City on a Hill: Silverman the golden vote

April 17, 2013

You might not know it by the lack of media coverage, but there’s a critical citywide election in D.C. next week, on Tuesday, April 23. On that day, Washingtonians will not only vote on a referendum to secure budget autonomy for the District, but also to fill an at-large seat on the D.C. Council, the city’s legislative governing body, vacated by democratic Council Chairman Phil Mendelson.

Out of the six candidates—four Democrats, a Republican, and a Green—the Democrat Elissa Silverman represents the best choice for any students who have switched their registration to the District, offering a formidable local résumé, deep, nuanced views on local issues, and a measured, progressive attitude toward governance.

Silverman comes into politics from a somewhat unorthodox field—journalism. Having been a local reporter for both the Washington Post and Washington City Paper, she would bring the critical perspective of her former field to a council that too often operates behind the scenes. When she was at City Paper, Silverman wrote the local politics column and blog Loose Lips for three years, investigating the grit and grime of D.C. politics. After that, she covered local issues for WaPo, including investigations into the impact of corporate money on the 2006 mayoral race.

Silverman then left journalism and headed to the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, a progressive organization that studies and critiques city financial decisions, leading local advocacy efforts on the budget and pushing a successful initiative to open D.C. budget negotiations to the public.

Most recently, she made her commitment to responsible governance even clearer, joining the D.C. Public Trust as it pushed for a ballot initiative to rid D.C. elections of corporate contributions.

From all of this, one thing is clear: Silverman has at least as much experience as any candidate with the ins and outs of D.C. politics. But, her involvement comes in the form of outside critiquing and advocacy, instead of multiple campaigns, bureaucratic experience, or time on the ethically-challenged council.

Experience doesn’t always beget expertise, but Silverman also brings a wealth of knowledge about the issues D.C. faces. On Let’s Choose D.C., an online candidate questionnaire organized by the local blogs Greater Greater Washington, DCist, and PoPville, Silverman’s responses to questions ranging from local transport issues to crime and public schools are consistently rated either at the top or in second place by users.

Her careful and even-handed approach to the issues earned her the endorsement of Greater Greater Washington, along with others including Councilman David Grosso (I-At-Large), the most independently-minded of the current councilmembers.

To be sure, there are other thoughtful candidates in the race as well. Democrat Matthew Frumin scored well on the Let’s Choose D.C. questionnaire as well, usually slightly ahead of or behind Silverman. But, while he displays a deep grasp of wheelhouse issues such as education, he lacks the breadth of knowledge Silverman offers from her years as a reporter. He also has not made many inroads outside of traditionally affluent communities in Northwest, a prerequisite to not only electoral success, but good governance.

Republican Patrick Mara, the Ward 1 member of the D.C. State Board of Education, is clearly the highest-profile competitor, but lacks the necessary perspective to represent the interests of the entire city. Mara is a perennial candidate—this being his third run in a row for the council—and each time he’s run, the Washington Post has endorsed him. In a way, they get Mara right—he would provide a “break from the past” on the council, just not one that’s friendly to most residents.

Although he’s from the moderate wing of the GOP, Mara has still refused to support efforts to raise the city’s minimum wage or mandate paid sick days for restaurant workers, two crucial workplace justice issues. Silverman, on the other hand, has been the most vocal in her support for the initiatives.

Additionally, Mara simply refused to answer many of the questions from Let’s Choose D.C., giving the impression that he will be less responsive to the community if elected. At the very least, it’s clear he is out of touch with most Washingtonians, especially compared to his competitors, and the last thing D.C. needs is a millionaire Republican on its council who prioritizes management over labor.

In the end, it’s likely a very small number of votes will determine this low-turnout election, and no clear frontrunner has emerged, even this late in the game. Every vote will count, so, when you’re at the booth, choose not only a set of policies, but a candidate that embodies the correct perspective and principles, and elect Elissa Silverman for At-Large Council.


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Gavin Bade
Gavin Bade is Managing Editor of The Georgetown Voice


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