Twenty residents have picked up petitions to qualify for the D.C. Council’s citywide independent position in the General Election as of July 17 and with the exception of three male candidates, Ed Lazere, Rick Murphree and Will Merrifield, the field consists of people of color. The petitions are due to the D.C. Board of Elections Aug. 5 and after a challenge period, a lottery for the candidate’s ballot positions will take place on Sept. 11. The General Election takes place Nov. 3.
The seat became vacant after D.C. Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large) decided not to run for re-election. Grosso has endorsed a former Black staffer, Christina Henderson. Other African Americans seeking the position include: former D.C. Councilmember and two-time candidate for District mayor Vincent Orange; D.C. State Board of Education Rep. Markus Batchelor (Ward 8); former D.C. Young Democrats President Marcus Goodwin; former Ward 5 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Kathy Henderson; former Ward 6 Commissioner Keith Silver; political activists Eric M. Rogers and Calvin H. Gurley; and newcomers Jeanne Lewis and Michangelo “Doctor Mic” Scruggs.
Batchelor notes that while he’s aware that should an African American win, the council would become majority Black, that’s not the motivation for his entering the race.
“I want to fight for those who have been left behind,” he said. “Representation on the council does matter and an example of that is how COVID-19 has hurt Black communities, especially those east of the river, as far as health disparities and the economic downturn.”
“White incomes in the District have skyrocketed in the last decade while Blacks are doing worse than they were in 2008. We need leadership that is committed to closing the racial divide and a government that is representative of the city and I am committed to that.”
Goodwin, a millennial like Batchelor, said the council needs an African-American at-large councilmember who represent the age demographic of his contemporaries.
“We need more young leaders who will bring new ideas to the city because we’re facing challenges that are unique to our generation,” Goodwin said citing issues which include police harassment, employment discrimination, housing bias and burdensome student loan debt. “I’m running so that every D.C. resident can have access to economic mobility.”
Silver says he likes the energy of young candidates like Batchelor and Goodwin but notes that as a 66-year-old activist and former elected official he looks to represent the District’s overlooked and ignored residents.
“When I was a commissioner in Ward 6, I had to tell some of my residents that dog parks aren’t my priority – jobs are,” Silver said. “We need a councilmember who will help Black people find and keep jobs and improve the quality of life for all people in D.C.,” he said.
If a Black woman wins in the fall, she’ll join African-American D.C. Councilmember Anita Bonds (D-At-Large) and Ward 4 Democrat prohibitive favorite Janeese Lewis George for the 2021-2022 cycle, raising female representation from five to six – one member shy of the majority.
Lewis says Black women are needed on the District’s legislative body.
“We currently have one Black woman on the council and that is Mrs. Bonds but Black women have been active in the city for a very long time and we deserve representation,” she said.
When Mario Cristaldo looks at the D.C. Council, he sees just two races represented – something he says, as a Latino, he hopes to change.
“The council should reflect what is out there in the community,” Cristaldo said. “Our city is a collaborative vision of a world-class city made up of different people. Whether we are Latino, African American or white, we can unite to fight for living wages, affordable and senior housing. I can lead those fights with my 25 years as an activist and I just happen to be a Latino.”
Other Latinos and a South Asian have entered the race including: former director of the D.C. Office of Human Rights Monica Palacio; D.C. Shadow Representative Franklin Garcia; Ward 6 Commissioner Alexander Padro; former D.C. Council staffer Claudia Barragan; and Ward 6 Commissioner Chander Jayaraman.
Padro says that if he’s elected, D.C. would welcome both its first Latino on the council as well as the first openly-gay member since David Catania left in 2015. Both Barragan and Palacio highlight that if elected, the victory would mark the first Latina chosen to represent a major office in the District.
Barragan says a new political dynamic would emerge.
“D.C.’s population according to the 2018 census is 10 percent Latino and we would still be underrepresented with a 13-member council with just one of us,” Barragan said. “As a Latina female, I can represent immigrants and their families. I will not only represent Latinos but African and Asian immigrants as well. The immigrant community needs a voice on the council.”