Politics

At-Large Council Race Reveals Racial Schisms

If Dionne Reeder defeats incumbent Elissa Silverman for one of the two at-large seats on the D.C. Council up for grabs, Black female representation in the city government would increase and Mayor Muriel Bowser would have an ally in the businesswoman and third-generation Washingtonian.

Such a possibility has raised the stakes in a hotly contested race that has revealed deep racial and political schisms of a city grappling with the economic and cultural effects of gentrification.

Some of Reeder’s supporters, such as Sheika Reid, said the candidate’s more than 20 years in the local and federal government and nonprofit space, as well as her entrepreneurial experience, can help her navigate those fault lines.

“Policies are important but secondary to who candidates are at their core,” said Reid, an affordable-housing advocate, small-business consultant and Ward 1 neighbor of Reeder. “Dionne Reeder has the best interests of Washingtonians at heart, and that’s evident by her work ethic and dedication to creating opportunities.”

Reid and other members of D.C.’s Young Civic Leaders hosted a brunch and fundraiser for Reeder on Sunday afternoon at BIN1301, a Black-owned wine bar in the U Street corridor of Northwest.

The event preceded a get-out-the-vote rally featuring Bowser, Reeder and D.C. Council member Anita Bonds (D-At Large) at Ivy City Smokehouse in Northeast.

“Dionne has strong stances that matter and a business that hires returning citizens,” Reid said in reference to Cheers at The Big Chair, Reeder’s sit-down restaurant on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue in Southeast, and Reeder’s policy goals regarding affordable housing, vocational training at D.C.’s high schools and support of small businesses.

“I’ve seen her welcome all types of people into conversations and her office spaces,” Reid said. “Dionne’s willing to hear from those she doesn’t see eye to eye with and learn their perspectives.”

Some Reeder supporters said Silverman (I) doesn’t show the same courtesy to residents in the eastern part of the city, developers, business owners and returning citizens.

At a power-packed campaign fundraiser for Reeder late last month in Northwest, Cora Masters Barry criticized the incumbent council member’s efforts to cut funding for the city’s summer youth employment program, started by and named for her late husband.

Bowser, who endorsed Reeder last month, opposed an expansive paid family leave bill that Silverman co-authored. During a recent council hearing, Silverman and Ward 8 residents clashed about funding for the newly opened Entertainment & Sports Arena in Southeast, specifically her view that taxpayers shouldn’t pay more than $50 million in construction costs.

Some critics have also said that Silverman, who questioned Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan’s influence in the District in light of what had been described as his anti-Semitic comments, avoids opportunities to explore the complexities of race and Black-Jewish relations, a topic of discussion in the aftermath of controversial comments made by fellow Council member Trayon White (D-Ward 8) last spring.

Sandra Seegars, a Ward 8 activist and avid Silverman supporter, has pushed back against such assertions, saying that voters must look beyond race and place value on what she described as Silverman’s independent streak.

“We don’t need 13 council members co-signing everything the mayor does,” Seegars said. “I like the fact that someone asks tough questions and examines everything before saying yay or nay. I think it’s a shame that people in 2018 are still saying, ‘don’t vote for someone because they’re White.'”

Both candidates spent much of last week setting the record straight on the airwaves. On Friday, Reeder visited “Politics Hour” on WAMU 88.5 FM with Kojo Nnamdi and Tom Sherwood, where she challenged the perception that her campaign financially struggled before Bowser’s endorsement. She also reaffirmed her support for economic growth via support of small businesses.

Earlier in the week, Silverman joined the Rev. Graylan Hagler, a vocal supporter and Bowser critic, on his biweekly WPFW 89.3 FM show “What’s at Stake” to tout her vote against the Initiative 77 repeal in early October and refusal to accept funds from developers.

Reeder and Silverman joined incumbent Bonds and fellow at-large candidates Rustin Lewis, Ralph Chittams and David Schwartzman for a recent debate at Friendship Chamberlain Elementary and Middle Public Charter School, which attracted Bowser and D.C. Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), another Silverman backer.

The council hopefuls weighed in on the Comprehensive Plan, affordable housing, traffic congestion, education and other issues, though some in attendance said none of the candidates made much of an impact.

“I wasn’t moved,” said April Goggans, an activist affiliated with Black Lives Matter DC and Keep DC 4 Me. “I need somebody with some plans. Silverman’s on the council, so she sounds like she knows more about what she’s doing, but there are no well-thought-out platforms about the issues and how it will play out. People aren’t innovative. I need to know why [certain possibilities] wouldn’t be nice.”

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