With the passing of the election of April 23, D.C. voters have not only chosen a new Council member but also decided, after nearly 213 years since the District’s creation, to grant the D.C. government the ability to allocate its own tax dollars independent of Congressional oversight.
This Tuesday, the people of the District of Columbia voted on a special election for an At-Large D.C. Council member and a referendum granting D.C. budget autonomy. With 32.19 percent of the votes, interim Council Member Anita Bonds (D) won, beating fellow Democrats Elissa Silverman, Matthew Frumin, Michael Brown, and Paul Zuckerberg, Republican Patrick Mara, and Statehood Green Party member Perry Redd.
Despite the support of Council members such as Muriel Bowser and William P. Lightfoot and the unions of D.C., Bonds faced criticism for not giving up her job as an executive for Fort Myer Construction Company, which has been major contractor with the District.
“I have some concerns about Anita Bonds continuing to have outside employment outside D.C., especially with a contractor with D.C.,“ said former ANC 2E Commissioner Jake Sticka (COL ‘13). “I think that some of the contributions she took for her campaign from construction companies could bias the sort of representation she can offer.”
Although Sticka, who voted for Elissa Silverman, a former journalist at Washington City Paper and the Washington Post, had issues with the method that the D.C. Democratic Party used to elect Bonds to her interim seat, he hopes she, who ran on a platform of expanding incentives for affordable housing, workforce housing, and home ownership, will fulfill the policy goals she outlined during her campaign.
“I was a bit concerned with the manner that the D.C. Democratic party elected her to fill the interim seat for the last four months. A majority of the folks who voted on that had their terms expire [so] they shouldn’t have been voting on that internal election,” Sticka said. “[But] on the issues she’s strong, if she can implement the agenda she’s spoken about, especially in regards to affordable housing and rent control, then I think the District will benefit.”
The special election could also have ramifications on predictions for the future of the Republican Party. Despite the fact that Patrick Mara, a State Board of Education member, won Georgetown precincts five and six with more than 50 percent, campaigning as a socially progressive, fiscal moderate member of the Republican Party, he lost the race for D.C. Council member for the third time.
“This is Mara’s third time running, and I think that he has positioned himself as a progressive in the Republican party, [but] he still only came in third place, so I think that the future of the GOP in D.C. is very much in question as a result of this election,” Sticka said. “If someone goes that far to the left in the Republican Party and still can’t win, I think [the] question of if the national brand just won’t let the local GOP ever be competitive [arises].”
The budget referendum, unsurprisingly, was not as competitive as the special election: 83.09 percent of voters cast ballots in favor of the measure. For the election, many student organizations even provided opportunities for students to participate in the advocacy of these issues.
“We definitely are trying to get people involved and we’re very big advocates of registering voters, particularly in D.C.,” said Trevor Tezel (SFS’ 14), president of the College Democrats. “There have been a lot of opportunities on the D.C. Fed Level, which is the organization that acts as a federation for all the college Democrats chapters in the district, to provide opportunities for phone banking and knocking on doors.”
The administration has also encouraged students to participate in politics. “We encourage students to participate in local politics in a variety of ways,” said Lauralyn Lee, Special Projects Coordinator for the Office of Community Engagement. “The University supports student voter registration and get-out-the-vote efforts, regularly invites local politicians and civic leaders to campus, and facilitates opportunities for direct participation in community issues through student roles on the Georgetown Community Partnership.”
The fight for D.C. budget autonomy, however, still continues. Even though voters have passed this referendum, the D.C. Council must approve it within a week, and if Congress wishes to pass a disapproval vote, it must do so within 35 legislative days. Pending any unexpected action, the referendum will stay in effect.
“We are not stopping with this referendum,” said James Jones, the Communications Director for D.C. Votes, an organization that has campaigned for the referendum. “We think that it’s unlikely that Congress will pass a disapproval resolution, because we’ve had strong support from the Ranking Democratic Member of the House Appropriations, Jose Serrano (D-N.Y.). Even Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) has come out in support of budget autonomy. In the event that a member of Congress wants to stop the will of the people, then we have a plan for taking that person on.”