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Prominent activist and Peaceoholics co-founder Ron Moten is demanding that At-Large Councilmember David Catania retract statements that implicate Moten in an alleged illegal campaign spending effort on behalf of Councilmember Muriel Bowser, the Ward 4 Democrat who polls indicate leads Catania in the mayoral race.
The demand, sent Tuesday by Moten’s attorney Johnny Barnes in a letter to the Catania campaign, insists that Catania “publish a ‘retraction,’ ‘correction’ and an ‘apology'” to Moten for “for the untruths you published in an electronic communication this instant date.”
Those “untruths” refer to statements in an email sent to thousands of voters by Catania campaign manager Ben Young that appear to identify Moten as a person “associated with the illegal spending.”
The allegations and retraction demand stem from a controversy last week over mysterious red-white-and-blue campaign signs that recently appeared in wards 7 and 8, accusing Catania of waging a “war against the poor.” The signs were attributed to a group identifying itself as “DC Citizens Against Catania,” which as reported by the Washington Post did not provide any indication of who paid for the signs, as city election laws require. The Post identified three advocates for ex-offenders’ rights, Yango Sawyer, Debra Rowe, and Eddie Moton, as key figures at the gathering, though only Moton was reported to be brandishing any materials. (He reportedly was wearing a T-shirt.)
Sawyer has since acknowledged that he’s responsible for the signs, placards, and T-shirts, and is the subject of a complaint to the Office of Campaign Finance accusing him and his colleagues of making unreported “in-kind contributions” to Bowser’s campaign. A hearing on the OCF complaint, filed by Ward 1 activist Marie Drissel, is scheduled for Monday. Sawyer and Rowe declined to comment. Moton couldn’t be reached. The Bowser campaign has denied any involvement with “DC Citizens Against Catania.” She didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
But the Post article also included an interview with Moten, co-founder of Peaceoholics, a nonprofit group that advocates non-violence on behalf of at-risk youth. He was at the rally and was quoted voicing support for Bowser from the community of advocates for ex-offenders, known as “returning citizens.”
Moten is not related to Eddie Moton, whose name is misspelled in the OCF complaint, perhaps confusing an already murky matter.
On Tuesday, Young blasted out the email, which bears the Catania campaign logo, stating that, “according to the Post, the people associated with the illegal spending include…Another person [who] co-founded an organization found guilty of misusing city grant funding to purchase two high-end SUV’s. A judge ordered the group and another co-founder to repay $639,000.”
“District residents deserve better than more dirty tricks and illegal activity,” Young wrote. “Let’s finally put an end to business as usual at City Hall.”
Moten says that line was directed at him. (He’s asking a D.C. judge to dismiss the court action referenced in the email blast, which relates to allegations that he understated his compensation from the nonprofit on federal tax forms, allowing him to receive grants from the District’s troubled Children’s Youth Investment Trust Corporations.)
And while the Post quotes him voicing his support for Bowser and his awareness of the efforts of fellow advocates for returning citizens, it contains no indication that he is connected to the activities of “DC Citizens Against Catania.” Moten tells Washington City Paper that he’s not associated with the group or any of their activities and that he attended the event as a private citizen free of any campaign attire or materials.
Now he wants an apology and a retraction from Catania.
“This shows the temperament of what David Catania would do as mayor!” Moten says in an email. “Although clearly wrong, he still attempts to crush and slander a public servant who doesn’t agree with his agenda! I expected better, but he will be held liable as previous people who have made false statements against me!”
Moten has a history of backing up such statements: In 2010, Peacoholics filed a libel lawsuit against Ward 8 ANC Commissioner Sandra Seegars claiming that she distributed defamatory emails about the Peaceoholics. The case was dropped when Seegars agreed to retract the statements.
In the current controversy, Young says the Catania campaign hasn’t seen the retraction demand letter from Barnes, a copy of which was sent by email to the campaign Tuesday evening. But he wasn’t concerned about the significance of the controversy in the context of a hard-fought election. “Is there a bigger gift than Ron Moten and Debra Rowe piping up right now?” he said. “Go ahead and tell the world how much you love Muriel Bowser.”
File photo of Ron Moten by Darrow Montgomery