The midterm elections could remake Congress. But in local elections, longstanding tension barely makes an electoral mark.
A few people have called me out on my failure to follow up on my promise to produce an election guide. To them I say: Better late than never.
It is indeed late. Much of the city has already cast their ballots, taking advantage of a successful early-voting period.
It’s also late in another sense: Much of the drama occurred in the primary, when Initiative 77 was on the ballot, progressive challengers tried to outflank incumbents, and a couple fields felt wide open for disruption. That was in the spring, but in 2018 time it feels like a lifetime ago, and the disruptions never came. Even the one expression of popular, progressive will — repealing the minimum wage exception for tipped jobs through Initiative 77 — was squelched by the tacit republican consensus of the ruling classes.
Covering those primaries was also draining. It takes time to write up the kinds of comprehensive race-by-race guides I was offering then. And I’ve been busy, good kinds of busy, this fall; hopefully the work I’ve put into the regular newsletters has kept most readers reasonably apprised of the election’s main narrative arcs.
- The lack of a credible challenger to Mayor Bowser, and her imperviousness to scandals in education and General Services
- The continued development of a Bowser-friendly “Green Team” contingent in the Council
- Fractiousness around religious relations, with comments that were ignorant at best and antisemitic at worst coming from city leaders
- The 55–45 passage of Initiative 77 and its near-immediate repeal by a majority of the Council
- Frustration from a powerful business lobby over a raft of popular legislation such as raising the minimum wage and paid family leave, spilling over into
- The ejection of S. Kathryn Allen from the ballot after she was deemed to have gathered improper and fraudulent signatures, and the subsequent endorsement of Cheers at the Big Chair restaurant owner Dionne Reeder as the opponent to at-large independent incumbent Elissa Silverman.
Notably absent from the narrative:
- No one made opposing HQ2 a big deal.
- No one campaigned on raising revenue.
- Housing affordability remains something everyone supports but few have actionable plans for.
There are tons of important nuances that we won’t be able to dive into, but I’ll list a bunch of further vote guides at the bottom of this post.
- Muriel Bowser (D)
- Karl Racine (D), incumbent
- Joe Henchman (L), challenger
Look, I have a kind of funny name, and the worst I have to deal with is a thousand people who think they’re the first to make a My Fair Lady joke. I cannot imagine what Joe Henchman has been through. The disadvantage of a name like that would be enough to get me to support government intervention. The gall of running as a Libertarian with that name just underscores how admirable his commitment to his principles must be.
Racine, who many suspect of mayoral ambitions, will win.
Ward 1 Council
- Brianne Nadeau (D), incumbent
- Jamie Sycamore (I), challenger
I saw Sycamore at the electoral forum on climate change. I didn’t know what to expect, but my impression was of someone who needed to take their candidacy back to the drawing board. “RESIST” plastered across his water bottle, he delivered his lines with supreme confidence…but had no sense of how little rapport he was finding with the audience, which during the brief recess between panels was still trying to figure out what he meant when he said that children who live in tall buildings won’t pick up trash.
Nadeau is a solid Councilmember who introduced legislation to help longtime local businesses, affordable housing, infant mortality and immigrant services. She also voted against repealing Initiative 77. She doesn’t have a signature win yet, but she deserves another chance at one.
Nadeau only won with 48% of the vote in the primary, so she’s by no means secure, but for me she’s the clear favorite, and my choice as well.
Ward 5 Council
- Kenyan McDuffie (D), incumbent
- Joyce Robinson-Paul (Statehood Green), challenger
- Kathy Henderson (I), challenger
Both Henderson and Robinson-Paul showed up to the electoral forum on climate change, and both seemed relatively good. Neither will dislodge McDuffie, who has a powerful seat on the Council in charge of the committee for economic development.
Ward 6 Council
- Charles Allen (D), incumbent
- Michael Bekesha (R), challenger
Bekesha has given it the old college try, but it’s hard to figure out what he thinks the endgame is. Ward 6, which includes Capitol Hill as well as noted Trump stronghold the Wharf, isn’t the worst place in DC to try this…but it’s still DC, where they had to write into the Council bylaws that non-Democrats get a voice.
I have every bit of receptivity to expanding the field of discourse, but there is something afoot here that I have no interest in supporting. Bekesha gets credit for being a socially liberal, “smart urbanism” Republican. But that’s something we take for granted with his opponent.
Ultimately, his refusal to talk about his day job at Judicial Watch — a conservative “think tank” that plays a vital role in laundering the bunk claims about climate change, Obamacare and, yes, the caravan in order to excite the paranoid fringe — says enough about whether his candidacy should be taken seriously.
However, if I were voting for this race, it wouldn’t just be about voting against Bekesha; it would be about voting for Allen. Allen has quickly built a legislative portfolio that has spanned everything from energy (the Distributed Energy Resources Authority Act, not yet passed, which would be a huge boon to rooftop solar) and climate resilience to decriminalizing fare evasion and lowering the voting age to 16. His pragmatic progressive bona fides, in other words, are a perfect match for the city’s current legislative temperament.
One thing that stood out to me about Councilmember Allen was that, although he opposed Initiative 77’s campaign, he voiced discomfort with opposing the will of voters, and ultimately did not join David Grosso in spurning the Council’s progressive wing to vote for repeal. This shows a certain willingness to listen to consituents beyond just those with access that comports with what I know personally from having lobbied him as a previous Ward 6 resident.
At Large Council (Vote for Two)
- Anita Bonds (D), incumbent
- Elissa Silverman (I), incumbent
- Dionne Reeder (I), challenger
- David Schwartzman (DC Statehood Green), challenger
This is the big one, the powder keg.
Anita Bonds will probably sail to another term, having passed her primary test with, if not flying colors, a comfortable lead. (It might not have been so comfortable if two competing millennial candidates hadn’t split nearly half the vote.) Bonds’ record as Democratic chairperson has come under fire, and she is perceived as a generally passive if benign presence on the Council.
A reminder: DC Council bylaws require that two of the at-large council seats not be held by the majority party. Martin Austermuhle explained it over at WAMU. (You can vote for more than one non-Democrat for these two seats, and that may be the right choice for many of you.)
Schwartzman: The Long Shot Leftist
I mention David Schwartzman because, if I’m going to mention the Republican in the Ward 6 race, I should at least mention the DC Statehood Green Party rep in this one. (Full disclosure: We are friendly through climate organizing.) The Howard University environmental science professor with the shock of gray hair and a penchant for long-winded public remarks might have the best platform in the race. No one else is in JSTOR with academic work filed under “Solar Communism,” are they?
He’s also been vocal about the human rights violations against the city’s homeless population. Silverman says that he will get her second vote.
Elissa Silverman: The Watchdog Reporter
Elissa Silverman “delivers more than she promises,” DC for Democracy’s Keshini Ludhawatty told District Dig in a recent profile.
I’ll quote further: “[We] trust her to vote in the interest of the bottom 90% on the income-scale and we never worry about her vote being swayed by corporate lobbyists, big campaign donors or even the Council Chair. That is a type of trust that is a rare commodity in the political world.”
That is a remarkable endorsement given the amount of money flying around. Silverman proudly ran her campaign mostly on small donations.
She also has a solid record, beyond her reputation for paying attention to the small stuff like government oversight. She opposed unlimited public spending on Audi Stadium. She has, along with fellow members of the Council’s progressive wing, shown keen interest in balancing the Mayor’s control of schools in desperate need of greater oversight.
Dionne Reeder: A Historic Candidate
This spring, I was having dinner with a justice advocate living in Southeast when I asked about Reeder’s nascent candidacy. She’s legit, he said. She could surprise some people.
I don’t think anyone could have foreseen the scandal that brought down S. Kathryn Allen, paving the way for Reeder to be endorsed by Mayor Bowser.
That endorsement, many have argued — perhaps wishfully — doesn’t carry much water. Silverman even commissioned a poll to show it. There’s no arguing that Bowser’s attention brought Reeder’s campaign much-needed money. But Bowser’s involvement has brought negativity to what should have been a campaign judged on its own merits, becoming a proxy battle over nasty disputes between Bowser and Silverman that Bowser should have gotten over long ago. Paid family leave is at least a policy difference; the degree to which Bowser seems to hold a grudge because Silverman had the audacity to ask for Joshua Lopez’s dismissal is stunning to me.
Reeder is a black queer woman with a successful business in an area where those are few and far between. That commands attention. It commands admiration.
It would be irresponsible to speculate on any kind of Faustian bargain Reeder might have made in accepting Bowser’s endorsement. (Remember, mayors have not traditionally not endorsed challengers to these seats, though this a tradition I am fine with losing.) Bowser is not Mephistopheles, and Reeder may have enough clout and charisma to win this on her own.
My read is that the city is better with Reeder in public life. However, she doesn’t pass one big test for me: She has not laid out a detailed vision of what she will use her office to represent. Her website barely includes principles, much less a platform. Her signature issue in this campaign has been opposing Silverman’s paid family leave legislation. But, after most of a year in the spotlight, she backtracked on plans to release reforms, telling the Post that voters could see her counterproposal once they elect her. Which is insane!
That’s a red flag for me, but, again, I suspect Reeder will — win or lose — have a presence beyond this election. I’ll be interested to see where she goes from here regardless.
Bonus: If you’re in Ward 1, Emily Gasoi has my strong support for State Board of Education.