In a development that has shaken up the hotly contested race for one of two at-large D.C. Council seats up for election on Nov. 6, the city’s Board of Election late Monday night disqualified from the ballot R. Kathryn Allen (I), who was considered the main rival to incumbent Council member Elissa Silverman (I-At-Large).
With Allen out of the race, lesbian businesswoman Dionne Reeder, who’s also running as an independent, immediately emerges as the new lead rival to Silverman.
The development creates a dilemma for many LGBT activists who supported Silverman, a longtime LGBT community ally, in her successful 2014 Council race but who also favor electing an LGBT person to the City Council.
In an 11-page Memorandum Opinion and Order released Monday night, the Board of Elections announced it had disqualified 3,642 of the 6,068 petition signatures that the Allen campaign submitted to obtain access to the ballot. Under the city’s election law, 3,000 valid petition signatures are required to be placed on the ballot for an at-large Council seat.
The election board examined the petition signatures submitted by Allen’s campaign in response to a challenge to the petitions filed by Silverman on Aug. 20. Silverman argued in a detailed statement submitted to the election board that large numbers of the signatures submitted by the Allen campaign were forged.
Silverman’s challenge also stated that several people identified on the petitions as circulators of the petitions said they were falsely listed as circulators and had nothing to do with Allen’s campaign. In its Memorandum Opinion and Order, the election board said its own investigation confirmed those allegations. The board said it determined that Allen presented 2,426 valid signatures, 574 fewer than the required 3,000.
Allen, an attorney and D.C. insurance commissioner under former Mayor Anthony Williams, said the disqualified petition signatures were the responsibility of a private company her campaign hired to gather the signatures. The election board stated in its opinion disqualifying Allen from the ballot that it would “refer the alleged instances of fraud to the Office of the Attorney General.”
It couldn’t immediately be determined whether many or some of the small and medium size businesses as well as big name politicians, including Williams and gay former D.C. Council member David Catania, who were backing Allen, would switch their support to Reeder.
Many of the business leaders have been open about seeking to replace Silverman with someone they consider to be a more business friendly Council member following Silverman’s lead role in backing and helping to pass legislation establishing one of the nation’s most generous employer paid family leave programs funded by a tax on businesses. Allen, who owns an insurance related business, was considered the business interests’ first choice.
Reeder, who owns and operates a restaurant in Anacostia, has also expressed opposition to the family leave bill in its current form, saying it should be modified so small businesses aren’t saddled with the burden of picking up the cost.
Reeder is a longtime advocate for LGBT rights. She is being supported by a number of LGBT activists. But in the at-large race, Silverman has a longstanding record of strong support for LGBT-related issues and also enjoys significant support in the LGBT community.
Under D.C.’s election law, two of the Council’s at-large seats will be on the same ballot and voters can select two candidates, although only one can be a Democrat. Council member Anita Bonds (D-At-Large), who is also a longtime supporter of LGBT rights, is considered the strong favorite to win re-election to the “Democratic” seat.
In addition to Silverman and Reeder, four other candidates are competing for the non-Democratic seat. Among them are independent Rustin Lewis; Republican Ralph Chittams Sr.; Libertarian Denise Hicks; and Statehood Green Party candidate David Schwartzman.
Chittams and Hicks have yet to file a finance report with the Office of Campaign Finance, indicating they have yet to raise any significant funds for their campaigns. Lewis has raised $19,793 and Schwartzman has raised just $1,325, according to their most recent reports filed with the Office of Campaign Finance.
Silverman has raised $111,597 compared to Reeder, who has raised $93,546 at the time they filed their most recent finance reports on Aug. 10. Although Silverman had $80,135 in cash on hand as of the Aug. 10 filing compared to just $4,542 in cash on hand for Reeder as of Aug. 10, political observers say Reeder remains competitive and could have a shot at defeating Silverman if Allen’s supporters back her campaign.
The Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the city’s largest local LGBT political group, endorsed Bonds as a Democrat at its regularly scheduled meeting on Tuesday night, according to Earl Fowlkes, the club’s president. Fowlkes told the Washington Blade the club has no plans to endorse any of the independent candidates running for D.C. Council, including Reeder or Silverman.
Fowlkes noted that the club’s longstanding policy has been to limit endorsements of non-Democratic candidates to races in which they are not running against a Democrat. Although most political observers consider it highly unlikely, it’s possible for Silverman and Reeder to win election to both at-large seats by receiving more votes than Bonds, resulting in Bonds losing her Council seat.