The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion The national and local intersect for D.C. in November

D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) and D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser in February 2020. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

D.C. voters have good reason to concentrate their minds on November. Not only will they elect a mayor, a D.C. Council chair, two at-large and four ward council members in the Nov. 8 general election, but the congressional midterms are also in the offing. Much is at stake at both levels. To state the obvious, a Republican-led House of Representatives could pose an existential threat to the District’s already limited form of self-government.

For D.C., same as it ever was: Local and national politics are two sides of the same coin.

Although D.C. elections take precedence, voters concerned with the city’s fate on Capitol Hill should find ways to contribute time and treasure to national organizations working to keep a pale-blue Congress from turning blood red.

The prospect of changing fortunes in Congress makes it even more important that D.C. has well-anchored elected leaders in place to deal with what may come.

Anyone around town during the District’s dark days of neo-bankruptcy, a politically compromised City Hall, and rude and overbearing congressional committee chairmen will recall how helpful it was to have on hand respected, experienced elected officials such as council chair Linda Cropp (D); council members Charlene Drew Jarvis (D-Ward 4), John Ray (D-At Large), Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) and Kathy Patterson (D-Ward 3); and chief financial officer — and later mayor — Anthony Williams (D) to steer the city through the rough patches. The need for steady and mature leadership hasn’t changed.

Regardless of which party is in power on the Hill, the city’s annual budget must be approved by Congress. Other measures critical to D.C. won’t see the light of day without some form of congressional concurrence. Those are inescapable facts.

Of course, it will be helpful if a reelected Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) is present when the House reconvenes in January, as is all but certain. But there’s no substitute to having a strong mayor-council duo carrying the load for the city with the federal establishment.

That’s why it is distressing to hear that Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) and D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) remain at odds. When it comes to dealing with the federal government, be it Congress or the White House, the District must speak with one voice.

The disposition of the dilapidated RFK Stadium is a case in point. Legislation sponsored by Norton could allow D.C. to acquire control of the stadium site from the federal government. But Norton rightly insists that elected D.C. leaders agree on the terms and conditions of any land transfer before introducing the bill that’s necessary to make it happen.

A solid majority of city lawmakers do not support letting Washington Commanders owner Daniel M. Snyder use the land to build a new football stadium. The council instead wants housing, parks, recreation and retail development. Bowser has made it clear that she wants a football stadium somewhere. Mendelson, concerned that Bowser would acquire the site from the National Park Service so she can use it to host Snyder’s dreamed-of facility, wants restrictions added to Norton’s legislation to prevent that.

This isn’t junior high school. Bowser and Mendelson should act their ages and work through their differences. Take the football stadium off the table, period. Get the land and get on with citizen-backed economic development projects.

What’s the point of reelecting Bowser and Mendelson if voters get dysfunctional leadership in return? The city deserves officials who will uphold the public trust and put the needs of residents first.

Thus, the general election comes into focus.

Wards 1, 3, 5 and 6 are likely to hand victories to Democrats Brianne K. Nadeau, Matthew Frumin, Zachary Parker and Charles Allen, respectively. No earthquakes there. But the economy forecasts choppy seas ahead. Will the winners serve as government ballast, or will any become rock-the-boat mischief makers?

Republicans David Krucoff and Clarence Lee, Wards 3 and 5 respectively, might make a show of it. That’s about all.

The at-large council race in which two seats are up for grabs might well be the general elections’ most attention-grabbing contest.

Currently, 11 candidates are listed on the Board of Elections roster. Two of them — Anita Bonds (D) and Elissa Silverman (I) — are incumbents with documented track records. They are joined by Ward 5 council member Kenyan R. McDuffie, who opted against seeking reelection for that council seat to campaign for attorney general, only to be ruled ineligible to run. Now he finds himself at the end of a public service career, unless voters back his independent bid for at-large council member.

Which, should that happen, would occur at the expense of either Bonds or Silverman because there’s only room at the top for two winning candidates.

Selecting at-large candidates may come down to a matter of taste. Because of their smarmy politics and records, a few, at least for me, are hard to swallow. Fortunately, voters across the city — whose opinions are the ones that matter in the end — have time to make up their own minds before November. Till then, look at their records, match them against each other and decide, keeping the city’s best interests in mind.