August 21, 2018 at 7:00 pm EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Lesbian D.C. Council candidate could benefit from petition challenge
Dionne Reeder, gay news, Washington Blade

Lesbian businesswoman Dionne Reeder received a boost this week when news emerged that one of her rivals might be disqualified from being placed on the ballot. (Photo via Reeder Campaign Twitter)

Lesbian businesswoman Dionne Reeder, whose campaign for an at-large D.C. Council seat has run short on money, received an unexpected boost this week when news surfaced that one of her two main rivals might be disqualified from being placed on the ballot.

D.C. Council member Elissa Silverman (I-At-Large) surprised political observers on Monday by submitting documents to the Board of Elections challenging 3,906 petition signatures submitted by rival candidate S. Kathryn Allen as being invalid. Silverman charges in her documents challenging the signatures that many of them appear to be forged.

Among the signatures under suspicion was that of local gay activist Marvin Bowser, the brother of D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, whose name appeared twice on the petitions, with his first name misspelled on one of them, according to Silverman’s challenge.

Her challenge, if upheld by the Board of Elections, would result in Allen having 2,169 valid signatures, more than 800 fewer than the 3,000 petition signatures from registered city voters she needs to be placed on the ballot for the Nov. 6 general election.

If the election board were to force Allen off the ballot Reeder would immediately emerge as the lead rival to Silverman, who some political observers consider to be politically vulnerable this year.

Allen’s campaign released a statement on Monday acknowledging that it “fell victim to a petition circulating service” run by a private company that was supposed to enhance the campaign’s signature collection efforts. The statement disputed Silverman’s claim that nearly 4,000 signatures were invalid, saying the Allen campaign has “verified over 4,000 signatures.”

The statement says the Allen campaign was confident that the Board of Elections, upon completing its review, would certify Allen for placement on the ballot.

Silverman says in her challenge that her review of Allen’s petition signatures shows significant irregularities, including “widespread and intentional signature fraud” among some of Allen’s petition circulators.

Allen and Reeder, both of whom are running as independents, are considered the two leading challengers to Silverman’s re-election bid. Reeder was the first major challenger to enter the race late last year. But the dynamics of the race changed in June when Allen became a candidate with the backing of gay former D.C. Council member David Catania (I-At-Large) and former D.C. Mayor and longtime LGBT community ally Anthony Williams (D). Williams and Catania are serving as co-chairs for Allen’s campaign.

Allen is an attorney who served as the city’s insurance commissioner while Williams was mayor. She currently owns two insurance related businesses. Reeder also worked in the Williams administration as the mayoral coordinator of community services for Ward 8. She is the current owner of Cheers at the Big Chair, a full-service restaurant in the city’s Anacostia neighborhood.

Up until the time Allen entered the race, Reeder led the field of at-large candidates in fundraising. Now she and Allen’s finance reports filed with the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance show that many of the small, medium and large businesses that contributed to Reeder switched sides and appeared to throw their support to Allen.

Meanwhile, Silverman, who had been trailing Reeder in fundraising, has pulled ahead according to her most recent report filed on Aug. 10, which shows she has raised a total of $111,597 compared to $93,546 raised by Reeder. In the two months since becoming a candidate Allen raised a total of $88,442, according to her Aug. 10 report.

However, the same reports show that Silverman had $80,135 in cash on hand as of Aug. 10 and Allen had $55,235 in cash on hand. Reeder’s report shows she had just $4,542 in cash on hand after having loaned her campaign $6,954.75. Had she not infused her campaign with a personal loan the campaign would have been in debt with a negative balance.

Alfreda Davis, Reeder’s campaign manager, told the Washington Blade on Monday that the campaign during the most recent finance reporting period concentrated on gathering petition signatures and other efforts rather than fundraising.

“We focused this past quarter or cycle on putting a sound infrastructure in place so that we would be able to run the race effectively,” she said. “And that’s all we’ve done.”

Unlike the Allen campaign, which relied heavily on a private company to gather petition signatures, Davis said Reeder’s signatures were obtained by volunteers dedicated to the campaign.

“We were doing it the old fashioned way,” Davis said. “We went out and we got people who were engaged with communities and we worked those communities and we got the signatures,” she said.

No information has surfaced to indicate anyone filed a challenge to Reeder’s petition signatures as of Monday, which was the deadline for filing such a challenge.

Silverman, Reeder and Allen have each expressed strong support for LGBT rights. The three along with four other candidates are running for an at-large Council seat that cannot be held by a Democrat under the city’s election law. The others running for the “non-Democratic” seat are Statehood Green Party candidate David Schwartzman, Libertarian Party candidate Denise Hicks; Republican Ralph Chittams Sr., and independent Rustin Lewis. Their campaign finance reports show they have raised far less money than Reeder, Allen, and Silverman, leading political observers to view them as having little chance of winning.

Incumbent Council member Anita Bonds (D-At-Large) is also running for re-election for the second of two at-large seats on the ballot this year. Under the city’s election law, the non-Democratic candidate will be on the same ballot as Bonds, with voters having the option of voting for two candidates. The two receiving the highest vote counts will be declared the winners. Bonds, who has a strong record of support on LGBT issues, is considered the strong favorite to win re-election to one of the two seats.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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