After months of political intrigue and jockeying resembling a political reality television show, D.C. Council members Anita Bonds (D) and Elissa Silverman (I) retained their seats in an at-large council race that highlighted significant local issues and revealed deep-seated racial and political schisms.
Shortly before the D.C. Board of Elections declared her a winner, Silverman, reluctant to relish in her victory, made known her commitment to continuing her progressive streak, mending fences with political rivals and addressing the concerns of the District’s most vulnerable residents.
“We’re making sure that we take care of families, implement paid family leave and close our achievement gaps in the schools,” said Silverman while celebrating with campaign staff and supporters at Tabard Inn in Northwest.
On Tuesday night, she gained nearly 27 percent of the vote compared to Reeder’s 15 percent.
“We need the right strategies to [help residents] overcome poverty and reduce health disparities. This race brought up the need to have challenging conversations about people feeling left out of the prosperity. I’m interested in working with Dionne [Reeder] and the mayor. We need to figure out how to bridge the divide,” Silverman added.
Though six candidates vied for two At-large council seats this year, much of the focus had been on Silverman, a Jewish woman and former reporter hailing from Baltimore, and Reeder, a third-generation Black LGBT Washingtonian and entrepreneur with decades of experience in the local and federal governments and nonprofit space.
Silverman Consistent in Standing Her Ground
Since entering office, Silverman, who often iterates her refusal to take corporate contributions, developed a reputation as a progressive reformer and fiscal conservative. Last year, Silverman, a member of the Council Committee on Finance and Revenue, railed against the allocation of $36 million for the construction of an underground parking lot at Union Market in Northeast, suggesting that the dollars would be better spent on affordable housing and nearby public transit.
Silverman found an enemy in Mayor Bowser when she authored expansive paid family leave legislation that Bowser said would financially burden D.C. business owners. Both women also reportedly clashed in the aftermath of a unity rally organized by a now-former member of the Bowser administration where a man unaffiliated with the event called members of the Jewish race termites.
In October, Silverman, along with four of her council colleagues, voted against the repeal of Initiative 77, a voter-approved ballot measure that Bowser and other elected officials had been on record denouncing as detrimental to the local economy. Had the law remained intact, tipped workers’ minimum wage would’ve risen gradually to $15 per hour.
Her other stances, however, haven’t been quite so popular.
Efforts to cut funding for the Marion S. Barry Summer Youth Program and cap spending on the newly-constructed Entertainment & Sports Arena on St. Elizabeths east campus sparked fury among longtime D.C. residents who questioned Silverman’s interest in east-of-the-river communities.
But some people like Mark Clack, a Northeast resident and Silverman supporter, said she’ll take those hard-learned lessons into her next term.
“The history of race relations in D.C. have held people back from supporting Elissa Silverman because there’s a perception that she doesn’t understand the city’s history and the community’s desire to share prosperity east of the Anacostia River,” Clack said. “Those things can’t be put on a budget spread sheet. You have to be willing to talk to people and compromise and I expect to see more of that from her.”
Tension Mounts with Bowser’s Backing of Reeder
The tension between Silverman and Reeder reached new heights in September after D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D), a critic of Silverman, endorsed Reeder. Shortly after, a group of influential African-American female politicians, community organizers and business mavens gathered at a house in an upper Northwest enclave to raise funds for the woman they said would increase Black female representation on the council.
At that private event, Bowser explicitly said she wanted a D.C. Council colleague who could work with others and wouldn’t let outside influences dictate her legislative agenda. She would express this desire a few more times on the campaign trail.
Days later, Bowser hosted a get-out-the-vote rally at Ivy City Smokehouse in Northeast with Reeder and Bonds, a fellow Democrat who won more than 44 percent of the vote on Tuesday. Bowser’s support brought in an infusion of campaign funds for Reeder, as outlined in a recent campaign finance report that showed Reeder’s campaign raising more than two times that of Silverman in less than three weeks.
Bowser’s endorsement of Reeder raised concerns that Reeder would act on the mayor’s behalf from the council once elected.
Reeder supporters have pushed back against that assertion, characterizing Reeder as an independently-minded bridge builder and touting her more than 20 years of experience working in D.C. communities, including stints at the Far Southeast Collaborative and DC Community Prevention Partnership.
In 2015, Reeder, a Ward 1 resident, and Jauhar Abraham opened Cheers at The Big Chair, a sit-down restaurant on Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue in Southeast that employs Ward 8 residents, some of whom are returning citizens.
On the campaign trail, she highlighted vocational training for high school students, boosting the capacity of local businesses, increasing affordable housing and ensuring seniors age in place as legislative priorities.
Efforts to shed light on those issues continued on Tuesday night.
In her concession speech, a teary-eyed yet cheerful Reeder gave little indication that she would let up on advocating for D.C. residents while serving in a capacity to be determined.
“We’ve got to heal the city,” Reeder said to campaign staff and supporters on the main stage at Ivy City Smokehouse in Northeast. “What you told me to say got heard. People’s lives got changed by the fact that we stood together and fought. It’s time for us to build more leaders. Don’t let them take over this city. This is just the beginning. I will push someone else.”