October 15, 2018 at 6:49 pm EST | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Hundreds join mayor at rally for lesbian D.C. Council candidate

Dionne Reeder, gay news, Washington Blade

Dionne Reeder (Photo via Reeder Campaign Twitter)

Lesbian businesswoman Dionne Reeder received tumultuous applause from several hundred people who turned out on Sunday for a ‘get-out-the-vote’ rally organized by D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, who has endorsed Reeder in her race for an at-large City Council seat as an independent candidate in the Nov. 6 election.
 
The rally, held at the Ivy City Smokehouse restaurant in Northeast D.C., was billed as an event to encourage residents to vote for Bowser, who’s running for re-election, and other local Democratic candidates, including Council member Anita Bonds (D-At-Large), who spoke the rally.
 
But it became clear to nearly all who attended the event that the mayor organized it mostly to showcase Reeder, who is challenging incumbent Council member Elissa Silverman (I-At-Large).
 
Bonds is considered the strong favorite to win re-election to her at-large seat. Under the city’s election law, voters can vote for two candidates running for the two at-large seats up for election this year but a Democrat is only eligible to hold one of the seats.
 
If elected Reeder would become the city’s first LGBT person of color and first LGBT woman to serve on the City Council. LGBT activists and other city observers say Reeder’s sexual orientation, which is widely known, does not appear to be having a negative impact on her campaign.
 
However, activists say the LGBT vote, while it could change in the remaining few weeks before Election Day, appears to be divided among Reeder and Silverman. With Silverman having a longstanding record of support for LGBT rights, LGBT voters appear to be assessing the two candidates over non-LGBT issues, according to some LGBT observers.  
 
Political observers have said Bowser’s active support for Reeder in her role as an opponent of an incumbent Council member is unprecedented in D.C. politics and reflects Bowser’s strong disagreement with Silverman on a number of public policy issues.
 
Bowser told the Washington Blade after the rally that she believes Reeder has an “excellent shot” at wining the at-large Council seat and that her status as an open lesbian who’s married to her female partner would not have a negative impact on her campaign.
 
“I think many voters want the Council to be diverse,” Bowser said. “And my impression of D.C. voters is that they embrace the diversity of our city,” she said. “And not only do they embrace it, when it’s threatened they stand up and speak up for their neighbors.”
 
The mayor said she is supporting Reeder, among other things, because as a resident of Ward 1 and a small business owner and community activist in Ward 8 Reeder is highly knowledgeable of the needs of residents in all parts of the city.
 
“Unlike most of us, she crosses a bridge every day to go from Northwest to Southeast and that experience has taught her how to bring people together from across eight wards in Washington, D.C.,” Bowser said while speaking at the rally.
 
Neither Bowser nor Reeder mentioned Silverman by name but the two repeatedly pushed the theme of their support of policies that place “D.C. first.” They each suggested that some have advocated for “national” policies that divert resources from D.C. residents.
 
Among those policies the two were referring to without specifically identifying were Silverman’s strong support for a controversial paid family leave bill that the Council passed and which Bowser and Reeder have opposed.
 
The legislation imposes a tax on businesses to help pay for the generous family leave program, which covers all private sector employees working in D.C., including those who live Maryland and Virginia. Reeder has said she supports a different version of a family leave policy that she says would not overly burden small businesses.
 
Silverman disputes claims that the family leave law she helped pass is harmful to businesses. She has said it’s needed to help working families survive in a city where the cost of living and especially the cost of housing is exceptionally high.
 
In response to Bowser’s endorsement of Reeder, Silverman has said Reeder’s campaign has been receiving financial support from “business interests” linked to the mayor that will want something in return for their support. She notes that she refuses to accept campaign contributions from corporations.
 
Reeder, meanwhile, says she will place the interests of city residents above all else.
 
“I’m a proud business owner and no one is going to make me feel ashamed of that,” Reeder said, drawing loud prolonged applause from the crowd. “In a city that loved me and raised me I have an opportunity to own a restaurant in a community I love,” she said.
 
“If we isolate the business community who is going to generate revenue?” she said. “We must hold our business community accountable. We have to have good business, good development and we have to make sure we hold people accountable,” she said. “And that’s what you’re going to get when you get me in office.”
 
Sunday’s rally took place less than a week after the release of Reeder’s Aug. 10 campaign finance report filed with the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance. The report shows an explosion of large and medium size contributions Reeder’s campaign received from donors associated with Bowser since Bowser officially endorsed Reeder three weeks ago.
 
Reeder’s report shows she has raised a total of $192,284 since the start of her campaign late last year and shows she has pulled ahead of Silverman in money raised. Silverman’s Aug. 10 report shows she has raised a total of $168,651 since her campaign began earlier this year.
 
Reeder began her campaign with far less name recognition than Silverman. Many of her supporters at Sunday’s rally said they were hopeful that the infusion of cash into her campaign coffer in the past several weeks would help her educate voters in all parts of the city of what they say is her record of past government service and community activism.
 
Among other things, she has worked as a congressional aide and as the Ward 8 coordinator for former D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams.
 
Silverman and Reeder are considered the two leading contenders among the five candidates running for the so-called “non-Democratic” at-large Council seat. The others running are independent Rustin Lewis, Statehood Green Party candidate David Schwartzman, and Republican Ralph Chittams, Sr.
 
Although Bowser and others at the rally called on the crowd to back the “mayor’s slate,” which they said included both Bonds and Reeder, Bonds told the Blade after the rally that she has not endorsed Reeder. She said that as a member of the D.C. Democratic Party’s governing board she cannot endorse a non-Democrat in city elections.

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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