It’s been quite the year for Elissa Silverman.
In April, the independent at-large D.C. Council member, who is Jewish, took it upon herself to introduce Ward 8 Council member Trayon White to the Jewish community after he claimed that the Jewish financiers the Rothschilds controlled the weather.
Later that month, she was called a “fake Jew” by a member of the Nation of Islam at what was billed as a “unity rally” for White.
She butted heads with Mayor Muriel Bowser over policy and personnel, calling for the mayor to oust rally organizer Joshua Lopez from a public housing board.
And now, she’s in the midst of the most heated citywide election this season, trying to fend off her second Bowser-backed challenger as she seeks a second term in office.
“It has been a year of a lot of, I’d say, personal and political growth for me,” Silverman says. “It’s hard for a lot of voters to believe it’s only been my first term.”
An outspoken progressive, Silverman is contending with Dionne Reeder, a local business owner and civil servant who’s spent much of her campaign attacking Silverman for being too harsh on the city’s business community, specifically targeting her position on a paid family leave bill and Initiative 77, a ballot measure that sought to raise the city’s tipped minimum wage. Reeder declined multiple requests to speak with WJW for this article. According to Silverman, Reeder is too cozy with the city’s business interests at the expense of its residents.
But Reeder’s candidacy is — in some ways — a proxy for Bowser, who endorsed another candidate, S. Kathryn Allen, before she was declared ineligible for using fraudulent signatures to get on the ballot. Bowser then promptly endorsed Reeder, whose fundraising numbers subsequently skyrocketed, according to campaign finance reports.
“You would have to ask her that question,” Silverman says when asked why Bowser seems so intent on unseating her. “I think some is what I’ve done for paid family leave. She thinks my oversight is too aggressive and she thinks I am too aggressive when it comes to questioning agency heads.”
The four at-large council members and the council chair are elected citywide. The other eight seats are elected by their districts. A poll released in late September by Public Policy Polling showed Silverman with a 17-point lead over Reeder, but Reeder’s candidacy has attracted some controversial supporters.
Multiple reports said Bowser was incensed at Silverman’s demand that she fire Lopez. But Lopez — who said he did not condone the remarks by the Nation of Islam member and said that he did not invite the man to speak — ultimately stepped down from the D.C. Housing Authority’s Board of Commissioners.
Lopez, a longtime community organizer, has now become a prominent supporter of Reeder’s.
“I haven’t seen this much distaste for an incumbent since [former Mayor] Adrian Fenty,” Lopez told Washington City Paper.
Reeder’s campaign, though, would not say if he had an official role.
“I felt that he’s been a divisive figure. And certainly the rally that he held was very divisive,” Silverman says. “I will let voters decide for themselves what they think of Joshua being such a prominent promoter of Dionne.”
Silverman says that she’s not too worried about continuing her working relationship with Bowser if she can hold off Reeder. For their part, she and White have largely patched things up according to Silverman. A bill they co-sponsored creating an apprenticeship program for young residents interested in city government just passed its first vote.
For now, though, she’s thinking about the latest test in a year full of them: Nov. 6.
“I’m focused on election day, I’m sure that afterward we’ll all move forward,” Silverman says. “But I think we should have a council that reflects the values of its residents. Residents support paid family leave, residents supported Initiative 77, and I generally think residents want honest government that reflects their priorities.”