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Marion Barry compares council chairman to Southern segregationists

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Local,DC,Alan Blinder
In a last-ditch effort to win support for his proposal to grant new legal protections to ex-offenders, Ward 8 Councilman Marion Barry on Monday compared D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson to the Southern segregationists of the 1960s.

"You sound like the white southerners who opposed the public accommodation bill and the Civil Rights Act," Barry wrote in a letter. "Mr. Chairman, you are a decent human being with a good heart. What went wrong on this bill? How dare you vote against a bill which would give rights to returning citizens?"

Mendelson was not immediately available for comment, but he and Barry have been sparring for weeks about the measure, which would ban employers from asking job applicants about their criminal histories before extending job offers. If a company chose to rescind such an offer after learning about an applicant's criminal history, the employer would have to explain the link between the conviction and the job.

Mendelson and business owners have forcefully opposed Barry's measure, and Mendelson even sought to use his authority as the council's leader to kill it in committee.

Mendelson has been trying to steer his own bill for ex-offenders through the legislative process, and lawmakers are scheduled to stage a final vote on it Tuesday morning. The council tentatively approved the measure on Dec. 4.

Barry said in his letter that he would attempt to amend Mendelson's proposal ahead of the final vote, though his efforts to revise the measure earlier this month fell short by a 7-5 vote.

He urged Mendelson to accept the changes as a "friendly amendment."

"The Civil Rights movement had a song called 'Which Side Are You On,'" Barry wrote. "Now is the time for you to be on the side of right rather than wrong."

ablinder@washingtonexaminer.com

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