D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) on Sunday rallied hundreds of supporters to back Dionne Reeder for a citywide council seat, the latest in an unprecedented attempt by the mayor to oust an incumbent lawmaker.
Bowser has helped Reeder tap into her donor network and raise $100,000 in Reeder’s quest to unseat D.C. Council member Elissa Silverman (I-At Large).
At an energetic get-out-the-vote event at Ivy City Smokehouse in Northeast Washington, the mayor warmly embraced Reeder and never mentioned Silverman, who is running for a second term.
Bowser pitched Reeder as someone with a valuable perspective who lives in Columbia Heights and opened a restaurant in impoverished Ward 8.
“Unlike most of us, she crosses a bridge every day to go from Northwest to Southeast and that experience has taught her how to bring people together from across eight wards of Washington, D.C.,” Bowser said.
Sunday’s rally follows multiple efforts by Bowser to boost Reeder, who is not well known citywide.
Bowser’s donor network and staff have supplied much of the money that has flowed into Reeder’s campaign coffers since the mayor’s endorsement three weeks ago. Bowser is seeking reelection with a war chest of more than $1 million and no serious challenger, so she is using some of that to help Reeder.
Her involvement marks the first time in recent memory that a mayor of the nation’s capital has publicly worked to unseat an incumbent. Bowser has clashed with Silverman over the council member’s scrutiny of city agencies, as well as Silverman’s support for a new paid-family-leave law, which the mayor opposes.
Silverman also objected to the council’s decision to overturn an initiative passed by voters that would have raised the minimum wage for tipped workers; the mayor and the city’s restaurant industry were lined up against the initiative and were glad to see it overturned.
Tensions peaked this spring when Silverman demanded that Bowser fire an ally who organized a rally where a speaker called Silverman a “fake Jew” and made anti-Semitic remarks.
Council member Anita Bonds, expected to easily win reelection as the Democratic nominee in the at-large race, was also featured at the mayor’s rally, sporting a Reeder button, although she insisted afterward that she was neutral in the race.
On Nov. 6, voters will choose two candidates for at-large seats on the council — only one of whom can be a Democrat. Six are on the ballot, including three lesser-known candidates, independent Rustin Lewis, Statehood Green Party candidate David Schwartzman and Republican Ralph Chittams Sr.
The campaign between Reeder, who also worked for former mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), and Silverman, a former policy analyst and reporter for the City Paper and, briefly, The Washington Post, has become increasingly caustic and has highlighted racial divisions in the city.
Allies of Reeder, who is black, say that Silverman, who is white, has been “rude” toward the city’s African American population. At the entrance to Sunday’s rally, organizers with the Bowser campaign were giving away “Trust Black Women” T-shirts, to recognize black women as a key component of the Democratic base.
Silverman has said that her record during her first term showed she has been acting in the interests of all D.C. residents, including African Americans in Southeast Washington who have not been touched by the city’s tide of prosperity. Just this month, she said, she had worked with council member Trayon White Sr. (D-Ward 8) on a bill to offer public-sector apprenticeships in D.C. government. Silverman does not accept corporate donations.
Reeder, who has received donations from developers allied with Bowser, is running as a business-friendly alternative to the progressive incumbent. She is critical of the paid-family-leave law co-authored by Silverman that will impose a 0.62 percent employer-paid payroll tax to provide workers eight weeks of paid leave for new parents, six weeks to care for an ill relative and two weeks of sick time.
On Sunday, Bowser attacked the family-leave law, noting that benefits would be available to all workers in the District, including those who live in Maryland and Virginia.
“I put D.C. residents first above any national policy,” Bowser said. “I for sure would never send $170 million out of Washington, D.C.”
At the rally, Reeder said: “I am a proud business owner, and no one is going to make me feel ashamed of that. If we isolate the business community, who is going to generate revenue?”
In the crowd, voters seemed less interested in the fight between progressive and business interests, and more over who could best represent the city.
Brenda Speaks, a 65-year-old Ward 8 resident who was at a table in the smokehouse, shouted at Reeder to come say hello.
“She’s very positive and knows exactly what’s happening in the community,” said Speaks, who met Reeder while dining at her restaurant.
She added that she voted for Silverman in 2014. “It’s really funny, I don’t have a lot against her. I just think Dionne would be a better representative. She knows what’s happening in Ward 8.”