In the race for the at-large D.C. Council seat currently held by Anita Bonds, community activist-turned-candidate Jeremiah Lowery is seeking to win the June Democratic primary. He has received the endorsements of liberal advocacy groups like DC for Democracy, Run for Something, the Jews United for Justice Campaign Fund, and service-workers union 32BJ SEIU, among others.
But Lowery wants electoral victory so badly, it seems, that last Sunday, he allegedly threw out half a dozen campaign signs promoting his rival Marcus Goodwin that had been displayed on private property, according to a D.C. business owner and the business owner’s associate. (Goodwin works at a D.C. development company, while Bonds, who has amassed a hefty campaign war-chest, has been on the Council since 2012.)
The signs belonged to Steuart Martens, who owns a hospitality business in Park View. Martens says that around 2 p.m. on May 6, he spotted a man whom he later identified as Lowery walking away from his establishment on the 3400 block of Georgia Avenue NW and carrying the signs. The business owner was returning to his office with his associate Anna Valero after they had finished a meeting at the Colony Club coffee shop down the block.
Martens says when he recognized the signs were some of the ones he had hung on the 10-foot-tall construction fence that now surrounds his business and confronted the man, the man “rammed” the signs in a public trash can nearby, then ran across the street and got into the passenger’s seat of a car idling with a few people inside. The business owner says he knew the signs were his own because one of them was “very distinguishable”—a corner of it had already been tattered before it was removed from the fence.
“As I’m walking toward the guy, my brain is putting two-and-two together,” Martens says. “I instantly turn around. I say, ‘Hey, did you just take down our signs?’ The guy was like ‘woh wuh wah…'”
Martens pursued the man and took pictures of him entering the car, a gray Honda that had Maryland plates. He says he had neither heard of Lowery nor knew what he looked like at the time of the incident, but subsequently identified Lowery based on online photos. “No doubt in my mind that was the guy,” Martens says. “No question it was him. I happened to be in the right place at the right time to catch the dude stealing signs off private property.”
He provided City Paper with two photos of the man with 2:15 p.m. Sunday timestamps, and a third photo of a dumped sign with a 5:32 p.m. Sunday timestamp. “I found more signs in the garbage down the road later in the day and snapped pics of those,” says Martens. “I would bet my life savings on it that the guy who took the signs is Jeremiah based on photos from the internet and other sources.”
The business owner says there were three women wearing matching campaign shirts in the vehicle, but he could not see what the shirts said. “It happened so fast,” Martens explains. “I was playing paparazzi.” Once the purported sign-taker got inside the car, according to Martens, the man raised his hand to obscure his face.
Martens says the entire episode was bizarre. “Why would you rip down the signs unless you really gave a shit?” he notes. “The second thing is: Why would this guy be covering his face?” In one of the photos Martens provided, the man in the passenger’s seat of the car has a piece of paper in his lap that appears to read “Lowery At Large 2018” as well as “Karen Cordry“—the name of Lowery’s campaign treasurer.
“He didn’t say anything, he didn’t engage, he literally took off,” Martens adds of the confrontation. “It was one of those things that just registered, like, goddamn, someone just stole my fucking signs.”
Notes Valero: “My favorite part of it was he was carrying one of his own signs as he was tearing down Steuart’s signs.” She says the other kind of sign the man was holding was “green and white,” which are two of Lowery’s campaign colors.
Martens says immediately after the incident, he texted the photos he had taken to Goodwin, whom he calls a “good buddy” in the same running group. Goodwin then sent back a photo of himself and Lowery standing beside each other at an event, Martens says. “The hair and the glasses” in it matched those of the supposed sign-trasher, according to him.
Lowery denies the incident occurred. “It’s a lie, an absolute lie,” Lowery said after City Paper sent him Martens’ photos and asked whether he had dumped any of Martens’ Goodwin signs. He said he was not in Park View on Sunday, but rather at a “meet-and-greet” that a friend hosted at her house in Northeast and that drew about 10 people. He said the event was scheduled to begin at 2 p.m., and he arrived early, “around 1:45 p.m.,” to help set up.
“There were 10 people who saw me [at the house] at 2 o’clock,” said Lowery, adding that the event lasted until about 5 p.m. He claims that Goodwin and his supporters have previously followed him with camera phones. But he did not deny that the photos Martens captured indeed depict him.
“He’s trying to play gotcha politics,” Lowery said of Goodwin. “He’s trying to fish for some type of story. I didn’t trash any signs. I stand by that story. I don’t know where or how he got the photos of me.”
Danielle Henry, who hosted the meet-and-greet, says the event started at 2:30 p.m., but Lowery came early. She says she does not recall the specific time Lowery showed up, but that he was at her house 10 to 15 minutes before any other guests.
Henry, who knows Lowery from a universal childcare movement they worked on together, adds that the guests discussed Lowery’s positions on various issues, including regulations for daycare providers, residency requirements for schools, and housing.
“My house is not even close to Georgia Avenue,” Henry says of her home, which is located in Woodridge near D.C.’s border with Maryland. “That’s a hike.” (Google Maps indicates that someone can drive from the 3400 block of Georgia Avenue NW to Henry’s home in 15 minutes.) She calls Lowery “trustworthy [and] passionate” and says it would not be in his character to tamper with an opponent’s campaign signs.
Henry provided City Paper two screenshots of photos she posted on a Facebook event page that she had created for the meet-and-greet. The photos were uploaded at 2:49 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. on Sunday, respectively, and depict Lowery speaking with attendees. In them, he is wearing a maroon shirt and light blue jeans that resemble the clothes the man whom Martens photographed is also wearing.
In follow-up emails, Lowery wrote to City Paper that he arrived at Henry’s party “around 2:10 or 2:15 p.m.” Asked to explain why the men in Martens’ photos and Henry’s photos are wearing similar clothes, he wrote: “Embarrassing enough, I wear the same shirts (and often pants) 3 or 4 days in a row, multiple days a week. I don’t have alot [sic] of outfits. I own 2 pairs of jeans and 2 pairs of slacks. As well as [sic] I usually wear the same shirts often around the city.”
In late March, Lowery, through a surrogate, tried but failed to boot Goodwin from the primary ballot by contesting the legitimacy of the signatures Goodwin had collected. (Candidates need 2,000 valid signatures to qualify.) But on April 12, before a formal hearing was ever held, Lowery “irrevocably” dropped his challenge against Goodwin by submitting a form to the D.C. Board of Elections.
Goodwin, for his part, says in an interview that he plans to campaign hard until the June 19 primary. He says he has heard rumors that Lowery’s campaign has targeted his signs “for months,” but that he never had solid evidence of mischief.
“I think Steuart’s account is that he witnessed it,” he says. “That’s why he took pictures of him doing it. I think it’s sad that candidates resort to those kind of tactics, but I’m going to continue running my positive campaign that doesn’t have me engaging in any behavior that is below a councilmember.”
“I don’t really care that he’s doing this,” Goodwin adds. “I just think it’s a good learning moment that people should have high integrity at all times, because Washington is a small town and people are always watching, especially in this age of digital media.”
Although Martens, like Goodwin, is a D.C. native, he says growing up in the District actually turned him off to politics. “I’m pretty apolitical,” says the business owner, who was a contestant on the 10th season of “The Apprentice.” “I’m not in the fray too much. I’m just trying to help a good friend of mine.”
The signs Lowery allegedly dumped are back in their rightful place, Martens says. “They weren’t banged up. They’re all shining proud on the fence now. I told Marcus we need the biggest sign he has, like something 10 feet by 8 feet.”