November 7, 2018 at 9:10 am EST | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Reeder falls short in race for D.C. Council seat
Dionne Reeder, gay news, Washington Blade

Dionne Reeder (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Lesbian businesswoman Dionne Reeder, who had the enthusiastic backing of Mayor Muriel Bowser and received a strongly worded endorsement from the Washington Post, lost her race for an At-Large seat on the D.C. Council on Tuesday to incumbent Council member Elissa Silverman.

Reeder and Silverman ran as independents in a six-candidate race for two at-large Council seats, with one of the two seats reserved for a non-majority party candidate under the city’s election law.

With Democrats holding all but two of the 13 Council seats, the restriction in the election law meant that a Democrat could only hold one of the two seats but a non-Democrat could hold both seats.

In Tuesday’s election, incumbent Democrat Anita Bonds, a longtime supporter of LGBT rights, came in first place, easily winning re-election to her at-large seat by capturing 44.4 percent of the vote. Silverman came in second place to win re-election with 26.6 percent. Reeder finished third with 14.4 percent of the vote.

Statehood Green Party candidate David Schwartzman came in fourth place with 7.7 percent followed by Republican Ralph Chittams with 2.5 percent and independent Rustin Lewis with 2.5 percent.

With all but one of the city’s 143 electoral precincts counted as of midnight, the D.C. Board of Elections results showed that Reeder came in second place behind Bonds but ahead of Silverman in Wards 7 and 8. She finished in third place in the other six wards, including sections of Wards 1, 2, and 6 thought to have high concentrations of LGBT residents.

In her concession speech at her election night gathering at the Ivy City Smokehouse restaurant and nightclub in Northeast Washington, Reeder urged about 200 cheering supporters not to “feel bad for me,” saying she believes her campaign established an important dialogue and movement to help improve the lives of all city residents.

“I am not going to stop working for this city,” she said, prompting many in the audience to shout, “We love you!” and “Run again!”

With Silverman having a strong record of support on LGBT issues and Reeder being a longtime LGBT rights advocate the issue of LGBT rights didn’t appear to be a factor in the Reeder-Silverman race.

Five other lesser known gay candidates running in Tuesday’s D.C. election, four running under the Libertarian Party banner and one running as an independent lost their races by wide margins. Among them were longtime Libertarian Party activist Martin Moulton, who was among three lesser-known candidates running against Bowser for mayor.

As predicted by virtually all local political observers, Bowser, a strong supporter of LGBT rights, won re-election by capturing 76.2 percent of the vote. Statehood Green Party candidate Ann Wilcox came in second with 9.4 percent of the vote followed by independent Dustin Canter, who received 6.9 percent.

Moulton came in fourth place with 3.4 percent of the vote.

Gay Libertarian Party activist Bruce Majors finished in third place in his race against Democrat Eleanor Holmes Norton for the D.C. Congressional Delegate seat, receiving 1.8 percent of the vote. Norton won re-election with 86.9 percent, coming in far ahead of Majors and Statehood Green Party candidate Natale Stracuzzi, who received 3.8 percent.

Norton, a non-voting member of the U.S. House of Representatives, is considered one of the strongest LGBT rights supporters in Congress.

Two of the gay candidates who ran in Tuesday’s D.C. election drew attention for their status as a married couple. Libertarian Ethan Bishop-Henchman, who challenged Democrat Phil Mendelson for the D.C. Council Chair seat, lost to Mendelson by a margin of 89 percent to 8.4 percent.

His husband, Libertarian attorney Joe Henchman, ran against incumbent Democrat Karl Racine for the D.C. Attorney General’s position. Racine won re-election, finishing ahead of Henchman by a margin of 92.8 percent to 3.8 percent.

Gay independent Jamie Sycamore, who challenged Ward 1 Council member Brianne Nadeau, a Democrat, received the highest percentage of votes among all of the gay candidates running in Tuesday’s D.C. election. He received 20.9 percent of the vote compared to Nadeau, who won re-election with 78.2 percent of the vote.

In other D.C. Council races, incumbents Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5), and Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) won re-election by wide margins against lesser-known challengers. All three are longtime strong supporters of LGBT rights.

Also winning re-election were D.C. “shadow” Sen. Michael D. Brown and “shadow” U.S. Rep. Franklin Garcia. Both are Democrats and LGBT rights supporters. The two positions, which are unpaid and hold no congressional powers, were created to serve as advocates for D.C. statehood.

Reeder, who owns a restaurant in the city’s Anacostia neighborhood, received the backing of the business community, including advocates for small community based businesses like hers. But although she served in the administration of former Mayor Anthony Williams as Williams’ Ward 8 coordinator and worked in other government and private sector positions her lack of citywide name recognition placed her at a disadvantage in her race against Silverman, according to political observers.

Among the issues that dominated the Reeder-Silverman rivalry was the city’s controversial paid family leave statute, which Silverman played a lead role in shepherding through the Council. Bowser was among the faction of city leaders who opposed the legislation on grounds that it used taxpayer money and a special tax on businesses to pay for leave for employees who work in D.C. but live in Maryland and Virginia.

Reeder sided with the mayor’s position, saying the legislation hurts small businesses that provide jobs to a large number of city residents. She said she favored a revised version of the legislation that would focus on city residents and would be less of a burden on small businesses.

Silverman argued that the legislation was needed to help all workers who often face the burden of having to take leave to help ailing parents and other family members in a city with a high cost of living. She positioned herself in the election as a “progressive” and sought to portray Reeder as being captured by business interests.

Although Reeder, if elected, would have become the city’s first LGBT person of color and first LGBT woman to serve on the D.C. Council, her candidacy didn’t appear to draw the support of large numbers of LGBT activists.

Political observers familiar with D.C. voting trends said they view Silverman’s decisive win as another sign that much of the city’s electorate favors candidates perceived as “progressive,” even though Reeder could be viewed as progressive on most issues.

Gay activist Marvin Bowser, the brother of Mayor Bowser and a strong supporter of Reeder, said he considers Reeder to have done well for a first-time candidate for public office.

“For someone who has not held elective office to fall less than 12 points behind an incumbent is not a bad showing,” he said. “So I hope that Dionne remains engaged in the political process, continues to push for the programs that she advocated during her candidacy, and comes back for another run.”

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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