Those who’ve rallied around D.C. Council member Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5) during this election cycle have gone toe-to-toe with supporters of the incumbent At-Large Council member Elissa Silverman (I), a self-described vanguard for government ethics and accountability.
In the aftermath of a D.C. Office of Campaign Finance (OCF) ruling that found Silverman in violation of campaign finance laws, some McDuffie’s supporters have called for Silverman to drop out of the at-large race.
A Tuesday morning rally on the front steps of the John A. Wilson Building in Northwest attracted community members and other at-large D.C. Council candidates who reflected on similar situations where Black politicians and community organizers suffered the consequences of their actions.
“Should you choose to thrust yourself [in politics], you have a heightened sense of responsibility and accountability,” attorney Dionna Maria Lewis said Tuesday as she stood by community organizer Ron Moten and others on the steps of the Wilson Building.
“People are skeptical of politics and politicians.,” Lewis said. “When you have a determination from the OCF that says the skepticism is right, that’s now another rung on a low ladder as citizens try to climb to the level of trust and integrity.”
The Ethics of a Primary Election Poll
Last week, OCF ordered Silverman, a participant in the District’s Fair Election campaign financing program, to refund more than $6,000 after determining that she misspent campaign funds.
In August, Karim Marshall, another independent at-large council candidate, filed a complaint against Silverman for commissioning a poll about a hotly contested Ward 3 Democratic primary race.
Weeks after Silverman released the results of the poll, Matthew Frumin, a former ANC commissioner she endorsed, clinched the nomination. Eric Goulet, one of several of Frumin’s opponents, said Silverman’s poll compelled three candidates — Tricia Duncan, Ben Bergmann and Henry Cohen — to drop out of the race and support Frumin.
At a DC Democrats event Friday, Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) alluded to the OCF ruling, urging Democrats to stand up against misuse of public campaign finance funds.
Speaking about the ruling days later, Council member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) said, “Behind-the-scenes actions to influence an outcome are wrong and I hope it doesn’t happen again.”
McDuffie also released a statement mentioning other instances, such as in 2013, when Silverman, as revealed in an email she released, encouraged Frumin to drop out of an at-large race in exchange for her future support in the Ward 3 council race. McDuffie then touched on the role he played in shaping the current campaign finance laws, saying that he wanted to bolster the public’s trust in government.
McDuffie didn’t return phone calls for comment.
Silverman recently revealed plans to appeal OCF’s ruling on the grounds that the Ward 3 poll had direct ties to her campaign goals.
“We made three major arguments [that the polling] would directly help me,” Silverman said. “I wanted to see if Democrats for Education Reform was buying my race. The board said I can’t poll in another race but the [Ward 3] race impacts me and my electoral chances. I believe it’s well within the regulations given it directly and indirectly assists my campaign.”
A Question of Who Can Unify the City
Two at-large council seats are up for grabs on November 8th. Voters can choose between the incumbents Silverman and Anita Bonds (D) or independent candidates McDuffie, Marshall, Fred E. Hill and Graham McLaughlin. Other at-large candidates include D.C. Statehood Green Party candidate David Schwartzman, and Republican candidate Guiseppe Niosi.
Earlier this year, McDuffie, a Democrat representing Ward 5 on the D.C. Council, changed his party affiliation and announced his run for the independent at-large council seat. This happened after a failed attempt to enter the Democratic attorney general primary race.
When asked about who they’re supporting in the at-large race, Silverman and McDuffie’s council colleagues Vincent C. Gray (D-Ward 7) and Trayon White (D-Ward 8) said they’re still giving it some thought.
White hinted at possibly revealing his decision in the coming days.
Meanwhile, Council members Brianne Nadeau (D-Ward 1), Janeese Lewis George (D-Ward 4) and Charles Allen (Ward 6), along with D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine, have espoused support for Silverman.
Silverman’s other endorsements include the Washington Teachers’ Union, D.C. Nurses Association, United Food & Commercial Workers Local 400, and AFSCME District Council 20. Silverman said those endorsements speak to her appeal to working-class Black voters.
People and groups in McDuffie’s corner include D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D), Roger A. Mitchell Jr., former District deputy mayor for public safety, former Labor Secretary Tom Perez and the District of Columbia Association of Realtors.
Chioma Iwuoha, a Ward 7 resident and McDuffie supporter, said the OCF ruling speaks to longstanding concerns that Black people across the District, and particularly east of the Anacostia River, have expressed about Silverman’s integrity and accountability to Wards 7 and 8.
Though she has supported Silverman in past elections, Chioma said McDuffie has been more intentional about advancing legislation that directly helps Black residents.
“When Kenyan [legislated] the baby bonds, he talked about the racial wealth gap,” said Iwuoha, commissioner for ANC Single-Member District 7B01. “When he provided money for small business owners, he made sure he provided money for Black small business owners.
“Kenyan created the Black Homeownership Fund,” she added. “That holds greater weight than someone introducing legislation [and] saying it would naturally help Black people. I want you to speak our names and make legislation targeted to Black people.”
On Sunday, the group known as District influencers for Kenyan McDuffie rallied support for their candidate during an event at Union Market.
Moten also continues to sing McDuffie’s praises, saying that the current Ward 5 council member has a citywide appeal that makes him the ideal at-large candidate.
When it comes to Silverman, however, Moten points to her apprehension about a street in Ward 8 in honor of the late former Ward 8 Council member and “Mayor for Life” Marion Barry as one of several reasons for Black people, and other residents, to not support her.
He also touted other instances, such as efforts to curb funding for the arena on St. Elizabeths campus and the Marion Barry Summer Youth Employment Program, as indicators of Silverman’s priorities.
In regard to the recent OCF ruling, Moten said it further confirms that Silverman has been protected by certain media forces throughout her tenure, even as she levies accusations of antisemitism against residents who don’t support her re-election bid.
“If Elissa Silverman goes on and wins and people don’t hold her accountable, then Black people will lose trust in the whole electoral process,” Moten said. “That’s dangerous. We’re not stupid. It’s clear as day. Elissa has a pattern going back to 2013. We can’t have someone in office who manipulates the media and the vote, while using her religion to be divisive.”