At-Large Council Race Brings Drama to Midterms

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Challenger Dionne Reeder and incumbent At-Large Council member Elissa Silverman. Courtesy Reeder campaign; Silverman campaign.

Don’t look now, but the midterms are coming.

You know, the Nov. 6 midterm elections, those national political brawls the results of which are highly prized across the nation, as Democrats and Republicans (and some Independents, too) tussle for congressional and Senate seats, plus a host of local offices. We hear tell that they will decide the fate of the nation for the next two years at least.

Big doings across the land. In Washington, D.C., not so much.

Oh, there’ll be names on the ballots and elections to be held and all of that, including ballots cast for school board seats, advisory neighborhood commissioners, District Council seats and, yes, the office of mayor.

But given that the District, which is very much a Democrat entity, has already held a primary election, most of the high-profile elections have already been decided.

You’d have a better chance of winning the Mega Millions lottery than betting against Mayor Muriel Bowser, the Democrat running for reelection, even though there are three people running against her: Ann C. Wilcox (Statehood Green Party), Dustin “Doc” Canter (Independent) and Martin Moulton (Libertarian).

Democrat Phil Mendelson is more than likely to hold his seat as Council Chairman, with only Ethan Bishop-Henchman (Libertarian) as his opponent.

Most of the Council races are likely to see incumbents reelected also: Brianne Nadeau in Ward 1, Mary Cheh in Ward 3, Kenyan McDuffie in a crowded field in Ward 5, Charles Allen in Ward 6. All are Democrats, as is Karl Racine, who is heavily favored to be reelected as attorney general for the District of Columbia.

But the race for two At-Large seats on the Council, now that’s a different matter.

The race, which features incumbent two-term Council member Elissa Silverman (Independent), Anita Bonds (Democrat) and Dionne Reeder (Independent) among others, has changed dramatically in the last few weeks.

It’s been a torturous and complicated process for this particular race, which is now considered very competitive.

Silverman now faces a serious challenge from Reeder for any number of reasons, chief among them being that Mayor Muriel Bowser has thrown her weight, her support, her connections and at times even her resources into the fray in a big way.

Last month, the mayor officially announced that she was backing Reeder, a week after insurance agent S. Kathryn Allen was disqualified from the race because of the discovery of fraud in her qualifying petitions.

After endorsing Reeder, the mayor held what was described as a “government rally” with special guests Bonds and Reeder at the Ivy City Smokehouse, complete with slogans and hashtags, as in #togetherwewill and #fairshot.

Reeder is a small business owner; she’s the owner of the popular Cheers at the Big Chair in Anacostia. She is a Columbia Heights resident, a graduate of Roosevelt High School and West Virginia State University and has worked in government, including as a legislative assistant for the House Committee on Natural Resources.

Reeder strongly opposes — as does the mayor — the paid family and medical leave program passed by the Council this year and championed by Silverman.

The family and medical leave program appears to be a critical issue with Reeder, who says it hurts small businesses. The mayor has been highly critical of the program as well, because it covers people who work in the city but live in Maryland and Virginia.

The opposition to Silverman — part of a highly progressive, liberal and pro-labor faction on the Council — has been recently led by the mayor, who’s been highly vocal and emphatic in her support for Reeder. It’s bound to make the race tighter, along with an endorsement from the Washington Post.

The mayor’s high profile in the race is very unusual. In terms of scope and size, it’s untypical for mayors in this city. Some of it no doubt has to do with the issue of the family and medical leave plan, but also with other issues where the two have clashed. Bowser has called Silverman — who was a Washington Post reporter, the “Loose Lips” reporter for Washington City Paper and an analyst for DC Fiscal Policy Institute — “uncollaborative.”

In a WAMU interview, Silverman said: “I take being an independent to heart. I’m an independent voice on the Council and the mayor has criticized my oversight of her agencies. I think my job is to make sure that we’re spending taxpayer dollars in the best way possible, and spending them on the things that matter the most.”

 

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