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In a tense conclusion to one of the most closely fought campaigns in the District’s history, Kelvin P. Esters claimed an apparent victory over Dana Mozie Jr. in the race for Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 1B10 by a single vote Nov. 5.
Esters’ bid for the open seat drew 46.92 percent of the ANC’s 130 voters, according to the uncertified tally from the Board of Elections and Ethics. That was just enough to outweigh the 46.15 percent who favored Mozie.
The result was so close that Mozie didn’t know the outcome until he was asked about it by a reporter. “I’m the one with the cliffhanger?” he said, joking that his single-member district had turned into Florida. He says he will consult with his advisers about whether to challenge the result.
Most media attention was focused on more lopsided contests in the region, such as Maryland Rep. Robert Ehrlich’s 3-point victory
over Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend for that state’s governorship and Mayor Anthony A. Williams’ 26-point re-election win over At-Large Councilmember Carol Schwartz. But ANC 1B10 was the site of far greater political drama, in a campaign that touched on the Bush administration, bioethics, agricultural issues, and the specter of machine politics.
ANC 1B10 covers part of the Pleasant Plains neighborhood, populated by a mix of renters, elderly homeowners, and Howard University students. Both candidates brought a history of community activism to the race, but there were differences in their target audiences. Esters focused on his ties to civic groups, while Mozie sought to reach new student voters.
In the end, on a day when incumbency ruled the political scene in D.C., it was the candidate more closely linked to the status quo who prevailed. And despite a national trend toward Republican rule, Democratic loyalties were a critical factor in Esters’ victory.
Though ANC seats are nonpartisan, party identification was hotly discussed in the race. Mozie, 38, a registered Republican who has volunteered at the White House, says his ties to President George W. Bush may well have cost him the seat.
“You’ve got to remember that this is a Democratic stronghold,” Mozie says. “When you tell people, ‘Republican, Republican, Republican,’ they are going to follow the machine.”
Observers believe the pivotal moment in the campaign was an October meeting of the Pleasant Plains Civic Association, the only time the two appeared together at a forum. Conrad Smith, a veteran of the Pleasant Plains political scene who advised both candidates during their bids, says he told them to keep their remarks simple. “You give name, rank, and serial number, and you talk about the issues,” Smith says.
Mozie took the opportunity instead to talk about his work in the White House correspondence office. Soon after, he was fielding questions from the audience about his political affiliation and his stance on stem-cell research. “He got up and did everything I told him not to do,” Smith says.
In his campaign, the 42-year-old Esters capitalized on the Democratic majority in the neighborhood by posting fliers with the motto “Working for our neighborhood, not the White House.”
Mozie sought to emphasize his personal connections to Pleasant Plains via a 30-day walking tour of the neighborhood. A recording engineer, he also promoted himself as a force for “entertainment industry advocacy,” with posters showing a collage of photos of the candidate with the likes of Snoop Dogg and Don King. And during the sniper episode, he sought volunteers from Howard to escort children to and from school.
Esters, meanwhile, stressed his work organizing Orange Hat safety patrols. He also spoke of his efforts to get a derelict house in the 500 block of Hobart Street NW demolished and to plant a community garden in its place. The garden, supported with $1,750 that Esters raised from two neighboring ANCs, is sparsely planted and weedy. Some Mozie backers regarded it as insufficient. “I regret giving [Esters] the money,” says Sinclair Skinner, the commissioner for 1B06, who supported Mozie’s candidacy.
“The original purpose of the garden wasn’t to harvest flowers and vegetables,” Esters counters. “It was to reclaim a lot. In that respect, the garden was a success.”
Not all of the electorate was swayed by such disputes. Some voters’ loyalties were divided along block lines, with residents of Harvard Street supporting their neighbor Mozie and those on Hobart Street backing fellow Hobart dweller Esters.
Asked how he chose whom to vote for, Inez Davis of Harvard Street says, “I don’t know. All of them do the same thing.” In the end, he explains, he voted for Mozie, the candidate he’d seen greeting people on his block.
But one key Mozie supporter, Glenn Mozee, who lives two doors up from the candidate, says that he didn’t vote because the seven-block walk to the precinct was too far. “I feel terrible,” he says. “That’s my neighbor, my namesake.”
Esters credits turnout from his own block with deciding the election. “I saw them coming in during the rain,” the winner says. “Some of them made it in the last hour of voting.” CP