Vote or Sigh On April 23, vote Elissa Silverman and "yes" on amendment 8

Elissa Silverman
Photograph by Darrow Montgomery

If it’s Tuesday, it must be Election Day.

D.C. voters have been trudging to the polls with increasing frequency in recent years. There was the 2011 special election to replace Kwame Brown as an at-large member of the D.C. Council. Then, in April 2012, there was a Democratic primary for the at-large seat Vincent Orange won in the 2011 special election. A month later, there was the Ward 5 vote to replace Harry Thomas Jr. after he resigned for stealing $300,000 from city coffers. In November, a special election made Phil Mendelson the D.C. Council chairman, after Brown resigned for bank fraud and campaign finance violations. And now, on Tuesday, April 23, we’re voting again, this time to fill the at-large seat Mendelson vacated when he won in November.

At least for now, there aren’t any more special elections scheduled. All those campaigns, however, can’t help but leave the city a little tired of both the frequency of our elections and the scandals that make them necessary.

So it won’t be a surprise to see low turnout for the District’s fourth special election in the past two years, in which 15,000 votes could be enough to win a seat on the Council. (Only about 10 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in 2011.) Seven would-be lawmakers figured scrounging up that much support in a city with 505,403 registered voters was within their reach this spring. But former Councilmember Michael Brown quit the race earlier this month, citing unspecified “important personal and family matters,” leaving us with six candidates to choose from next week. (Brown will appear on the ballot anyway; it would be embarrassing, but not shocking, if he got more votes than at least one of the people who are actually still running.)

With only a few days left, a crowded circuit of candidate forums and TV appearances still hasn’t produced a standout. Voters face a tough choice, or at least not an obvious one, which is why we ended up reaching our endorsement by process of elimination.

First, the incumbent, Councilmember Anita Bonds. A longtime Democratic Party operative, Bonds was chosen—completely coincidentally, we’re sure—by party insiders to serve as an interim councilmember after Mendelson’s promotion to chairman. At this point, incumbency alone is almost enough to make voters suspicious of anyone in D.C. politics. But Bonds offers a few other dubious credentials, as well. Like her day job, from which she’s on leave while she’s on the Council, with Fort Myer Construction, which holds tens of millions of dollars in city road-building contracts. (We’d like to see Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans, Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh, and at-large Councilmember David Catania quit their outside jobs, too.) Her endorsement by more than half of her Council colleagues. Or her implication on the Kojo Nnamdi Show that black voters ought to support her—the only African-American Democrat in the race—because of the “natural tendency to want your own.” Or, for that matter, the fact that she’s missed several forums and debates (including Washington City Paper’s this week, with which her staff says she had a previously scheduled conflict) after the Washington Post, NBC4’s Jim Vance, and others criticized her for that remark. Let’s all thank Councilmember Bonds for her service since December, relatively uninspiring though it was, and allow her to return to doing corporate relations for Fort Myer full-time.

The other candidates—Democrats Matthew Frumin, Paul Zukerberg, and Elissa Silverman, Statehood Green Perry Redd, and Republican Patrick Mara—each represent a change from the Council’s status quo. Which might make any of them an improvement. But while each has virtues, they all come with their own negatives.

Zukerberg is right on his signature issue: The U.S. locks up too many people for marijuana-related crimes—and in the District, that means people who are mostly young and mostly black. Decriminalizing pot would bring an end to policies that can ruin lives—try getting a job with a drug conviction on your record, no matter how ancient—and that are mostly enforced against the city’s least powerful citizens. Zukerberg has brought some needed levity to the race, too. But he’s essentially a one-issue candidate, and if by some miracle he did convince his 12 colleagues to let Washington light up freely—or at least less illegally—we’re not sure what he’d do for the rest of his term.

Likewise, we’re glad that Redd has passionately admonished the specter of a Richard Florida–like future that only has room for “creatives”—i.e., well-educated, well-off, mostly white professionals. Redd also has promised more transparency than his rivals, pledging to post a database of all his Council phone calls. But some of his calls for compassion and conscience among the city’s yuppie class drift toward blaming them for every change in the District over the last decade—the downsides of which developers, banks, real estate agents, and national trends out of the control of anyone in D.C. politics have at least as much to do with. And his critique can make it sound as though there’ve been no benefits from the city’s recent growth. Would that approach really help fix the fissures of gentrification?

To be an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner in Tenleytown, Frumin hasn’t necessarily needed to immerse himself in questions of equality and fairness. But on the campaign trail this spring, he’s shown he’s done so, anyway. He wants the District to spend more money on affordable housing, which might help people deal with rents that are approaching New York prices, and he’s made a more concerted effort east of the Anacostia River than many white candidates in recent elections. On his main issue, education, however, he provides more aspiration than strategy: He says he wants every student in D.C. to be able to attend an excellent neighborhood school, which no one would really argue with, but he hasn’t entirely made clear how. And his criticism of charter schools rings a little unrealistic in places east of Rock Creek Park where—like it or not—charters are often much more attractive than what DCPS has nearby.

The entire theme of Mara’s campaign has been ethics and reform. Elect him, the theory goes, and simply by dint of being a Republican, he’ll stand apart from the corrupt insiders running things at the Wilson Building. In his own life in politics, however, Mara’s been more opaque: He won’t say who he’s worked for as a consultant since he stopped lobbying in 2008, only that it was “no one bad.” We doubt he’d be satisfied if the Democrats on the Council gave that answer to questions about their own employment. A Ward 1 school-board member who’s run for Council twice before, Mara rightly takes credit for helping push the local GOP away from the national party’s opposition to marriage equality, abortion rights, and D.C. budget autonomy. But we don’t think it’s out of bounds for residents of a city that cast 90 percent of its votes for President Barack Obama five months ago to raise an eyebrow at Mara’s support for Mitt Romney. The Council does need new voices, but simply being a Republican might not automatically make Mara the right one.

Which leaves us with Silverman. As editors, we worry the skills that made her a dogged Loose Lips columnist for City Paper and a Post reporter would not make her an effective councilmember; aggressive skepticism isn’t a typical tool of consensus-building. No current City Paper editors worked with her, but we’re still wary of endorsing any former journalist, both for appearance’s sake and because we’d hate to set the precedent of letting our ilk write laws. We’d prefer if Silverman’s supporters hadn’t been so tenacious in pursuing challenges against other candidate’s ballot access, too.

But there’s no question Silverman knows the budget inside and out, after years watchdogging D.C. government for the press and advocating for progressive priorities with the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute. Her answers to questions in public forums are wonky but thoughtful, calling for high-quality pre-K in every school, affordable housing citywide, and sensible transportation policies. She understands the corrupting power money has in our city, which is why she fought last fall to ban corporate campaign contributions and isn’t taking any this spring. She gets transparency, too; when our current LL at a City Paper-sponsored debate this week at the Black Cat asked Silverman and her rivals if they’d release their 2012 tax returns, they all (except Mara) said they would. But Silverman did so the next day without being asked again. (Frumin followed suit Wednesday.) Vote for Elissa Silverman for the at-large D.C. Council seat.

Also on the ballot is a proposed amendment to the District’s Home Rule Charter that would allow the D.C. government to spend locally raised revenue without waiting for Congress to approve—or meddle with—the city’s budget. There’s some debate within city government as to whether the District actually has the authority to take budget autonomy for itself—D.C.’s own attorney general argued that it doesn’t—but if this measure passes and isn’t overturned either in the Capitol or in court, it would mean that the next time there’s the threat of a federal government shutdown, we wouldn’t have to worry about whether our trash would get picked up, as we did briefly in 2011. Waiting for Congress to give D.C. more independence hasn’t worked for the past 40 years. Let’s not keep waiting for Congress to give us our own money back, either. Vote “yes” on amendment 8, with a 632,323-person-sized chip on your shoulder.

But even more important than following our advice on who to vote for is simply showing up. There’s been plenty to gripe about in D.C. government lately—corruption, outright theft, endless federal investigations, and the usual low-grade bumbling that gives you a reason to read Loose Lips every week. Which is why no matter how sick you are of elections, there’s no excuse for skipping this one. Make whoever wins this special election earn the seat by getting more than the bare minimum of votes. Show up on Tuesday, April 23, and remind the political class that its constituents are out there.

The cliche notwithstanding, you are, of course, always entitled to complain about your elected leaders, even if you don’t vote. But if you do vote this time, maybe, someday, you won’t have to.

Find your polling place

Correction: Due to an editing error, this story originally had the dates of the elections in 2012 wrong. The Democratic primary was in April 2012, and the Ward 5 special election came a month after that.

Our Readers Say

"City Paper, still hopelessly naive about the machinations of DC Government"
So wait a minute -- you are endorsing your own former columnist? Because she released her tax returns one day before the other guy? Who you criticize for not "making entirely clear" how he'd improve the schools, but then she gets a pass on a platitiude about assuring "high-quality pre-K in every school?"

Yeah, I'd worry about "appearances" too if I were you...
This is about as much of a joke as the Washington Shitty Paper saying they aren't bias. The candidate who they are pushing is full of shit. 70 was crap and shouldn't have passed and she should be bounced out on her ass as well. We don't need her or her type on the council. She is the type of the person who will continue to make DC the worse place in the company to do business.

That "other guy" also happens to be the only candidate with a record of consensus-building and making progress on tough issues with competing stakeholder interests. Its not easy to outline a comprehensive education reform strategy in one-minute answer on stage, but he gave more details this morning in an interview with Jack Evans.

His approach to problem-solving and thoughtfulness are why I am voting for Matt Frumin on April 23rd
The Washington City Paper has no conflict of interest in endorsing Elissa. None of the staff responsible for the endorsement ever worked with her. She hasn't worked at Washington City Paper for years. To imply that there is some bias involved in their decision is just plain wrong.

Endorsing and/or voting for Elissa Silverman is the same as delivering the seat to Anita Bonds. Silverman will finish third or lower in the final tally.
If there is anyone that has momentum in this race and can beat Anita Bonds it's Elissa.
@ Tom M, you're exactly right. I really don't think Silverman can win and Frumin, referenced earlier, is only playing the spoiler. I voted for Mara, who has some detailed and progressive ideas on homelessness and affordable housing, as noted here
Just based on what is written here in this endorsement, it certainly appears to this reader that different standards -- lighter and less demanding -- were applied to arrive at a Sliverman endorsement. The order of finish when next Tuesday's votes are counted -- Bonds, Mara, Frumin/Silverman. Doesn't really matter if you finish third or fourth. Only matters who finishes first. I just wish it wouldn't be Bonds. But the city's voters get what they deserve from their government officials. One City, Multiple Indictments!
Say NO to Republican funded PACs launching out of state swift boat attacks on local DC Democrats. Yes, the pro Mara PAC making robo calls attacking Elissa Silverman is funded by uber-wealthy Republicans who did the same thing on a national level last year (using names like Indiana Values, Indiana Values Superpac, and other titles to obfuscate their identities). They don't tell you their only goal is to elect Republican Romney delegate Mara. Why not? Because they are targeting Democratic voters, hoping to chip away at Silverman's surging support. They, like the candidates, have seen internal polls showing Silverman slightly ahead of Mara and closing fast on Bonds, whose lead has shrunk to within the margin of error. They also know Frumin is stuck in single digits, that he has NO chance of winning. We must get corporate and PAC money out of DC politics because it's used for all kinds of dirty tricks, including this right wing attack on Elissa. If you believe, as I do, that Republican swift boaters should stay out of DC's local elections, get to the polls and vote for Elissa. Unlike the other candidates, she'll push to eliminate constituent slush funds, lobbyist bundling, PAC payments, and corporate campaign funding. No other candidate with any chance of winning has taken this clear cut stand. On the other hand, if you like what you've been getting from the council, vote for someone else or don't vote at all. And watch council members funnel yet more dough to their friends, family, and financiers.
You want to see who is attracting voters across the city? That would be Elissa.

Elissa also said no one cares about taxes! She was referring to a tax increase and not giving DC residents a tax decrease that had been promised. This shows she is out of touch as DC residents pay more taxes than those in Va. and Md. and we have less to show for it. Corruption and waste of money is what the Council has been in charge of and this needs to change. I guess Elissa will not be part of these changes and she needs an attitude adjustment. Vote for Frumin!
Sally, you're doing exactly what Mara's backers want you to do. They're probably trading high-fives right now. During last year's presidential contest, these same super pacs spent millions on robo calls and tv spots changing Obama's pitch for rebuilding our deteriorating infrastructure in to an attack add. Remember the "If you own a successful business, you didn't build that" adds?

Elissa issued a press release on these robo calls last night or this morning. Her point is NOT that people like taxes, nor that she'd raise taxes. Her point is that people are not getting the best value for their taxes, especially when so much of their taxes are squandered on pay-to-play old guard donors. And guess what? Your guy, who I personally like, raised the most money of any candidate from out of state donors according to the new Sunshine analysis of contributions.
I suppose it is possible that Anita Bonds will not be as corrupt as her previous work with ethically challenged candidates might make her out to be. I also suppose it is possible that Patrick Mara really can represent the entire city and not just the most affluent segments.

However, I didn't want to take those chances and I already voted for Elissa Silverman.
I voted last Thursday at the Board of Elections. I wrote in my own name because none of the losers running in this special election aren't worth voting for. If I wasn't near 441 4th Street, NW last week, I wouldn't have voted period, as a lot of voters are going to do.
I'm shocked by the WCP endorsement! Shocked! Well this will be real interesting. The former LL realized that she was a dollar short and day late by asking Frumey to drop out. Mara, former LL and Frumey will split the votes in 1,2,3 and 6.

Waiting until almost poll closing time to get some idea whether Mara or Silverman are the main contender. That PPP poll just mucked everything up.

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