When Andrew Miscuk got burned out of his apartment, he didn't expect it to become a campaign issue.
It was a tightly contested race. There was little that divided the two candidatesin fact, there were only a few blocks separating them. The race for a spot on the advisory neighborhood commission (ANC) representing Single Member District 1C03 pitted Adams Morgan neighbor against neighbor and resident against resident. But on Nov. 7, incumbent Andrew Miscuk managed to pull off a victory and win his second two-year term as commissioner. He beat opponent Pauline F. Nowak 51 percent to 45 percenta difference of fewer than 100 votes.
The only problem was that by the time of the election, Miscuk was no longer a resident of his small district. The reason? His 18th Street apartment above Julia's Empanadas had caught fire on Friday, Oct. 27, and his home of five years was uninhabitable.
That morning, Miscuk began his day in the usual manner. He petted his two cats, checked his e-mail, and trundled down the stairs from his two-bedroom walk-up and across the street to the Tryst cafe, where he picked up his daily cup of java. From there, he headed out to his Tysons Corner day job as a computer consultant. A onetime bartender for Heaven and Hell, Miscuk quit bartending professionally two years ago. But he still gets into the groove each month as bartender forand founder ofCocktail Charities, a roving monthly happy hour that raises funds for Adams Morgan neighborhood charities.
At 10 a.m., Miscuk says, he received a frantic call from friend and Tryst owner Constantine Stavropoulous: Miscuk's apartment was on fire. By the time Miscuk got back into the city, his apartment was scorched and his two cats, Wilbur and Babe, were dead. Firefighters, says Miscuk, blamed the blaze on a kitchen fire, perhaps caused by a rear burner on Miscuk's gas stove, which had been left on. Miscuk himself considers this explanation peculiar, because he rarely cooks. He plans to move back into his apartment when he can. Until then, he says, "I'm staying in different places. I don't want to wear out my welcome with any one friend. I'm kind of like a nomad at this point."
Friends came out of the woodwork to Miscuk's aidso many, in fact, that Miscuk joked on his Cocktail Charities message board that he could open up a small hotel if he used all the offers of temporary shelter. One person who did not offer to help, says Miscuk, was his opponent, Nowak. In a public altercation with Miscuk that has been widely discussed within the tight Adams Morgan business community, around a week before the election Nowak allegedly contested Miscuk's right to run for office in the district because he was no longer technically residing within its limits.
"It was crazy," says Stavropoulous, who witnessed the scene. "I was standing in front of the [under-construction Tryst] diner, and all of a sudden I heard this woman going off on Andy....Andy was standing in front of the diner, just in a polite way saying, 'Fine, fine.' I went up and asked him, 'What was that all about?' He said, 'That's my opponent.'" Miscuk went on to tell Stavropoulous "something to the effect that 'She's going to tell the election board about the fact that I no longer live in the ANC,'" says Stavropoulous. "This is literally less than a week after the poor guy's house burned and he lost two of his cats. Talk about dirty politics. The lower you go down the political spectrum, the nastier it gets."
Miscuk confirms the account. "She made comments three or four days before the election: 'Does the Board of Elections know this is not your address?'" he says, recounting the public exchange. "I had no power, no heat, no windows. It's like anything else: If your water main breaks, you're not going to spend your time there, but it's still your address."
Asked if he's spoken to Nowak since he won, Miscuk replies: "I don't talk with the woman. Nor does she talk to me."
Nowak, for her part, does not deny the account: "I was upset. It's illegal not to live in the [single-member] district. It's a matter for the Board of Elections to settle." When asked over the telephone if she'd taken the matter up with the Board of Elections, Nowak replied, "I'm sorry, my phone is going dead," then hung up.
No complaints about the race had been filed with the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics by the Nov. 27 filing deadline, according to election board staff attorney Terri Stroud. CP