Voters gave the D.C. Council a face lift Tuesday, electing three new members who will replace a combined 41 years of lawmaking experience on the 13-member body, with a fourth rookie coming within months.
The shakeup comes after Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) lost his bid for a fifth term in the Democratic primary, and after David A. Catania (I-At Large) and Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) eschewed reelection bids to seek the mayoralty.
Democrat Muriel E. Bowser’s ascension to the mayor’s office creates a vacancy for the Ward 4 seat that will be filled in a special election next year.
There was little drama in the races to replace Graham and Wells. In early returns, Democratic nominees Brianne Nadeau (Ward 1) and Charles Allen (Ward 6) led by wide margins over Libertarian and independent challengers.
Independent Elissa Silverman succeeded in the more considerable task of succeeding Catania, comfortably outpolling a supremely crowded field.
Voters were asked to choose two at-large council members from among 15 candidates. While incumbent Democrat Anita D. Bonds was expected to win one of the seats, like every Democratic at-large nominee before her, Catania’s seat — reserved for a non-Democrat — was hotly contested among numerous independents, as well as nominees from the Republican, Libertarian and Statehood Green parties.
The new members could give a distinctly progressive tilt to a council that within months will be faced with hashing out a $300 million soccer stadium deal, tackling a housing affordability crunch and passing a $6 billion city budget. Allen, Nadeau and Silverman campaigned on good-government platforms, positioning themselves as change agents in the John A. Wilson Building.
Two candidates had emerged as favorites to claim Catania’s seat through their fundraising, endorsements and other indications of grass-roots support.
Silverman, a 41-year-old former policy analyst and newspaper reporter, finished closely behind Bonds in a special election last year. She has been an outspoken advocate for a higher minimum wage in the city and for campaign finance reforms, gaining the backing of unions, progressive advocacy groups and D.C. Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8).
Robert White, a 32-year-old former aide to Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), waged a long and meticulous campaign, entering the race well before it was clear that Catania would pass up a fifth full term. His support includes three sitting council members, business groups and a several unions.
Other potential winners included Shadow Sen. Michael D. Brown, who holds one of the city’s unpaid posts advocating for statehood. Brown’s name could have been a liability after former at-large member Michael A. Brown was sentenced to a three-year prison term for bribery.
But in early returns, Silverman, Brown and White were the three top vote-getters behind Bonds.
Other standouts were Khalid Pitts, 47, a restaurant owner and former labor organizer; Courtney R. Snowden, 35, a public affairs consultant; and Graylan Scott Hagler, 60, a minister and community organizer.
At polls on Tuesday, however, Bonds, who is also the Democratic Party chairman in the District, was easily the most recognizable name.
Jim Nichols, 54, of Takoma, who works as a nurse at the National Institutes of Health, said he voted for Bonds “because she’s been fighting for equal rights since the 1970s.”
The changes to the council are not over. Bowser’s mayoral win heralds a special election, likely be held in late April or early May, that is expected to attract close attention from the ward’s politically active residents. One politico who ran for an at-large council seat last year, A.J. Cooper, has already scheduled a campaign kickoff for Saturday.
Bowser’s endorsement is likely to be closely watched. She came to the council via a 2007 special election, after Adrian M. Fenty (D) left the Ward 4 seat to assume the mayoralty. Fenty’s support for Bowser proved to be influential in a crowded race.
Come Jan. 2, only four of the 13 members of the council — Chairman Phil Mendelson (D), Vincent B. Orange (D-At Large), Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) and Barry — will have at least a decade’s experience as lawmakers.
Mendelson easily won a four-year term as council chairman, his first since winning a 2012 special election to fill the term vacated by Kwame R. Brown. He faced challenges from Republican, Libertarian, Statehood Green and independent candidates, but none were especially well-financed or enjoyed significant grass-roots support.
Mendelson had previously served as an at-large member since 1998; Bonds won a party vote and a subsequent special election to fill Mendelson’s at-large seat after he ascended to the chairmanship in 2012.
Two other incumbent Democrats, Mary M. Cheh (Ward 3) and Kenyan R. McDuffie (Ward 5) faced minimal opposition in their bids for reelection.
It will be a third term for Cheh, a 64-year-old law professor at George Washington University, and a first full, four-year term for McDuffie, a 39-year-old attorney who won a 2011 special election to replace Harry Thomas Jr., who resigned before pleading guilty to federal felony charges.
Aaron C. Davis contributed to this report.