At-Large Council candidate Marcus Goodwin. Photo by Darrow Montgomery.

Marcus Goodwin says he’s doing things a little differently this time around, but many aspects of his campaign for an at-large seat on the D.C. Council certainly look familiar.

The 31-year-old candidate is standing outside his father’s house on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE, getting ready to start door knocking in Congress Heights. Once an essential campaigning tactic, most candidates have eschewed door knocking this election cycle. There’s a deadly, airborne virus floating around, after all. Many in-person forums and meet-and-greets moved to Zoom, and door knocking gave way to phone banking or standing outside farmers markets. But Goodwin continues to make in-person visits. He says it gives him a strategic advantage over his opponents.

“They really appreciate the personal interaction,” Goodwin says. “No other candidate is giving that.”

If door knocking is what Goodwin is doing differently, the gentleman walking by his father’s house represents what’s familiar about the at-large race.

“You gonna get on the team?” Goodwin asks Phinis Jones, the Ward 8 businessman whose office is a few houses down from Goodwin’s father’s place. Jones brushes off Goodwin’s request to join his campaign, just as he did when Goodwin ran an unsuccessful challenge to unseat At-Large Councilmember Anita Bonds in 2018.

“He’s never gonna support me,” Goodwin tells LL.

Why is that?

“People like to support people they can control,” Goodwin says. “People can’t control me.”

LL has to wonder, then, what that says about Goodwin’s endorsement from Ward 7 Councilmember Vince Gray. Or the endorsements from former councilmembers Charlene Drew Jarvis, Frank Smith, and Bill Lightfoot, all of whom served together from the late 1980s into the late ’90s.

Lightfoot is one of the architects of the so-called “Green Team” that catapulted former Mayor Adrian Fenty and current Mayor Muriel Bowser from the Ward 4 Council seat to the executive’s office. (Bowser has not said who she’s supporting in the at-large race.)

Democratic Socialist Janeese Lewis George defeated Ward 4 Councilmember Brandon Todd, another Green Teamer, in the June primary. Now, a similar ideological faceoff between establishment candidates and progressives running to the left of them has taken shape among the top at-large Council candidates.

Goodwin is a real estate developer who does not support reducing the police budget or raising income taxes on wealthy residents.

Vincent Orange, a former councilmember who left his job as president and CEO of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce to run for office, is confident his establishment base will send him back to the John A. Wilson Building.

Ed Lazere, another Democratic Socialist who has advocated for raising taxes on the wealthy and spending half of the District’s reserves in the next two years, has a small army of volunteers who he hopes will replicate the efforts that unseated Todd.

In drawing a distinction between Goodwin and Lazere, Lightfoot echoes the sentiments from Council Chairman Phil Mendelson and the Washington Post’s editorial board, which endorsed Goodwin in September. “Marcus is fiscally responsible, and Ed is financially irresponsible,” Lightfoot says. “The budget crisis is bad now and only getting worse.”

Goodwin is banking on his belief that George’s victory in Ward 4 is not representative of the city as a whole. But before he’s knocked on a single door in Congress Heights on this Friday morning in October, a woman walking by gives Goodwin a taste of the cynicism sowed by politics as usual. The woman tells him she hasn’t voted yet, and explains why.

“You know what, because they’re not serious, they’re not right, they’re all crooks,” she tells Goodwin. “And I’m tired of playin’ that game. Go play it without me.”

***

Goodwin has plenty of haters, many of whom attack him from the left. They criticize his work as a developer, his campaign contributions from corporate interests, and the several times he’s changed or had to clarify his answers on key issues.

The list of critics ranges from At-Large Councilmember Elissa Silverman to a former romantic partner who’s known him since they were kids. In a tweet, the woman wrote that she “wouldn’t really vote for him. He’s pathologically obsessed with status and I’m sure that’ll bleed into his policies.” She declined LL’s offer to elaborate.

Goodwin claims to rise above the attacks that he dismisses as “dirty politics,” while still lobbing a few spitballs of his own. His campaign greeted Orange’s entrance into the race with a press release headlined “The ‘Orange is Rotten:’ Marcus Goodwin Slams Vincent Orange’s Candidacy,” that included a stock image of a moldy orange.

But the sharpest criticism comes from Black Lives Matter DC.

At the height of protests sparked by George Floyd’s death at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, Goodwin sought to capitalize on the movement for justice. As activists around the country, including in D.C., pulled down statues celebrating members of the Confederacy, Goodwin painted himself as a champion for racial equality and “sensible police reform.” To that end, he started a petition to remove the Emancipation Memorial in Lincoln Park, which depicts President Abraham Lincoln standing over a formerly enslaved person kneeling at his feet.

Goodwin’s summer media tour included interviews on Fox Business, CBS Evening News, and PBS NewsHour. But by October, Goodwin was the target of a scathing rebuke from BLM-DC. In a statement, the organization calls him a “corporate-backed opportunist,” and points out his record as a developer and his employers’ roles in displacing people of color when building luxury condo and apartment buildings. Goodwin worked for JBG Companies (now JBG Smith), Four Points, LLC, and Neighborhood Development Company between 2013 and 2020.

In 2018, before Goodwin began working for NDC, the firm abruptly notified businesses occupying 1100 Eastern Avenue NE that they had to vacate immediately due to environmental hazards, according to court records. The notices touched off protests over the displacement of legacy and minority-owned businesses.

Nook’s Barber and Beauty Shop, Sunny’s Chicken and Fish, Uncle Lee’s Liquors, and Little Jewels Child Development Center brought lawsuits against NDC and its CEO, Adrian Washington. All but two of the businesses have now dropped their cases against NDC. Uncle Lee’s and Sunny’s both reached settlement agreements worth $110,000 and $325,000, respectively, but the litigation is ongoing. Both sides accuse the other of violating the terms of the settlement.

Goodwin’s role in negotiating a community benefits agreement between NDC and the Deanwood Citizens Association shortly after he started working for the developer in 2019 sticks out to Anthony Lorenzo Green. 

Green, a Ward 7 advisory neighborhood commissioner and organizer with BLM, recalls a conference call with Goodwin and Max Richman of the Deanwood Citizens Association. Green says he aimed to give Goodwin context about the controversy surrounding the development project at 1100 Eastern Ave. NE. A few months before NDC told the businesses to vacate in October 2018, police searched several young Black men sitting outside Nook’s. Green believes the Metropolitan Police Department planted a BB gun on one man so that officers could justify searching the other people hanging outside. D.C. police have denied this.

“Any time new development is coming into the community, you see an increase of stop-and-frisk in those properties,” Green says. “This is why NDC is getting the heat that they’re getting.”

As the men attempted to hammer out the terms of a community benefits agreement during the call, Goodwin asked about a group of young men hanging out in an alley by the property, Green recalls, and asked what was being done to keep the area safe.

“I was like ‘Wait, now you’re being disrespectful and making it clear that you don’t know jack shit about this Black community,’” Green says. “Now you’re running for office preaching this message, but when you were given the opportunity to show that you care about this community, you were harmful.”

Goodwin says Green’s recollection of the conversation is “positively wrong.” He emphasizes that the two sides eventually signed an agreement that requires NDC to pay more than $100,000 to support schools and community organizations in Deanwood.

“I don’t know why he’s critical of me,” Goodwin says of Green. “We have a signed community benefits agreement providing money to community groups.”

***

On the campaign trail, Goodwin projects the image of a confident, clean-cut young man. But a six-year-old criminal charge messes with that persona.

In 2014, Goodwin was accused of “sack tapping” an acquaintance at Smith Point, a now-defunctdouchey” Georgetown bar. He was arrested, charged, and eventually acquitted of misdemeanor assault. (A sack tap is a cruel greeting, typically between two men, where one swats the other’s genitals with the back of his hand.)

Asked recently about the incident, Goodwin tells LL the whole thing started because he was talking to another guy’s girlfriend. The guy, Porter Drake, falsely accused him of the sack tap, called him the N-word, and attacked him, Goodwin says.

Despite the verdict, Drake, who is White, insists Goodwin assaulted him and denies that he called Goodwin a racial slur that night.

“That is another baseless allegation against my character,” Drake says. “It’s an accusation with no merit or evidence.”

Here’s what happened, according to records in D.C. Superior Court:

In an arrest affidavit, MPD Detective Douglas Carlson recounts a conversation with Drake at a local hospital in October 2013. Drake told the detective that Goodwin greeted him at the bar and “for an unknown reason grabbed his penis and testicles and squeezed them very hard with his right hand.”

Drake told the detective that he subsequently fell to the ground after Goodwin hit him in the face. The detective noted cuts on Drake’s lip and hand and two loose front teeth.

Goodwin, for his part, spoke to police twice after the incident, records show. In one conversation, the officer reported that Goodwin said he and Drake “got into a verbal altercation after [Goodwin] went to say hello to [Drake] ‘by grabbing his friend’s crotch.’” Goodwin now says the police report is inaccurate.

In another conversation with police, Goodwin said Drake was drunk and belligerent and that Drake grabbed Goodwin by the shirt and throat and pushed him against a wall. Goodwin said he then “open hand pushed him” and Drake fell to the ground, according to the affidavit. Goodwin told police that Drake had threatened him prior to the night in question and denied touching Drake’s genitals.

A witness, who is unnamed in the affidavit, told the detective that they spoke with Goodwin the day after the altercation. Goodwin told the witness “that he walked up to [Drake] and greeted him with a ‘sack tap,’” according to the affidavit.

It took police and prosecutors six months to arrest Goodwin. Court records indicate that Drake’s family hired Ken Cummins, City Paper’s original Loose Lips columnist, as a private investigator. Goodwin had a team of attorneys from Jones Day working pro bono.

In the middle of LL’s questions about the incident, Goodwin says he doesn’t see its relevance to the at-large race. He emphasizes that he was “attacked by a racist drunk guy,” and says he could have been “a modern day Emmett Till.”

Even if it’s true that Goodwin was falsely accused, it seems to LL that comparing your acquittal on a misdemeanor assault charge to the torture and murder of a 14-year-old boy is an exaggeration. 

“I was a victim of an assault perpetrated by this individual on my face, where I got stitches and was knocked unconscious,” Drake says. “Whether he was acquitted, he did this.”

Goodwin says it “seems like privileged, entitled people, especially given the racial dynamics of the situation, feel like they can treat people however they want. But justice always prevails.” 

“Justice always prevails,” he repeats.

***

As Goodwin works his way from house to house in Congress Heights, people tell him about their most pressing issues. Trash collection, potholes, and rats are most common. His pitch to potential voters starts with his upbringing. 

Goodwin says he grew up in his father’s house right down the road, which is half true. In 2018, he told City Paper that he grew up all around D.C.—first in Northeast before splitting time between his mom’s house in Columbia Heights and his dad’s in Southeast. He now lives in Shepherd Park with his fiancée Jen Thomas.

Nevertheless, Goodwin tells the folks in Congress Heights that he wants to bring greater economic investment to the area. One of his top priorities is boosting home ownership programs.

“Look at the Black home ownership rate in the District,” he says. “We don’t do enough. We need to have a race-conscious policy to promote Black home ownership in the District.”

With Election Day less than a week away, Goodwin’s campaign is among the most well funded. He’s raised more than $400,000, much of which came from fellow developers and corporate entities. And he’s generally considered one of the top four or five candidates on a 24-person ballot, though it’s one that includes Markus Batchelor’s name right below his own, which could prove problematic, or at least confusing.

His work as a real estate developer makes him easy to dislike in one of the most gentrified jurisdictions in the country. Goodwin claims his experience in the field is a missing perspective on the current Council.

His biggest strength in the real estate world, he says, is working with communities to reach an agreement, such as the one in Deanwood, “one that an ANC like Anthony Lorenzo Green can sign onto.” Green says the ANC never voted on the agreement and calls the project “toxic.”

Goodwin acknowledges that he doesn’t know why Green is upset with him for doing his job. And perhaps that’s the problem for the young candidate: If Goodwin doesn’t have that level of self-awareness, how will voters know who he is?