Loose Lips

Plurality Rules

One by one they came to celebrate at the Channel Inn, the Southwest waterfront hotel, restaurant, and bar whose glory days are long gone. Once a favorite hangout of Marion Barry, his mayoral administration’s insiders, and various hangers-on during the ’80s, the quirky joint will soon be torn down to make way for what seems like an endless tide of new condos and mixed-use developments in boomtown D.C.

But for Tuesday night, thoughts of bulldozers and cranes were far from anyone’s mind as the Inn was once again the place to be. Much of the District’s political establishment streamed to the hotel to revel in Councilmember Anita Bonds’ victory in this week’s special election. Bonds, a longtime background player in city politics who had helped keep the District government together while Barry was on trial for using drugs as mayor, won the election with 32 percent of the vote by following a tried and true formula in recent elections: Win the vast majority of votes in African-American neighborhoods in the eastern half of the city and watch the white vote elsewhere splinter among multiple candidates.

A 68-year-old grandmother, Bonds was appointed to the Council seat temporarily in December by the D.C. Democratic State Committee, an organization she heads. Bonds was not a particularly effective campaigner, and her victory was far from assured. She was unsteady at candidate forums (she started skipping them with regularity near the end of the contest) and made an awkward appeal to black voters on the Kojo Nnamdi Show based on race. “There’s a natural tendency to want to vote for your own,” she said.

But Bonds had the goods where it counted: luck and institutional support. Former Councilmember Michael Brown’s abrupt withdrawal from the race three weeks ago allowed Bonds to monopolize precincts east of the Anacostia River while her challengers, chiefly former Washington City Paper and Washington Post reporter-turned-liberal budget activist Elissa Silverman and Republican school board member Patrick Mara, scrapped for votes. Bonds also had the support of Barry, labor groups, longtime Democratic activists, and would-be mayors Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans and Ward 4 Councilmember Muriel Bowser to help pull her across the finish line.

During her acceptance speech Tuesday, Bonds chose to focus on the institutional support.

“Marion Barry’s robocalls, I think, hit the spot,” Bonds said.

Before her speech, Bonds walked into the ballroom followed by Barry, who has trouble walking on his own and placed both hands on Bonds’ shoulders for support. Evans, who wore a smile as wide as a new bride at her wedding reception the entire evening, followed suit and put his hands on Barry. The makeshift conga line made its way through the crowd as McFadden & Whitehead’s disco hit from 1979, “Ain’t No Stopping Us Now,” blared.

Right behind them was Mayor Vince Gray, whose path to re-election should he decide to run again would likely mirror Bonds’. Though Gray didn’t endorse Bonds, it was clear he was clear he was happy with her victory. He hand-danced with a few women and led the crowd in a chant of “Anita! Anita!”

When he introduce Bonds to a cheering crowd of about 100 or so, the usually monotone Gray dropped his voice an octave and gave a guttural yell.

“If there ever was a candidate that deserved to win, it’s Anita Bonds!”

Ward 6 Councilmartyr Saint Tommy Wells, a likely mayoral candidate who stakes a claim to being the Council’s leading voice on good-government issues, chose his words carefully Tuesday as he was leaving Anita’s party after briefly stopping by to congratulate her.

“All the old guard did come together around Anita and I’m sure they should feel very good they were able to win,” he says.

Bonds’ victory will likely lead to plenty of hand-wringing among self-style progressive and/or reform voters, who often tend to be white and relatively new to the city and have seen their votes split among several of their chosen candidates in the last three at-large elections. Bonds’ victory follow similarly patterned wins by Councilmember Vincent Orange in 2011 and 2012. Orange eked into office with 29 percent of the vote in the 2011 special election and won 40 percent of the vote in last year’s Democratic primary, beating Sekou Biddle by only 1,746 votes.

There’s a clear appetite among the majority of the city’s voters for fresh blood on the Council. (Orange had previously been a Ward 5 councilmember and, like Bonds, has been a fixture of the local Democratic Party.) Yet no candidate has been able to bring together the disparate groups of voters looking for change in a strong majority or even a simple plurality. That might be because the reform-oriented candidates just haven’t been that impressive, but it’s more likely because “reform” means different things to different people; there’s no organized effort or group powerful enough to make or break any candidate who wants to claim the reform mantle. It’s an open casting call, and the people who answer it are often convinced of the rightness of their crusade.

In this last contest, Silverman foresaw that Ward 3 school activist Matthew Frumin could likely play the spoiler to her victory. A little more than a week before the election, Silverman awkwardly tried to get Frumin to drop out, stressing in an email that his endorsement would mean that “we can see a progressive win this seat and swing momentum toward an agenda we both want.”

Frumin, who had raised the most money in the race, said no—and went on to win just 11 percent of the vote. If even half of his voters had gone for Silverman, a reasonable possibility since they agreed on many issues, she would have won. But Frumin says he doesn’t think he played the spoiler and he “felt an obligation to go forward” with the campaign and advocate for his version of school reform, which he says was unique.

“It wasn’t up to me to pick who should win or who should lose,” says Frumin.

Might Silverman stick around? She came in a surprising second with 28 percent of the vote—an impressive feat considering she handicapped her fundraising ability by refusing any corporate donations, which made up more than half of Bonds’ $127,000 in contributions, according to an analysis by the Sunlight Foundation.

“The results tonight, in my opinion, are phenomenal,” Silverman told her supporters, who were predominantly young and white, at her election night party at Union Kitchen. “We exceeded everyone’s expectations.”

Tuesday’s contest also marked the likely end of Mara’s ambitions to join the D.C. Council. Mara beat incumbent GOP Councilmember Carol Schwartz in a primary in 2008 (before losing to Michael Brown), came in second to Orange in 2011, and was widely considered a frontrunner in this contest. But despite strong support from the business community and the Post, which penned four endorsements for Mara in a month, he finished third with 23 percent.

At the Mara party in Columbia Heights, the election watch was over before it began. Young staffers were still trying to get election results on a TV when the dismal early returns online showed that there wouldn’t be much worth watching. Around 11, Mara thanked volunteers and announced he would soon fly to a vacation in Costa Rica.

But the next election is never far off in D.C. politics lately, so the District’s wags won’t have to wait long to see whether Tuesday night’s trends hold up. In less than a year—on April Fool’s Day, aptly enough—voters will be summoned for primaries to decide nominees for mayor, D.C. Council chairman, attorney general, two at-large Council seats (including Bonds’), and councilmembers in wards 1, 3, 5, and 6.

This LL won’t be around, though; this is his last column before moving on to ferret out the misdeeds of other politicians in other places at the Center for Public Integrity. Don’t breathe too easy at the Wilson Building, though—City Paper plans to have someone else filling this spot and taking the LL name soon enough. Thanks to all of the sources, readers, coworkers, politicians (straight and crooked) and others who helped this LL along the way.

Aaron Wiener and Will Sommer contributed to this report.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery


  1. #1

    You did good, Alan. Congratulations and best of luck with what's next.

  2. #2

    Good work here, Alan.
    Congrats, Anita. Good luck in your next year.
    Pat: Get the Republican party to do some stuff that's DC friendly and come back. In 5 or 10 years.
    Matt: It'll take a lot for DC voters to trust you again.
    Elissa: Congrats. You are the real winner. Looking forward to tomorrow.

  3. FormerBrownSupporter

    I really liked you reporting Alan! Good Luck! I hope the next LL is as good as you. After LL is truly the Wendy Williams of DC policies! Juicey details and lots of political TEA!!

  4. #4

    Glad I no longer live in DC.

  5. #5

    Alan, you earned your City Paper LL star of distinction, an accomplishment you'll look back upon proudly. Wemple, Jonetta, Silverman, Jones, Debonis .... and now Suderman. What a motley crew of in your face characters.

    Seems like only yesterday when your LL gig began atop one city's Palisades Parade float. What better way to end it than hand dancing with one city's crew (less dirty harry Thomas and fully loaded Brown) at a shindig hosted by Jeff Thompson's bff, Mr. time to get paid Wilmot.

    Ah, the memories. You done good, my friend. Now the pressure's on mad mike to keep it going. Good luck to both of you.

  6. #6

    What we're gonna do right here is go back, way back, back into time. When the only people that existed were troglodytes...

  7. #7

    "Don’t breathe too easy at the Wilson Building, though—City Paper plans to have someone else filling this spot and taking the LL name soon enough."

    Even on his way out he is still an asshole to public servants. Hope the next LL isn't such a self-righteous weasel.

  8. #8




  9. #9

    dc voted in another crook....best of luck Alan

  10. #10

    JAWB - you obviously are a new-comer to Loose Lips . . .

  11. Mahdi Leroy J. Thorpe, Jr.

    Elissa Silverman is no Carol Schwartz - Schwartz had class and garnised a lot of Black votes each time she ran for her DC City Council seat. Schwart did not mount a good campaign when Mara beat her.

    If Silveman wants to stick around in politics she must genuinely reach out to the Black and Latino voters and deliver on their concerns in DC politics regardless of the growing White votes in DC.

  12. #12

    It’s a mistake to view any racial group as a unified block. I think Silverman’s appeal for a more progressive taxation system and more spending for our most vulnerable should appeal to anyone concerned about the needy in this city, especially when compared to Bonds’ praise for municipal bonds tax cuts. Likewise, I wouldn’t be surprised if Bonds appealed to some of the wealthy voters I ran into that were more upset that DC had taxed municipal bonds like every other jurisdiction does than they were about homeless teens being turned away from shelters.

    You can base your vote on policy and performance or you can base it on race. The powers that be do the former (the difference between Evans and Bonds being which groups they pander to as they sell the government to the highest bidder). If you do the latter, don’t complain about what you get.

  13. #13

    "Glad I no longer live in DC"

    So are we

  14. #14

    Congrats, Alan. You did a great job.

  15. #15

    Great reporting, thanks for a job well done. Too bad you're such a dick about it.

  16. #16

    I guess many of my black folks in DC should stop complaining about being ignored and shipped out to Wards 9, 10, and 11.

    If you don't vote, don't complain.

    If you keep voting for the same status quo, don't complain about the fucked up service they give you.

    Plain and simple.

  17. #17

    LOL@NE John. I hear you, brother. LOL

  18. #18

    Smh: Speak for yourself only!! Let others do what they want to do. As for the term "my black folks: Do you own any? Where's your plantation?

  19. #19

    I am glad you longer live in D.C., The Java Master. If you aren't a D.C. resident, then why are you making a comment on this article? Duh!

  20. #20

    To my fellow Ward3 voters, please stop giving money and time to someone that has no chance outside of Ward3 of being elected to public office. I believe this quote sum's it up.

    "Frumin says he doesn’t think he played the spoiler and he “felt an obligation to go forward” with the campaign and advocate for his version of school reform, which he says was unique."

    Unique don't win elections geting voters behind you does. END OF STORY.

  21. #21

    Bonds consolidated the black vote. Silverman and the others got the nonblack vote. Wells showed his hand by talking about "the old guard" which makes way for what could be a battle royale even nastier than Fenty/Gray. If he runs on the anti-old guard platform, he will lose.

    Silverman's chances @winning another race is rather iffy considering that she won't unseat Catania nor Orange nor Bonds nor Wells.

    "Progressives" need to have a mixed coalition in order to be effective. Had to look different than the now (white, newcomers).

    Funny to see Alan suggest that Gray will run the "I'm black and so are u" campaign similar to Bonds. Even though he's never won on those terms..it doesn't stop people like Alan from suggesting neway

  22. #22

    @ SEis4me completely disagree with Silverman analysis considering that Micheal Brown staying in the race of Matt Frumin getting out would have IMHO given the win to Silverman. Not sure how readying the results suggest that she's not set up to knock off Bonds. As for unseating the old guard we all know they'll never leave until carted off the battlefield of DC and that's just a matter of time.

  23. #23

    The worst election in DC history and thank the dear Lord it is over.

    Bonds is the "tallest midget". Congrats to the "old guard". It is funny watching the "pilgrim progressives" lose to you. The progressives always over play their hand, like a Shakespeare character, their flaws lie within.

    Message to the old guard: Get new blood, you are old and the race card will not keep bailing you out. Besides, DC deserves better.

    Mara: you are like this character from this arcade game from the '80s. The game is called Punch Out and the character is Glass Joe. He never wins. Get it.

    Silverman: ...And her folks need to stop whining about Frumin. Silverman handle that situation terrible and other situations just as bad. The way you treat people really showed through. I don't care how many issues you got covered or how much working knowledge you have of the council. You treat people bad! Being prickly and rude is not a good electable trait. Getting Settles kicked off the ballot was low rent....then trying to get Zukerberg bounced was just as bad. Then the Frumin email, (SMH)...that was insulting, condescending and extremely arrogant. Did you really expect him to say yes to that email? Frumin was a gentlemen with his response but he would have been justified "giving you the bird". This is one lost and in DC politics you have about 3 losses without a victory before you are written off. But the 2nd race will be enormous, can you improve or will it be the same old "politricks". Don't challenge signatures, stop trying to win by dq. Leave the backroom antics to the backroom folks.

    Frumin: Run again, ward 3 wants you. Don't be scared, DO IT!

    Zukerberg: Same for you. Take on Graham in ward 1. You will be surprised on the support you might get. I know Bryan Weaver is lining his "ducks" up but really, what is going to do different this time? He is who he is and he cannot change it. Yes, he got some answers to some issues but he had those answers the last 2 or 3 times he lost. It is not about having the answers, it is about having........(that's the secret sauce, you will have to pay for that).

    Godspeed Suderman!

    I think I am done too. No more posts....I'll just fade to black..................maybe??

  24. #24

    @Ward3, the "only if Frumin had done..." meme is now as stale as month-old bread left out in a dark corner. Frumin was running for the same office. He was not, in any way, obligated to make the race easier for Silverman who simply should've run a better campaign. She and her rabid supporters need to STOP whining about what shoulda/woulda/coulda...but ultimately didn't.

    Unless you're going to agree that even more white people will not vote for Bonds because they fear and label any black person w/roots in DC as the antichrist. I don't see how you get to unseating her since after over a year on the council, I can't imagine a smaller number of blacks deciding to boot her. Although I'm quite uneasy about the growing number of white people who encourage this us vs. them phenom, that seems to be exactly where we are.

    I believe your hope that longtime DC resident die off is an example of the kind of pervasive tensions encouraged by this "progressive" coalition.

  25. #25

    WOW @ SEis4ME is the the logic of the Anita Bonds supporter or what. Gee wiz how many years can you use that card. I guess in DC it still get's you elected so it's still good to use.

    As for asking another politician to leave a race, is it just because a women asked man do get out of the way that you don't like it. Maybe your anti-women. As for a better campaign it took the whole old guard and all it's corporate money to hold off Silverman.

    So I wouldn't be crowing too much for too long

    BTW I didn't vote for Bond because she don't stand for anything and how color get's into the equation is by the like of you and others with nothing else to say.

  26. #26

    Bonds will probably face Silverman again in the Democratic primary in less than a year. IF she gets by that, she may face Mara in the general Nov. 2014.

  27. #27

    @Ward, Contrary to what you apparently think, I happily cast my vote for Frumin. But the fact you believe I did proves my point about the ire many nonblacks have caused by associating "old guard" w/all things negative...and black.

    No, the sexist card won't work here so please choose another talking point. It took everyone who voted for Bonds to win because it was a race. How close Silveman might have gotten is irrelevant since she didn't win. I do not believe she will be able to make any serious inroads to the community she willingly shunned this election cycle. That's not crowing..its only stating the facts as I see them.

    BTW, I didn't assume why you didn't vote for Bonds. But I do know that her "endorsements, online supporters and the like" all encouraged this anti-old guard meme and some (like you here) even posited that the city would be better off once they die. Again, the anti9ld guard meme is something nonblacks largely encourage.

  28. #28

    So called Progressives have a problem because their political agenda is superficial, arrogant, lazy and contradictory. They can't explain away ethical flaws and corruption of gentrification policies. In other words they want to feed off of the benefits of gentrification while ignoring the problems it causes.

  29. #29

    @ Alan,

    I hope you got a reputable gig that doesn't exploit your exceptional investigative skills for bias and color-coded reporting.

    Maybe your replacement will be more like Mike than you.

  30. FormerBrownSupporter

    Mara is done in DC politics! Silverman should run in ward 6. She'd be better than Wells. Bonds is likely to win the dem nom on april 1 2014.

  31. #31

    Best move Bonds made during the campaign: not telling anyone Graham endorsed her. Can't wait for that low life to fly away to a distant locale.

  32. #32

    Alan, congratulations for a job well done. Good luck in your future endeavors.

  33. #33

    Congratulations to Anita Bonds.

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  1. Define reform | D2 route

    [...] Alan Suderman reporting on Anita Bonds victory Bonds’ victory will likely lead to plenty of hand-wringing among self-style progressive and/or reform voters, who often tend to be white and relatively new to the city and have seen their votes split among several of their chosen candidates in the last three at-large elections. Bonds’ victory follow similarly patterned wins by Councilmember Vincent Orange in 2011 and 2012. Orange eked into office with 29 percent of the vote in the 2011 special election and won 40 percent of the vote in last year’s Democratic primary, beating Sekou Biddle by only 1,746 votes. [...]

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