Ward 5 D.C. Council member Kenyan McDuffie seeks to secure one of the two at-large seats available when voters go to the polls for the Nov. 8 general election. (Courtesy photo)
Ward 5 D.C. Council member Kenyan McDuffie seeks to secure one of the two at-large seats available when voters go to the polls for the Nov. 8 general election. (Courtesy photo)

The race for two of the D.C. Council’s at-large seats in the Nov. 8 general election has generated increased interest and debate with three current council members vying for the positions. 

But many voters indicate that they remain uncertain of who they will choose when they go to the polls. 

“My first choice is to vote for Elissa Silverman,” said Renee Bowser, a Ward 4 resident who has served as an advisory neighborhood commissioner and previously run for the ward council seat. “I like what she has done as far as paid family leave is concerned and she tries to practice oversight over the Department of Employment Services.”

Voters must choose two candidates in a race that features eight hopefuls whose names will appear on the general election ballot. In addition to Silverman, independents include Karim Marshall, Fred Hill, Graham McLaughlin and Kenyan McDuffie as well as Democrat Anita Bonds, Republican Giuseppe Niosi and Statehood-Green David Schwartzman. 

The top two vote-getters will win seats on the council. Voters can select no more than two candidates for the seats. Meanwhile, political observers have described the race as one to watch with three current councilmembers, Silverman, McDuffie and Bonds, among those competing for the two seats.

Bowser, no relation to D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, said she hasn’t made a final decision on her second choice.

“I know I am a Democrat and I sit on the D.C. Democratic State Committee as the Ward 4 committeewoman,” she said. “We as Democrats have made a commitment to back Anita Bonds. I think Anita is a nice person but she seems too close to developers. That’s the way I feel about Kenyan McDuffie. He is too close to developers and I didn’t like the way he left the party to run for the at-large council seat. He’s really not an independent.”

She also expressed reservations about McDuffie’s handling of his former campaign for the Democratic nomination for attorney general. 

“He should have known whether he met the qualifications for the office before he started his campaign,” she said.

While Bowser expressed doubts about Bonds, Franklin Garcia, a former D.C. shadow representative and an independent at-large council candidate in 2020, said he plans on backing her.

“When I rejoined the Democratic Party after the 2020 race, I made a commitment to elect Democrats,” Garcia said. “Anita, who has served a number of years on the council and knows the issues, has my support.”

Like Bowser, Garcia hasn’t made a firm choice on his second pick.

“There are very high-profile names on the ballot and I think D.C. residents will be well-served by anyone on the ballot because the candidates are competent and care about the city,” he said.

Deirdre Brown lives in the Palisades neighborhood of Ward 3. A former candidate for her ward’s council seat earlier this year, she owns a title company in the city. Brown supports Bonds because of her performance on the council.

“She is the chair of the housing committee and I have seen her work up close,” she said. “I want her to continue to do good work.”

Brown said she will “definitely” support McDuffie as her second choice.

“As the owner of a small business, I appreciate his support of us,” she said. “He has also voiced concerns about the state of the city’s major corridors, which are key to small business development. I like that he addresses the problem of vacant storefronts throughout the city.”

Former Ward 8 advisory neighborhood commissioner Christopher Hawthorne shared Brown’s support for McDuffie.

“I know him personally and I think he has really tried to address crime in the city,” Hawthorne said. “As an at-large council member, he will need to deal with citywide issues. He will have to touch on other areas.”

Hawthorne said Hill will be his first selection when he casts his ballot.

“Fred Hill is one of our Ward 8 people,” he said. “I don’t see any of the other candidates talking about our needs. A lot of times people come to Ward 8 seeking our votes. But Fred is walking the walk and talking the talk.”

Hawthorne said he respects Bonds and Silverman but said “they’ve had their time” on the council.

“They haven’t made any changes in Ward 8,” he said. “They have allowed things to get bad. When you go to their offices about an issue, they offer excuses and more excuses but no action.”

Ravi Perry, a political scientist at Howard University, said this year’s at-large council race looked good for incumbents Bonds and Silverman until McDuffie entered the race.

“Kenyan McDuffie is the wild card,” Perry said. “It looks like there was an October surprise when it was revealed that there are problems at the D.C. Housing Authority which doesn’t look good for Bonds in that she chairs the committee on housing.”

Perry said if McDuffie wins and Silverman loses, the progressives on the council will lose an ally and the moderates who tend to favor businesses will retain a friend.

James Wright Jr. is the D.C. political reporter for the Washington Informer Newspaper. He has worked for the Washington AFRO-American Newspaper as a reporter, city editor and freelance writer and The Washington...

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