Kenyan McDuffie represents Ward 5 on the D.C. Council. (WI file photo)
Kenyan McDuffie represents Ward 5 on the D.C. Council. (WI file photo)

Ward 5 D.C. Council member Kenyan McDuffie’s unexpected decision to run for one of two at-large seats on the District’s legislative body as an independent in the Nov. 8 general election continues to elicit support throughout the city.

On July 1, McDuffie went to the D.C. Board of Elections and filed paperwork to change his party affiliation from Democrat to independent to run in the general election. He had to make the switch because his colleague, Anita Bonds, won the Democratic primary on June 21 to represent the party in the general election.

McDuffie said he wants to continue to serve residents on the council but from a different position.

“I love the District of Columbia,” said McDuffie at the July 4th Palisades Parade in Northwest. 

“I have a lifelong commitment to public service and helping residents who have unmet needs,” he said. “As an at-large council member, I will focus on public safety, affordable housing and job opportunities. D.C. and its residents are my passion and my purpose.”

Jeannette Mobley, a longtime Ward 5 political activist, supports McDuffie’s move.

“I am happy that he decided to get into the at-large race as an independent,” Mobley said. “Kenyan in his heart is a Democrat. I am glad that he wants to continue to stay on the council because he has done superb work in criminal justice and economic equity for Black businesses. He should have the chance to continue to be the voice of the people on the council.”

McDuffie’s Journey to At-Large Council Candidacy

Earlier this year, McDuffie sought the Democratic nomination for District attorney general. However, the board of elections and the D.C. Court of Appeals ruled that he lacked the statutory qualifications for the position after one of his opponents challenged his credentials. 

If McDuffie hands in a sufficient number of signatures from registered voters to qualify for the ballot – 3,000 are needed – he will face Bonds and another colleague, independent Elissa Silverman, who wants to be re-elected to serve a third four-year term, as well as other political party nominees and non-party affiliated candidates.

In the District, two council at-large seats are available each election year. The Democratic nominee traditionally secures one of the two seats because of that party’s strong base in the city and the 10-to-1 advantage in voter registration over Republicans. 

By law, the two winners of the at-large races cannot be from the same political party. While the District allows voters to register as independents and candidates can run for political office as independents in the general election, officially no Independent Party exists under that name.

McDuffie Supporters Speak Up

Villareal Johnson, a Ward 7 Democrat, said McDuffie’s independent candidacy serves as a means of redemption.

“This is the opportunity for Kenyan to serve D.C. and its natives,” Johnson said.

While Johnson doesn’t like that McDuffie has to leave the Democratic Party to run as an independent, he said the alternative could be worse.

“It would really bother me, what Kenyan is doing, if we had a real two-party system in the city,” Johnson said. “If a Republican really had a shot at one of the two seats on the council, that would be a problem. But in D.C., we advance Democratic ideals.”

Anthony Wright serves as the political liaison for the American Federation of Government Employees Local 1975 and has been active in District politics for decades. Wright said his union’s leadership anticipated McDuffie running as an independent after his failed attempt to be attorney general.

“Really, that was the only viable path that he had to stay on the council,” he said. “He opted to run at-large as an independent and we think that is okay but we know he is a Democrat at heart.”

Wright said McDuffie will be a strong candidate because he has support among business and labor leaders.

“The business community hates Elissa and the big unions like Kenyan,” Wright said. “Serving at large on the council will be good for him. I have heard through the grapevine that he would like to be mayor someday. An at-large seat sets him up for that.”

Charles Wilson serves as the chairman of the D.C. Democratic State Committee. Wilson has expressed fondness for McDuffie but doesn’t like that he had to leave the party to pursue an at-large position on the legislative body.

“I think we need to make changes to the Home Rule Charter,” Wilson said. “Before she became an independent, Elissa Silverman was a Democrat and all of the independent candidates running for the at-large seat are former Democrats. In the fall, we as a city should look at making the council seats non-partisan. That means in the at-large race, the two top voter getters win and they would not be identified by party.”

“But the priority of the Democratic Party is to re-elect Anita Bonds to another four-year term,” he said.

James Wright Jr.

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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