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Reflecting on DC’s Most Important Vote Result

Reflecting on DC’s Most Important Vote Result

DC voters sent a clear message that they want an independent-minded council member who holds the executive accountable. And they want their taxpayer dollars spent on the things that matter most.

These are not our words, rather they were those of re-elected At-Large Councilmember Elissa Silverman. But for those who read our October editorial endorsing her candidacy, then it should be no surprise that her words quoted above could easily be ours exactly.

We say that this particular win for this candidate was the most important outcome of our 2018 city-wide election not because this was the first time since the Marion Barry era that a mayor was re-elected to a second term. Rather, we say this because it showed that not only did nearly 40% of the little over 219,101 voters who cast their ballots approve of how Silverman has done her job, but now with Silverman having overwhelmed her opponent who had been so vigorously supported by Bowser who pulled out all the stops enlisting her powerful local movers and shakers and their money, what emerged was the realization that often hitherto compliant council members fearful of Bowser’s ire no longer needed to fear. (And, by the way, Bowser’s favorite lost out even in Bowser’s home Ward 4!)

In other words, the Empress had lost her clothes.

As At-Large Councilmember Robert C. White Jr. told The Washington Post, “What last night’s results showed was that voters respect the council as an independent institution . . . I don’t think the council fears the mayor, nor do I think we should.”

Bolstering White’s take-away, former council member Sekou Biddle, who for four months in 2011 filled the seat vacated by Vincent Orange who resigned to take the helm of the DC Chamber of Commerce but was then defeated in the ensuing special election to fill out Orange’s term, commented in that same Post article, “Bowser’s unsuccessful intervention in the race could allay any qualms on the council that crossing the mayor could endanger their re-election. “If anybody had any concerns that taking a strong stand against the mayor might be politically challenging for them, this provides some evidence that maybe they don’t need to be as concerned.”

For Silverman, as the Post reported, “she took away a clear mandate from the election results and conversations she had with District residents on the campaign trail.” Or, as in her own words:

“‘I spoke to many voters — both at the polls and at meet-and-greets throughout the campaign — who want the council to be more assertive, to question the mayor more, not to be an irritant or an adversary, but to make sure we’re spending their taxpayer dollars in the most effective and efficient manner, and strategic manner, possible.”

DC voters are, for the most part, sensible “good government” citizens who understand the importance of ensuring that policies benefit both residents and businesses and that services are timely delivered in a fiscally prudent manner.

It is this understanding that gives rise to widespread concern across all wards that there are policies and programs that get put in place –- often by mayoral edict — that are detrimental and pure money pits. Likewise, our taxpayers are fully cognizant that too often city services are poorly implemented and money wasted through bungling management and often sweetheart deals with contractors that end up doing more harm and wasting more money.

Notwithstanding these realities, we are confident that our city fares far better in these regards than most large and medium size municipalities. But we also know that we can do far better and it can only be through sustained and dedicated efforts by all of the council’s oversight committees to fully exercise what might be the council’s most important role — ensuring that the mayor’s appointees and their underlings perform at 100% and above-board, especially with respect the expenditure of taxpayer money, devoid of waste and even fraud.

In our view, this is why this election’s outcome with respect to the Silverman win was so important: it sent a strong signal to both the mayor and other council members that what is essential to ensure good government for the District is that our legislative branch fully commit to exercising its oversight responsibilities — the voters have confirmed their mandate.


Reader Comment

Thank you for this commentary. One correction: In December 2010, Sekou Biddle was selected by the DC Democratic State Committee to fill the vacancy on the Council created after Kwame Brown won election that November as Council Chairman. Biddle beat out Vincent Orange in that contest. In the April 2011 special election, Biddle lost to Orange. Orange resigned under pressure in August 2016 to become executive director of the DC Chamber of Commerce. The vacancy created after Orange’s resignation was filled by Robert White, who had defeated Orange in his bid for re-election in the June primary.

Dennis Jaffe

[Ed. Note: We thank you for this important clarification setting the record straight.]