In the crowded race for the two at-large D.C. Council seats in the Nov. 4 general election, community activist Robert White and former journalist and think tank analyst Elissa Silverman have emerged as the leaders for the non-Democratic position. D.C. Council member Anita Bonds (D-At Large) is also running for re-election and because of the city’s strong Democratic base, she is widely expected to grab one of the two at-large seats.
Robert White is an independent at-large candidate for the D.C. Council.
White, a District lawyer who worked as an aide to D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), has picked up the endorsement of D.C. Council members Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5), Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7), and David Grosso (I-At Large), and former D.C. Board of Education president and philanthropist and fundraiser Peggy Cooper Cafritz. Silverman, who lives in Ward 6, has gotten the endorsements of the D.C. Chapter of the National Organization for Women, D.C. Working Families, Ward 6 D.C. Council candidate Charles Allen, and Jews United for Justice.
McDuffie said that White’s experience with Norton qualifies him to serve on the council. “It is critical that District residents elect the right person to serve on the council at this time in our city’s history – a candidate that understands our city’s unique issues and the promise of our future,” McDuffie said. “Robert’s commitment to his community and years of experience crafting legislation as a staffer to Norton separate him from the pack of candidates seeking the at-large council seat reserved for non-Democrats.”
The at-large race is the only seriously contested council race this year because D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D), McDuffie, D.C. Council member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) and D.C. Council candidates Brianne Nadeau (D-Ward 1) and Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) face minor opposition in the general election.
Political observers believe that Silverman can be considered a front-runner because of her name recognition from a previous council run and her organizational strength. Allen supports Silverman because he believes that she will be a fine colleague.
“I’ve known Elissa for more than 10 years,” Allen said. “I’ve known her as a reporter, an advocate and a watchdog for our city. In each of those roles, she’s focused her career and her energy on having the city do what right for the residents of the District of Columbia.”
If White, an African American, wins along with Bonds in November, the D.C. Council will be majority Black in January 2015, but White does not think in those terms. “I will represent all residents of the District,” he said. “I have lived in each quadrant of the city and I understand the challenges that people face. I have the experience to advocate on behalf of families.”
Silverman, however, will not concede the Black vote to anyone, saying that her track record is one that African-American voters should look at. “I have been a fighter for more affordable housing, creating good jobs, and improving our educational system,” she said at an at-large candidates’ forum sponsored by DC for Democracy on Sept. 10 at the First Congregational Church.
Howard University political scientist Michael Fauntroy said he thinks that District voters should not focus exclusively on race when voting for an at-large candidate. “I am not hung up on the racial makeup of a candidate,” Fauntroy said. “District residents should vote for people who want efficient government and that is as well run as possible.”
Fauntroy said that voters should be cautious about candidates who label themselves as progressives, no matter what color they are. “Progressive is an interesting term because I have found that there are limits to progressivism,” he said. “For example, there is very little discussion among the candidates for office this year about gentrification and how it is affecting working-class people. They are speaking about it in vague terms and there clearly is a limit to liberalism.”