To prepare for debates in his fight for a seat on the D.C. Council, Ronald Moten works out at a boxing gym. He does squats and sit-ups, pumps iron and takes a few shots at the heavy bag. “It helps me stay calm and spiritually centered,” said Moten, 42, co-founder of a gang-intervention organization called Peaceoholics.
After such a workout not long ago, Moten put on a shirt and tie and squared off in a debate with Don Folden Sr., a Metrobus driver and his only opponent in the Ward 7 Republican primary. The workout seemed to have paid off.
When the final bell sounded, judges for the influential Hillcrest neighborhood e-mail group declared Moten the winner.
“Mentally, spiritually and physically more fit than Folden, Moten should undeniably be declared King of the Jungle. . . . What of Don Folden? Well, he’s fallen, and he can’t get up!” the judges declared.
It was a remarkable performance by Moten, who has spent much of the past two years fending off accusations of impropriety that, if proved true, would have made him seem unfit for a job as dogcatcher. But Moten has managed to counterpunch all of them away and remain standing, somewhat bloodied but unbowed, in the political ring. A city audit and investigation into Peaceoholics’ multimillion-dollar city contracts came to the one conclusion that mattered most: Moten did not steal any money.
Although he and co-founder Jauhar Abraham had not developed “appropriate internal controls,” as the auditors put it, the group had, in fact, done some impressive work. If anything, it had received too much money too fast and the city agencies responsible for oversight had not done their jobs.
Moten’s campaign literature notes that Peaceoholics, which was formed in 2004, helped send 161 high school graduates to college, arranged 40 truces between neighborhood gangs and employed a staff of 60 for three years.
When Peaceoholics lost its funding amid allegations of impropriety, Moten continued the work. With his guidance, a group of outcast gay and lesbian youngsters have started their own clothing company — sewing hats and making T-shirts. The youths are in negotiations with store owners around Gallery Place, where they had a reputation as troublemakers, to carry their line of sportswear, called Turn It Up.
Last week, Moten won an endorsement from The Washington Post editorial board. Folden, attempting to capitalize on voter ambivalence toward The Post, declared at one political forum: “We don’t need The Washington Post telling us what to do.”
Marion Barry had used that line to great effect in the past, but it doesn’t seem to be working as well for Folden. He doesn’t get nearly as much applause.
If Moten wins the Republican primary next week — as many expect — he will face a juggernaut in the general election: a Democrat. It doesn’t matter who. Ward 7, which encompasses a vast area mostly east of the Anacostia River, has 46,393 registered Democrats to 1,395 registered Republicans.
Nevertheless, if the Democratic nominee turns out to be the incumbent, Yvette Alexander, expect to see the political arena saturated with bad blood. It was Alexander, an ally of D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray’s, who called for the city audit of Peaceoholics. Moten, who supported Gray’s rival in the 2010 Democratic primary, Adrian Fenty, responded by getting the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance to audit Alexander.
The audit concluded that although Alexander had improperly used her constituent services money, she did not benefit personally from the funds raised to help needy residents in the ward.
Call it a draw. Another round, however, and the gloves come off again.
The Hillcrest judges have heaped plenty of praise on Moten, calling him “far more polished, prepared and prime time-ready” than his Republican opponent.
But Hillcrest is the backbone of the Ward 7 Democratic machine — the base for Gray and Alexander. If Moten wins the ward, it would be reminiscent of Barry’s transition from the “streets to the suites,” when he traded in the cloak of a civil rights activist for a three-piece suit to win a seat on the D.C. school board in 1972.
“Let’s see if Moten’s just as ready to pin the tail on a donkey,” the Hillcrest judges wrote of his possible matchup against a Democrat. “I’m betting my donkey’s gonna kick his assets.”
The next day, Moten was back in the gym.
To read previous columns by Courtland Milloy, go to washingtonpost.com/milloy.