the meeting.

After the morning session ended, reporters were allowed to attend a briefing by D.C. Chief Financial Officer Natwar Ghandi.

At the end of Ghandi's presentation, Barry asked a question about funding for the United Medical Center, a Southeast hospital. Catania took exception to the question, and scolded Barry for only being interested in "protecting his friends' jobs."

That's when the fireworks began. According to sources, Catania said, "F--- you, Marion," calling Barry "despicable" and saying he isn't putting up with "any more sh--."

The Washington Examiner reports Catania called Barry a "despicable human being."

The two men stood up and continued yelling as other councilmembers tried to diffuse the situation.

It's not the first time Catania has been at the center of a shouting match with his colleagues. At a recent council breakfast meeting, Catania hurled expletives at Councilmember Michael Brown.

Barry and Catania have been at odds for years, dating back to Barry's vote against same-sex marriage. Catania is one of two openly gay councilmembers. He sponsored the gay marriage legislation.

Catania has been an ardent supporter of the United Medical Center -- the District owned hospital that turned a profit last year for the first time in a decade.

Barry and Catania frequently spar over the issue of hospital funding and oversight, often raising their voices and using curse words.

One person who was in Tuesday's meeting called the altercation between the two elected officials "typical behavior."

Barry says Catania's angst is racially driven, "He doesn't respect a whole bunch of us on the council, particularly us black men," Barry told The Washington Post.

Earlier this month, Catania got into a shouting match with Brown at a council meeting. Catania used the "F" word in that exchange several times. Brown is African-American.

Catania was unapologetic when contacted by Post reporter Tim Craig.

"If he can't take me swearing at him, too bad," Catania said of Barry.

Read The Washington Post's story on Tuesday's meeting and the contentious history between the two men.

Learn more about the recent D.C. government scandals below, and check out Segraves tweets for more on the Tuesday meeting:

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)