Voters will elect two at-large D.C. Council members on Nov. 4, and 15 candidates are vying for the two spots. These are their stories, edited for length and clarity.
Name: Elissa Silverman
Neighborhood: H Street/Northeast Capitol Hill. Or “Swampoodle, but I don’t think anyone knows where Swampoodle is.”
Education: A.B., Brown University; graduate work in urban planning and public policy, University of Maryland
Occupation: former budget analyst, D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute; former reporter, The Washington Post and Washington City Paper
Notable endorsements: Metro Washington Council AFL-CIO, Service Employees International Union 32BJ and 1199, D.C. Working Families, DC for Democracy, UNITE HERE Local 25, Sierra Club, National Organization for Women, Jews United for Justice, International Association of Fire Fighters Local 36, D.C. Police Union, Washington Teachers’ Union
Total funds raised: $112,337
So who are you? I’m a former reporter for The Washington Post and City Paper. I spent the last five years analyzing the D.C. budget and advocating for the needs of working families in the city. I’ve led efforts to increase transparency in District government and reform our campaign finance system. Most recently, I was the co-leader of the successful campaign to raise the minimum wage and expand paid sick days for workers. Now I want to put my oversight and budget skills to work on the D.C. Council.
What’s the one personal or professional experience that has best prepared you to be a D.C. Council member? I have a combination of experiences that make me uniquely qualified for this role. As a reporter, I know how to ask tough questions and actually get answers from D.C. government. Not an easy task. As an analyst, I learned how non-transparent the D.C. budget is. Making the budget understandable to residents and making sure we get the most value out of our dollars is one of the biggest reasons I’m running. And as an advocate I have experience working with a diverse group of D.C. residents, and I know how to move complicated legislation through the council and do it effectively.
What’s the one thing the council should be doing on affordable housing? I don’t think there’s just one thing we should be doing. Voters across the city, no matter what ward or what neighborhood we’re in, are saying we’re in an affordable housing crisis. The city needs to use every tool at its disposal to address the problem. That means working harder to preserve the affordable housing we have, using tools like the Housing Production Trust Fund. I support having a guaranteed $100 million for the Housing Production Trust Fund every year, and I think another thing the council can do is make sure we do the oversight on federal and local housing funds, so when we’re spending money on housing that we’re doing it effectively. Let me say this: I’d love to be on the housing committee and do the effective oversight of our housing programs to make sure our housing dollars are spent most effectively.
And on education? The main thing I would focus on is holding the mayor, chancellor and deputy mayor of education accountable through the oversight function of the council, as well as be a voice for the community including parents, students and educators in the system. I see that constituent service role a council member has in the education world as being a voice for the community and a bit of an intermediary, in a sense. I think a lot of parents are frustrated at how to communicate with the D.C. Public Schools and the charter school system, and I think that’s a role that a council member can play, facilitating communication between parents and the schools.
Where’s a third area you want to be impactful? Election reform and campaign finance reform would be a top priority. The scandals and corruption of the past few years have distracted us from the things that are really important — the achievement gap, our housing crisis, how we develop the city. That’s why I do think election reform and campaign finance reform are important. I’m interested in looking at how we create a system where voter preferences are heard. I haven’t made up my mind what that is; I look forward to doing an examination of the best way for us to make sure voters across the city have their voice heard.
What is the first bill you plan to introduce? The District’s budget is the most important piece of legislation the council passes every year. That is going to be my focus. We are going to have a new mayor and a new council, and that provides a great opportunity to press reset and create a new set of expectations about oversight. That’s how I intend to spent my first few months on the council, gearing up for the budget year ahead.
In endorsing two of your opponents, a Current editorial said you are “beyond a doubt the best informed candidate about city issues” but lacking in “flexibility” and “too ideological to compromise and work successfully with [your potential] colleagues.” Care to respond to that? Can you work with your future colleagues? The minimum wage and paid sick days are two great examples of how I can work not only collaboratively with my future colleagues, but with elected representatives in our region. I worked with diverse groups of people — activists, workers, economists, unions and the business community — to get legislation passed. I think that speaks very well to my ability to work with a wide range of people as well as my future colleagues on the council. I support, for instance, what the council did on tax reform. Did I agree with every piece of it? I agreed with the package. I think being able to compromise is an important piece of being a legislator. But do I have certain strong beliefs? I do. I think income inequality is a major obstacle to making this a great city. I do think that working people in this city should not work in poverty. I agree with that kind of approach to public policy and combating what I think is one of the biggest obstacles to our prosperity in this city.