District Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) is going all out with her effort to take down D.C. Council member Elissa Silverman (I-At Large) at the polls in November. It’s not going to be a pretty thing to watch. But is the mayor pouncing on Silverman for the wrong reasons?
The knock on Silverman — at least in Bowser’s public explanation for endorsing her challenger, Dionne Bussey-Reeder — is that once she got elected to local government, Silverman went national. “The mayor feels that Elissa has not been helpful to D.C. residents and has pushed a national agenda more than a local agenda and as a result has been divisive,” Bowser’s campaign chairman and former D.C. Council member William Lightfoot told The Post. That’s simply not true — or at least not the whole truth.
I’ll be the first to say that, in her first term, Silverman, aided by other newcomers to the council such as at-large member David Grosso, has championed ideas that appeal to progressives nationally. The District’s new paid family leave and minimum wage laws come to mind.
And I have taken after council members who, at times, have treated the city as a legislative laboratory for progressive think-tank ideas. [“The District’s government is a costly laboratory for the left,” Dec. 2, 2016.] Silverman’s legislative profile puts her in that category. But to suggest that that’s all there is to Silverman, that she is an out-of-touch advocate pushing a national agenda ahead of city taxpayers’ interests, is a stretch too far.
Does she regard the business community as a piggy bank to raid for funds to promote social justice and economic security programs? That is what some business community leaders would have you believe. A. Scott Bolden, the former chairman of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce who is raising funds for Bussey-Reeder, told The Post: “For our business interests, anyone would be better than Elissa Silverman.” Anyone? Really? The minimum wage increase backed by Silverman, which gave some business leaders heartburn, was also supported by Bowser.
On the plus side, Silverman, who has lived in the District for more than 20 years, knows her way around the city and its politics. She ran as a Democrat in the 2013 special at-large council election, coming in second to Anita Bonds, who is both underrated and a rare D.C. commodity — a politician without enemies.
Silverman has a good feel for the D.C. government and how things work, having covered the District as a journalist (including for The Post) and as a local think-tank analyst delving into D.C. budget minutiae.
Her strength is in government oversight — an asset and interest not widely shared among her council colleagues. At times, she’s the only member on the dais grilling public officials and holding them accountable. D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine considers her an ally in his efforts to reform juvenile justice programs.
That hasn’t exactly endeared her to the executive branch. She’s become a nuisance to the city bureaucracy in her oversight of employment and training programs and her push for investments in workforce development that provide a path to jobs.
Could something else be at play in Bowser’s decision to throw her endorsement, volunteers and money behind Bussey-Reeder’s novice campaign?
Asked this week by a senior Bowser adviser how I thought the mayor was doing, I said she was doing well enough to not attract any serious challengers to her reelection. But Bowser’s relations with Silverman are nothing less than toxic.
The strain between Bowser and Silverman may be related more to politics and personal preferences than policy.
Things between the two came to a head around the time a Nation of Islam representative spewed ugliness outside city government headquarters. He taunted Silverman as a “fake Jew” while Bowser’s longtime friend and political ally Joshua Lopez stood by his side. It was more than an unfortuitous concatenation of circumstances. It was a lost opportunity for city leaders to demonstrate that the District is a place that brings people together, that builds, not destroys.
Instead, after a session to discuss the horrible event, Lopez and Silverman’s comportment on the council, the mayor and the council member ended up more estranged than ever. Let’s just say the two didn’t exactly have a warm and fuzzy exchange of views.
Hence, the targeted takedown of Silverman at the polls, as well as the waste of money, time and energy that entails. And toward what useful end?
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