At-large members of the D.C. Council arguably have a more complex job than their council counterparts, in the sense that in representing the eight wards of the city, they must appeal to a wider variety of interests, even when those priorities compete with one another.
But council hopeful Dionne Reeder said she’s up for the challenge, outlining in an interview with The Washington Informer what she described as a perspective that will benefit working-class residents, the business community and everyone else navigating the fault lines of a gentrified city.
“I’m not extremely progressive, but I’m progressive enough to change the tide,” Reeder said as she criticized the legislative record of her opponent and incumbent Elissa Silverman (I-At Large), specifically her stances that have perturbed the business community and, at one point, youth seeking employment opportunities.
“We need to have balance,” said Reeder, onetime co-owner of Cheers at the Big Chair on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue in Southeast, a full-service restaurant that employs Anacostia community members. “Silverman’s too far to the left and not focused on how you collaborate in everyone’s best interests. She wanted to cut [down] Marion Barry’s summer jobs program. She’s a proponent of laws not in the interest of the business community.
“All of us are residents in this city,” she said. “The goal should be to create a city that works for everyone: lifelong residents and newcomers who aim make D.C. their home to raise their families.”
Reeder had similar thoughts when it came to paid family leave, a cause Silverman has championed.
“I’m not against paid family leave but I am against making the business entities solely responsible,” the Northwest resident said. “Yes, we need opportunities and leave for families to care for their new born children and sick relatives, but we can create legislation that works for us all.”
Since her other opponent, S. Kathryn Allen, withdrew a challenge to Reeder’s campaign-nomination petition, the business owner and her squad, sporting bright pink shirts and hats, have been spotted throughout the District.
Reeder, who announced her candidacy in October, said she’s using the final weeks leading up to the Nov. 6 election to connect with voters from all walks of life. In canvassing across the city, she said she has learned that residents, whether they live east of the Anacostia River or in the Palisades, a quiet, upper middle-class neighborhood west of Rock Creek Park, often think about how they and their children will thrive as the cost of living in D.C continues to increase.
When speaking with voters, Reeder said she touts her experience in the local and federal government, nonprofit sector and business community, making known that she wants to seek solutions that don’t benefit one group at the expense of another.
“We have to look at our neighborhoods being inclusive, so we can work together,” Reeder said.
While she didn’t deride Initiative 77, the ballot measure to increase the minimum hourly wage for restaurant workers to $15 that passed by an overwhelming majority of voters this summer before the D.C. Council overturned it, Reeder said government officials must keep in mind the effect of laws that burden small business owners and marginalize prospective employees living in the surrounding communities.
“I’m not interested in being disillusioned,” Reeder said as she recounted the hurdles she struggled to overcome daily while running Cheers at the Big Chair without government grants, and other forms of assistance for small business in a food desert where residents have little disposable income.
“The business community is the District’s fourth-largest employer, so we need businesses to thrive,” she said. “We have to be mindful about how we incorporate policies that affect all parts of the community. We have to support businesses as they grow. We can’t afford to have policies put on us all at the same time.”
Upon graduating from West Virginia University, Reeder, a native Washingtonian and alumna of Roosevelt Senior High School in Northwest, worked on Capitol Hill as a legislative aide for the House Committee on Natural Resources. She later joined the DC Community Prevention Partnership, where she helped more than 200 people, many of whom were first-generation college students, matriculate to an undergraduate institution.
As Ward 8 neighborhood services coordinator under D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams, Reeder managed a budget of more than $9 million to address youth violence. More recently, she continued her interactions with D.C.’s young people at the Far Southeast Collaborative, where she engaged the community and connected youth with employment opportunities.
Markus Batchelor, Ward 8 State Board of Education representative and onetime employee of Reeder at the Far Southeast Collaborative, spoke to what he described as Reeder’s passion for solving complicated problems one step at a time.
Batchelor said that in the year they worked together, he saw Reeder use her expertise to provide professional development and job opportunities to the youth.
“What makes Dionne such a unique candidate is that she has a large breadth of professional experience that would benefit all Washingtonians, but she also has deep roots in the community that [can be used for] leadership on the council,” Batchelor said. “What’s evident in her professional experience is that she has a track record of working with community organizations. She doesn’t only talk about tough issues, but finds innovative solutions to get the job done.”
In mid-August, while at the first community engagement forum around the selection of the new D.C. chancellor, Reeder, in her mission to boost employment and curb youth violence, vocally advocated for a key change in the curriculum that would prepare public school graduates for the workforce: the return of vocational training in D.C. high schools.
She said that her interactions with youth inspired the particular call to action.
“I’ve tried to mediate violence and a concern among young people is that they’re not learning anything,” she said. “School is a place to integrate life skills. It’s imperative that the chancellor understands how we should be well-rounded. We need someone who understands career technical training and vocational training must be integrated in our school system to ensure success.
“Additionally, we need a chancellor who recognizes our teacher and parents as the experts and integrate their knowledge in the development of programs and curriculums for our children,” Reeder said.
Last weekend, Reeder and her team found themselves on the move once again, attending a Ward 8 Faith Leaders meeting Saturday morning and the Ward 7 Community Day at Marvin Gaye Park in Northeast that afternoon. Reeder also attended a birthday celebration for Marcus Goodwin, onetime D.C. Council at-large candidate.
Wendy Glenn of Southeast, Reeder’s longtime colleague and campaign volunteer since April, said Reeder’s appeal to diverse array of voters will guarantee her an election win in November, citing a recent campaign event at Howard University as evidence.
“This has been an introduction to Dionne for many across the city,” Glenn said. “They didn’t know who she was, but once we give them the feeling and knowledge of who she is and her qualifications, there has been warm and inviting reception from all eight wards. To know Dionne is to like her.”