Democrats eye independent runs for David Catania’s at-large D.C. Council seat

The passing of last week’s primary elections and the apparent determination of David A. Catania to pursue a mayoral run has led a host of current and former Democrats to openly ponder independent runs for his at-large seat — including two sitting ward council members.

Yvette M. Alexander (D-Ward 7) and Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) both said Tuesday they are considering changing their party registrations, making them eligible for a seat that is required under the city charter to be held by someone who is not a member of the majority party. They join two former council candidates, Elissa Silverman and the Rev. Graylan S. Hagler, who have already changed their status from Democrats to independents in anticipation of potential runs for the seat.

Catania, an independent, has held the seat since 1997.

Wells, coming off a third-place finish in the Democratic mayoral primary, said Tuesday that he plans to take the next 30 days to “figure out the next chapter of my life.”

“Nothing is foreclosed,” the two-term council member said, but he added that it would be “extremely difficult” to launch a new campaign after a grueling mayoral run. Wells said he would give an at-large run a serious look and said he had no compunction about changing parties to do so. “I’m not a party apparatchik,” he said.

Alexander said she, too, was giving serious consideration to a citywide run — in her case, to focus on broader concerns rather than workaday constituent requests.

“The at-large [members] can focus more on their committees rather than constituents,” she said. “I really want to focus on a lot of health initiatives. . . . Ward 7 is mainly a lot of constituent concerns, and a lot of development concerns, and we’ve done a lot.”

A former chairwoman of the Ward 7 Democrats who has held her seat since 2007, Alexander said she, too, has no reservations about changing her party affiliation.

Silverman finished a strong second in last year’s special election for an at-large seat, coming within 2,800 votes of beating Anita D. Bonds, who won the Democratic nomination for a full term last week.

Silverman has left her job as an analyst at the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute and changed her party status to seriously explore an independent run, which she said would highlight similar issues of campaign finance reform, electoral reform and agency accountability — along with a stronger focus on housing affordability and education.

Another encouraging sign for Silverman was the success of fellow self-identified progressives in the Democratic primary. The victories of Brianne Nadeau in Ward 1 and Charles Allen in Ward 6, she said, indicate that “voters are interested in candidates who are pushing for reform and are pushing for innovative ideas.”

Hagler was in the public eye for much of 2013 as a leading proponent of the Large Retailer Accountability Act, the ultimately unsuccessful council bill that would have imposed a super-minimum wage on some large national retail chains operating in the city.

He said the primary results last week spurred him to action. “We must end this whole pay-to-play culture, and people need to have as much voice as lobbyists have when it comes to the Wilson Building and when it comes to city politics,” said Hagler, the pastor of Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ in Northeast since 1992.

Hagler finished sixth in the 2007 special election for Ward 4 council member, the race won by Muriel E. Bowser, the new Democratic mayoral nominee. He said he intends to move forward with a run but hasn’t filed candidacy papers and could still change his mind.

Those candidates could join fellow independent candidate Robert White, a former aide to Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, who declared his intention to run in the fall, and Khalid Pitts, an activist and restaurateur who entered the race last month, as well as Republican nominee Marc Morgan, Statehood Green nominee Eugene Puryear and Libertarian nominee Frederick Steiner.

Appearing alongside the other candidates on the pick-two ballot line will be incumbent Bonds, but her election is considered a fait accompli: The Democratic at-large nominee has always easily outpolled rivals in District general elections, making the November competition most meaningful for the non-Democrats.

Mike DeBonis covers local politics and government for The Washington Post. He also writes a blog and a political analysis column that runs on Fridays.
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