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D.C. mayor’s endorsement unleashes flood of money to Silverman challenger

Dionne Reeder, left, and Elissa Silverman. (LEFT: Rachel Chason/The Washington Post and RIGHT: Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

Mayor Muriel E. Bowser’s endorsement of council candidate Dionne Reeder has filled Reeder’s campaign coffers - with much of the cash coming from Bowser’s donor network.

Reeder, who is trying to unseat D.C. Council Member Elissa Silverman next month, co-owns a Ward 8 restaurant and is not broadly known across the city. In August, her campaign was nearly broke, with just $2,000 in cash on hand.

But she raised more than $100,000 in the past two months — with most of it flooding in after the mayor endorsed her on Sept. 19, according to campaign finance reports.

Silverman (I-At Large), a progressive favorite who does not accept corporate contributions, raised about $57,000 in the latest period. She had $102,000 on hand for the final four weeks of the campaign.

Their race has shaped up as the most competitive of the general-election campaign, and as a referendum on the city’s leftward lurch.

Bowser, a Democrat who is running for reelection with no credible challenger, has publicly gone after Silverman in a way that no mayor has tried to oust a lawmaker.

A rare display of mayoral muscle in D.C. Council race

The mayor has headlined several fundraising events for Reeder, attended a candidate debate on her behalf on Wednesday night and plans to hold a rally for her on Sunday.

Bowser and Silverman have clashed over the lawmaker’s sharp questioning of administration officials and demand that Bowser fire an ally who organized a rally where a speaker called Silverman a “fake Jew.”

Silverman has also championed the city’s new paid family leave law — legislation that Bowser and her allies in the business community oppose. And Silverman went against the mayor - and a majority of the D.C. Council - last week when she argued that the council should not overturn a ballot initiative regarding wages for tipped workers that voters approved four months ago.

Reeder’s campaign finance report reflects strong support from the mayor and her allies.

Bowser personally donated $200. Her chief of staff, John Falcicchio; Deputy Chief of Staff Lindsey Parker; and senior adviser Beverly Perry each gave $500; her brother Marvin chipped in $100; and former deputy mayor Courtney Snowden donated the maximum, $1,000.

Former mayoral campaign aides Ben Soto and Joshua Lopez also gave $500 each. Adrian M. Fenty, a former mayor and Bowser’s mentor, contributed $1,000.

The lobbying group headed by David Catania, the former council member and mayoral candidate and Bowser ally who co-chaired S. Kathryn Allen’s failed council bid, gave Reeder $1,000, the filing show.

Bowser’s backing also seemed to unleashed a torrent of cash from developers and business interests.

Why Silverman is a target for business interests

Developers Chris Donatelli, Herb Miller, Timothy Chapman, Phinis Jones and members of the Peebles family each gave $1,000. Some of them had previously given to Silverman, who was briefly a reporter for The Washington Post and a policy analyst at the left-leaning D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute before she was elected to the council in 2014.

In all, Reeder took in nearly $50,000 from 84 donors who also gave to Bowser’s re-election campaign.

At least 18 of Reeder’s donors previously gave to Allen, a business-backed candidate who raised about $94,000 but didn’t qualify for the ballot because of fraud in her qualifying petitions.

The latest reports show significantly different fundraising strategies for Silverman and Reeder.

Donors who gave $250 or less make up nearly half of Silverman’s overall fundraising haul, while they made up a quarter of Reeder’s.

About half of Reeder’s total fundraising came from people who gave $1,000, while maximum donors made up a quarter of Silverman’s war chest.

Silverman and Reeder spar over paid leave law at candidate forum

Public Citizen, a non-profit consumer advocacy group that wants to reduce the sway of special interests in government, criticized the mayor’s involvement in the race.

“Both Elissa Silverman, and Dionne Reeder prior to the mayor’s endorsement, relied on individual D.C, residents to support their campaigns,” said Aquene Freechild, who co-directs the group’s Democracy Is For People campaign.

“Now big corporate interests — many that are spending against affordable housing regulations, against paid family leave and that favor paying fewer taxes over funding programs to support D.C. kids — are funding Dionne Reeder at the mayor’s behest,” she said.

At a recent candidate forum, Silverman said she supported a ban on city contractors donating to candidates while Reeder said it would be “divisive” to bar local companies from the political process.

Silverman appealed to small donors in a Wednesday fundraising email in which she said that “big-money special interests who want to silence voter voices are pumping lots of cash into my primary opponent’s campaign.”

Voters in November can choose two candidates for at-large council seats; one of those seats is reserved for someone who is not from the party in power — in this case, Democrats. Council member Anita Bonds (D) is widely expected to take one of the seats and win reelection. Independent candidate Rustin Lewis, Statehood Green Party candidate David Schwartzman and Republican Ralph Chittams Sr. are also on the ballot and have raised little campaign cash.

Paul Schwartzman contributed to this report.