The composition of the only competitive marquee race in the Nov. 6 D.C. general election suddenly changed this week. The development creates a clear path for an underdog citywide victory by lesbian D.C. Council At-Large candidate Dionne Reeder in her uphill but promising challenge against controversial first-term incumbent Elissa Silverman.
Near the stroke of midnight on Monday evening the D.C. Board of Elections complied with its announced deadline to render a decision regarding ballot qualification by additional candidate S. Kathryn Allen. The local election board bumped Allen off the ballot, ruling that she had come up short by slightly more than 500 signatures of the 3,000 required for the seat.
Signature collection is a tedious and tiresome task, resulting in adequately funded first-time candidates not enjoying incumbent campaign infrastructure advantage commonly outsourcing the activity. Allen saw a large number of her valid signatures thrown out due to at least one non-resident collector not having registered with the election board, falsified collector names on petition sheets, and outright forged signatures provided by collectors. In the end, Allen’s nearly 6,100 signatures were whittled down to just under 2,500 accepted ones.
Silverman had contested Allen’s ballot petition after it was discovered, following the withdrawal of another candidate due to similar contractor-collected falsified voter signatures, that Allen may have been victim of the same problem. Ballot petitions are not audited or validated unless required as a result of a challenge by a registered voter – oftentimes a partisan associated with a competitor campaign.
It is unusual for an incumbent to personally challenge an opponent’s submitted signatures, as in this case by Silverman. Her directly doing so has prompted local political observers to note that it signifies Silverman recognizes she is vulnerable to being defeated for re-election.
Silverman won election to the seat in 2014, after a prior failed attempt, among a crowded field while garnering only 15 percent of the votes cast in the race. Under the city’s complicated set-aside of two-of-four At-Large Council seats for a “non-majority-party” candidate, voters are allowed to cast two votes each rotating four-year biennial election cycle – with the Democratic nominee joined by a usually Democrat-masked-as-an-independent winning the alternate seat.
Silverman may regret “clearing the field” to a single leading opponent, creating an opening for Reeder to consolidate community opposition to the oft-derided sole “socialist” elected official in the District. In addition to incumbent Democrat Anita Bonds, expected to easily win another term, voters have the opportunity to cast a second vote for “non-Democrats” Silverman or Reeder, or alternately for the long-shot candidacies of Republican Ralph Chittams, Libertarian Denise Hicks, Statehood-Green David Schwartzman, or independent Rustin Lewis.
Most observers anticipate that respected former Mayor Anthony Williams and former gay At-Large Council member David Catania, both co-chairs of Allen’s effort, will support Reeder. Mayor Muriel Bowser, gliding to re-election as one of the most popular executives in the nation, is said to support an alternative to Silverman.
Silverman, criticized as a short-tempered and hard-edged ideologue disinterested in a consensus-building approach to legislation or governance, has become known as an extremist policy outlier among most of her colleagues. Leftist political groups, however, are expected to push hard for her re-election, disappointed that all “further-left” challengers in the Democratic primary were easily defeated by more circumspect, centrist and business-friendly incumbents.
The local enterprise community had been backing either Allen or Reeder, with small-business operators largely lining up behind Reeder while moderate-sized and larger business sectors had favored Allen. Reeder is expected to coalesce the support of both the entire entrepreneurial community and residents hoping for a fresh approach with less of a heavy-handed, combative style.
The LGBT community could also play a role in determining the winner and may relish the chance to again have a gay person, woman of color, and the city’s first lesbian serving on the D.C. Council.
Now that the candidates have been finalized, let the rumble begin!