City Council candidate Elissa Silverman beat her four fellow Democratic rivals Thursday night at an endorsement forum sponsored by the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club but fell short of capturing a 60 percent vote total needed to win the club’s endorsement.
Silverman, a budget analyst and former journalist, received 39 votes, or 54.9 percent, in a second ballot runoff against interim Council member Anita Bonds, who received 26 votes, or 36.6 percent. Five club members voted to “abstain” from choosing a candidate in the runoff balloting.
The five Democrats who competed for the Stein Club endorsement and two others – a Republican and a Statehood Green Party candidate – are running in an April 23 special election for an at-large D.C. Council seat. The seat became vacant when Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large) won election last year as Council Chair.
Earlier this year, the D.C. Democratic State Committee, which Bonds chairs, chose her to fill the seat as an interim Council member until the special election is held.
At the Stein Club forum Thursday night, Silverman received 43.6 percent in a first ballot vote, with Bonds receiving 32 percent. Attorney and Ward 3 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Matthew Frumin received 14 percent on the first ballot; former at-large Council member Michael A. Brown received 7 percent. Attorney Paul Zuckerberg, an advocate for marijuana decriminalization, received 2.8 percent.
Close to one hundred people turned out for the forum, which was held at the Metropolitan Community Church of Washington on Ridge Street, N.W., in the city’s Shaw neighborhood.
The voting took place after the five candidates gave opening remarks and answered questions presented by club member Earl Fowlkes, who served as the forum’s moderator. In response to questions by Fowlkes and written questions by audience members, each of the candidates expressed strong support for LGBT rights.
Many of the questions addressed non-LGBT issues, prompting the candidates to discuss their views on education reform, homelessness, unemployment, and the city’s procurement policies among other issues.
“I would have loved to have gotten the endorsement, but we had a majority of Stein Club members support me,” Silverman said after the forum. “So I’m thrilled.”
Silverman’s strong showing came after 14 prominent LGBT activists, most of whom are Stein Club members, announced their support for Silverman in an invitation to an LGBT “meet and greet” event for the candidate to be held at a Dupont Circle area gay bar. Among them are former club treasurer and transgender activist Alexandra Beninda and club members Barbara Helmick, Gregory Cendana, and Jerry Clark.
Another ten prominent Stein Club members, including former club presidents Kurt Vorndran and Lateefah Williams, announced they are hosting a separate “meet and greet” for Bonds.
“I think the candidates did a very good job tonight,” said Stein Club President Martin Garcia. “I think all of the candidates have a very good understanding of our issues. Unfortunately, today the club couldn’t come to a consensus on just one,” he said.
“But that doesn’t mean we’re not going to be out and about participating in the election as we come closer to April 23,” Garcia said.
Frumin, who received the highest rating on LGBT issues from the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, a +7 out of a possible +10 earlier this month, said he was pleased with the vote total he received at the Stein Club forum.
“I didn’t do the process of recruiting members to come so you have voters who are there,” he said. “So people who voted for me were people who were hearing from me tonight for the first time, and I think getting the votes I got was a pretty good accomplishment.”
Supporters of Brown noted that Brown received strong support from LGBT activists in his previous successful race for an at-large Council seat as an independent. They said his vote total of just 7 percent at Thursday’s Stein Club forum was due, in part, to a better effort by Silverman and Bond to turn out supports for the forum.
Brown lost his re-election bid in November to independent David Grosso, who ran as a reform candidate. Political observers say Brown’s widespread name recognition makes him a strong contender in the April 23 special election, where a low voter turnout is expected.
Republican Patrick Mara is also considered a viable candidate in the special election because he has attracted a large number of Democratic voters, including gay Democrats, in two previous races for a Council seat.
Silverman worked as a reporter for the Washington City Paper as the paper’s “Loose Lips” political columnist before becoming a reporter at the Washington Post. Since 2009 she has worked as a budget analyst for the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute.
She told the Blade after the forum that her strong showing from Stein Club members was due to her positions and her approach to addressing both LGBT and non-LGBT issues.
“I think Stein Club members care about this city, they care about this city’s ethics, they care about spending our tax dollars well, they care about being an inclusive city,” she said. “Those are all things that are central to my campaign.”
During a discussion among club members following the appearance of the candidates, Stein Club treasurer Barrie Daneker urged members to vote for Bonds.
“Anita Bonds attended her first Gertrude Stein meeting in 1978,” he said. “She’s been supportive of our community for a long time…We couldn’t have a better candidate for the City Council,” Daneker said, on LGBT and all other issues.