Bonds, McDuffie wins two seats on DC’s General Council; Silverman ousted

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In a citywide race that pitted three incumbent DC council members for two spots, Mayor Muriel E. Bowser’s allies Anita Bonds and Kenyan R. McDuffie won general council seats – ousting the holder of two mandates. Elissa Silverman, a longtime favorite of the city’s liberal activists.

McDuffie, who represented Ward 5 on the council for a decade as a Democrat before running for the seat at-large as an independent, was embraced by business owners as a more moderate candidate than Silverman on the taxation and business regulation and by longtime Washingtonians as sons of the country. Businessmen who have long targeted Silverman (I) for his defense of the city’s Paid Parental Leave Act and other pro-worker policies have generously donated to McDuffie’s campaign.

Bonds (D), who has served on the council for a decade and has been involved in Democratic politics in the district for half a century, touted her longevity and focus on seniors and longtime residents during a campaign in during which few doubted she would earn another term.

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The all-around was the last DC Council race to be called after Tuesday’s election.

Many who voted for Bonds praised his consistency. Reverend James Coleman, who voted in Takoma, gave Bonds – who chairs the council’s housing committee – some credit for DC spending more time and effort on creating affordable housing than suburban jurisdictions surrounding.

“I think we’re doing a fair to good job” on one of the city’s most pressing issues, Coleman said.

Yet as Bonds vied for votes with two of her fellow council members and struggled to defend her leadership of the housing committee against criticism of the city’s high housing prices, her vote totals plummeted – she won less than a third of the votes cast in the contest, compared to its 44% of four years ago.

James Scales, 23, said his main issue was the cost of housing when he voted in Ward 5 on Tuesday. He was upset by a recent federal report that sharply criticized DC’s public housing agency for letting much-needed apartments fall into disrepair and sit unused. Doubting Bonds’ ability to oversee the housing authority, he instead voted for Silverman and the independent Graham McLaughlin.

McDuffie put together a winning coalition by appealing to multiple camps, including business owners in some of the city’s wealthiest neighborhoods and Washington natives in some of its poorest neighborhoods.

Silverman, who has served on the council since 2015, has long been a target of some business owners and a favorite of many liberal activists in the city for championing worker-friendly policies, including parental leave (funded by a tax on employers that many companies fiercely opposed) and for occasionally clashing with the more moderate Bowser (D) and board chairman Phil Mendelson (D), who was easily re-elected on Tuesday.

While Silverman has campaigned on both his liberal accomplishments and his work providing grants to businesses hard hit by the pandemic, groups funded by business owners have spent heavily campaigning on McDuffie’s behalf, and the companies donated directly to McDuffie’s well-funded campaign.

Meanwhile, McDuffie also appealed to longtime DC residents, stressing during the campaign trail that he was born in the district. Many also observed a racial element — Silverman is white and grew up in Maryland, and some voters expressed concern about the preservation of the council’s current black majority.

“It’s where I come from. He went through the struggles that I went through,” Donald Bullock, 47, said after casting his ballot in Columbia Heights.

Bullock, a heavy equipment operator, remembers playing basketball with McDuffie when they were kids, and specifically hopes his former playmate will focus more on roaming the district. “He can identify with people who are on the street. He comes from the same fight as us. He understands.”

Ebony Huff, who lives in Columbia Heights, felt the same way. “I hope his personal life spills over into the community,” said Huff, the mother of a 4-year-old. “I’m a federal government employee and still can’t really afford to live here. … I want to be able to buy a house here in DC where I grew up, stay here and raise my child.

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Silverman’s campaign was also hampered in the final days of the vote by a Campaign Finance Office ruling that it improperly spent campaign money on a Ward 3 primary race poll, in which she did not show up.

McDuffie and several leaders of DC’s black community took to the decision to challenge Silverman’s ethics. Rick Taylor, who lives in Ward 5, said the campaign finance issue influenced his choice to vote for McDuffie.

“I didn’t really have a valid reason to vote for [Silverman]. And there is an ongoing investigation into something ethical – I think it came at a bad time for her,” he said. “It’s not much, but enough to put some cloud over her.”

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