Independent D.C. Council candidate Dionne Reeder fell short in her bid to oust incumbent Councilmember Elissa Silverman on Tuesday in Washington’s most contentious local race.
Councilmembers at-large Anita Bonds (D) and Silverman (I) retained their Council seats with 44 percent and 27 percent of the vote, respectively, while Reeder reeled in 14 percent, according to unofficial results.
“This was a wild race, right?” Reeder said in her concession speech Tuesday night at Ivy City Smokehouse in Northeast Washington.
Reeder thanked a crowded room of volunteers, friends and supporters — many wearing pink “Dionne for D.C.” shirts — in her concession speech. Cora Masters Barry, the wife of the late Marion Barry, received a special thank you as did beleaguered campaign strategist Joshua Lopez, to whom Reeder said, “I don’t care what they say about you, brother, thank you.”
Reeder choked back tears when it came time to thank Mayor Muriel Bowser, who was not in attendance.
“What mayor — who was going to win — endorses a person that never ran?” Reeder said. “She didn’t expect me to be a rubber stamp, she expected me to be who I am. Madame Muriel Bowser, thank you.”
Michael Haresign, a bartender who helped organize restaurant workers for Reeder, joined scores of Reeder supporters at Ivy City Smokehouse.
“It was an uphill battle,” Haresign said after word of Reeder’s loss had reached him.
Reeder’s campaign gained traction in September after she was endorsed by Mayor Muriel Bowser, who won reelection easily on Tuesday. Bowser and the business community initially threw their support behind S. Kathryn Allen before she was kicked off the ballot when the Board of Elections found fraudulent signatures on Allen’s candidate petition.
Bowser’s endorsement, and Reeder’s subsequent boost in campaign contributions, launched Reeder into a heated, sometimes ugly race with Silverman for the second at-large seat on the D.C. Council.
The paid family leave law that Silverman co-wrote in 2016 became the most important issue in the race. Reeder criticized the law because it is paid for with a 0.62 percent payroll tax on employers. She said residents of Maryland and Virginia, who work in the District, could then have paid time off without having paid into the program, Reeder said.
Silverman said the structure of the law is a result of the D.C. Home Rule Act’s ban on a commuter tax.
“Anyone who says they don’t support this current form of paid leave doesn’t support paid leave,” Silverman said at a September candidate forum.
Reeder owns Cheers at the Big Chair, a restaurant in Anacostia, and said the payroll tax would hurt her business. “I’m not going to be able to function in Ward 8 where there’s a food desert,” Reeder said at the September candidate’s forum.
An intense race that centered around paid family leave ensued. Unions backing Silverman set up black yard signs that read “Save paid family leave, don’t vote for Dionne Reeder.” Reeder condemned Silverman for not being Washington-focused, pointing out that Silverman was born in Baltimore.
Newly elected ANC Commissioner Delia Houseal said at the Reeder watch party that she wanted both Reeder and Silverman to win. Houseal used to work with Reeder at the Far Southeast Family Strengthening Collaborative, an organization that helps young parents raise successful children.
Houseal said Silverman is an activist on the D.C. Council who works on behalf of lower income communities. Reeder and Silverman would work well together in that respect, Houseal said.
“[Reeder] has a sense of what marginalized communities need,” Houseal said. “And she would bring that independent thought to the council.”
Cheers of “run again!” and “run for mayor!” rang through Ivy City Smokehouse during Reeder’s heartfelt, optimistic concession speech. Reeder called for the need to “heal the city” after racial undertones tinged the late stages of the at-large race.
“I want people to understand that this stuff is serious,” Reeder said about the animosity. “We have to start loving on each other and provide real pathways for people to be successful.”
As for Reeder’s political ambitions, she said it is too soon to start thinking about another run for office.
“God told me to run now, he didn’t say run tomorrow.”