“People want to have their leadership reflect who they are,” said Bonds (At Large), adding that longtime residents “fear” being pushed out by the city’s changing demographics. “The majority of the District of Columbia is African American . . . There is a natural tendency to want your own.”
Bonds’s comments on race — during the Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU (88.5 FM) — underscores the continuing impact of the District’s changing demographics on local politics. Although race has been a part of city politics for decades, it’s rare for candidates to explicitly connect the topic to their campaigns.
Bonds was asked during the debate whether she agreed with a local union official who told The Washington Post that some black residents worry a white candidate could win the race. She said she was “happy to hear that comment” from George T. Johnson, head of Local 20 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, because she is concerned that blacks are losing influence on the council.
The D.C. Democratic State Committee in December appointed Bonds, the party’s chairwoman, to fill the the seat formerly held by Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) pending the special election. Bonds is competing against three Democrats, one Republican and a member of the Statehood Green Party.
Bonds appears to be trying to rally black voters by noting the council has never had eight white members. Last year, council member David Grosso (I-At Large) defeated then-council member Michael A. Brown, who is black, resulting in the council’s demographic split.
During the debate, Bonds also attempted to link race to issues when responding to questions about housing and poverty. “I am an African American, black candidate, and I am proud of having that as my issue,” she said.
Statehood Green Party candidate Perry Redd, the other African American in the race, also said it was important for a black candidate to win the seat. Redd said African American politicians better understand the challenges facing black families in the District.
“We have a legacy in our country of treating people of color less than respectable,” Redd said.
The white candidates in the race — Republican Patrick Mara and Democrats Matthew Frumin, Elissa Silverman and Paul Zukerberg — largely avoided the topic of race.
“Whether it’s majority African American or majority white, the key is we be ready to serve the city as a whole,” Frumin said.
Zukerberg, a lawyer, used the discussion to pivot to his central issue of decriminalizing marijuana. He said city police arrest nearly 6,000 people each year, many of whom are young African Americans, for nonviolent marijuana offenses.