Photo by rauchdickson on Flickr.

A lot of people are shocked — shocked — that Ken Archer, volunteer campaign treasurer for Elissa Silverman, met with Matt Frumin and tried to persuade him to drop out of the race.

You know who else had a secret meeting with a candidate about dropping out? Whichever Anita Bonds supporters and backers Whoever persuaded Michael Brown to drop out of the race. You know what didn’t happen? Michael Brown’s disappointed supporters did not talk about it to the press. Surrogates for his and other campaigns did not profess outrage on Twitter at “backroom deals” and “hypocrisy.”

After the poll came out showing Silverman far ahead of Frumin, I heard a lot of people say that “someone” should try to push him to drop out. When Silverman first ran, some people volunteering for her told me that if it turned out near the end that her campaign stood little or no chance, they would push her to drop out to avoid vote-splitting.

Heck, I thought about asking Frumin to drop out, too. I wondered whether I could offer to help Frumin in some way in the future as an incentive. I would like to see both Frumin and Silverman on the council; I told him that I really wished there were 2 seats open.

I certainly wouldn’t have offered to support him against Mary Cheh, because Mary Cheh has done a good job, but it certainly sprung to my mind as an obvious possible bargaining chip if Frumin’s plan were to run in Ward 3 later on, as many people I talked to at the start of the campaign suspected.

(And before the comment thread gets hijacked to be about Ken Archer and the GGW endorsement: He did not vote in our contributor poll. Our endorsements derive from a poll of regular contributors. In this case, that poll came out decisively for Silverman.)

Look at substance, not campaign operations

Clearly, there’s also a lot of cynical politicking in some of the protestations of outrage on Twitter and comments. Some of that is coming from the most back-room, non-transparent political operatives who just see this as an opportunity to take an opponent down a peg and distract potential voters.

Don’t be distracted. You can disagree with Elissa Silverman on substance. I agree with her on a lot of things and disagree on others. The same goes for most other candidates. Martin Austermuhle, Dan Silverman, and I tried to elucidate the candidates’ views using Let’s Choose DC. Disappointingly, the information we gleaned about candidate positions didn’t get much attention in the press.

No candidate will be perfect on every policy. If there’s a candidate you agree with 100% of the time, chances are you’re just about the only one and the candidate is polling in the low single digits. The most successful politicians just manage to avoid taking a stance on anything, so every voter can come to believe they’re in agreement with the candidate, especially if they aren’t paying a lot of attention.

If anything, one of ways Elissa Silverman shows her lack of candidate experience is by being honest about what she thinks. She’s been more forthright in many forums about views that might be unpopular. When I have called her to ask about a policy statement, she has told me straight out what she’s thinking right then about that policy. Sometimes, I don’t agree. We’ve argued about it. She could simply listen and try to emphasize points of agreement and hide her disagreement, but she doesn’t. It can make me frustrated, but I also respect it a lot.

Do you want the slickest candidates?

Papering over disagreements is something that comes with long experience in electoral politics. People gain that experience by repeatedly running for office or make politics a career, working for elected officials and getting positions in the party machine.

Some of those are great people who do excellent work, but there are a lot in it for personal gain and ambition above all. Many don’t really hold such strong values on their vision for the city; they just think it would be better if they ran things.

A lot of people want candidates who are “outsiders” and who are running because they believe in change rather than just want to be in charge. Most of the so-called “outsiders” who successfully run for federal offices nationwide are actually insiders who pretend to be outsiders to fool low-information voters.

If you want genuine outsiders, you’re not going to get slick political operations. There are ways outsiders can do more to make their operations more professional, like hiring actual professionals, but that’s a lot easier for candidates with a lot of money — which usually comes from shady sources.

How can vote-splitting stop?

People running as “reformers” and “progressives” have split the vote in the last 2 at-large elections and probably will tomorrow as well. There are 3 ways to stop this from happening:

  1. Let some people with a lot of money and/or political muscle push people out of the race. Then people have to not be shocked and dismayed when someone tries to do that. (Example: Michael Brown; counterexample: Matt Frumin)
  2. Devise some primary-like system that’s more open and participatory, but which comes to a single conclusion, and other candidates agree that they’re not going to keep running if they don’t win, and almost certainly support the winner. (Example: Hillary Clinton; counterexample: Joe Lieberman)
  3. Reform the election laws to some system where the top 2 candidates go to a runoff, or there’s some kind of multiple-voting system. (Examples: runoff election in New York City, instant-runoff voting in San Francisco)




Do you want candidates who are good at pushing people out of a race without their fingerprints on it? People who can successfully win while taking few or no positions at all? People with large staffs of highly-paid expert campaign operatives funded with piles of lobbyist money?

If so, by all means be outraged that Ken talked to Matt Frumin about dropping out. Otherwise, make up your mind tomorrow based on actual positions and the available polls, not on this.

Update: Anita Bonds’ campaign says in a statement that they had nothing to do with Michael Brown dropping out. I did not say that Bonds’ campaign pressured Brown to drop out, as many people are backing her who don’t coordinate with the campaign. It seems extremely likely that some people with influence over Brown recognized the likely vote splitting and pushed Brown to get out. However, this is indeed conjecture, so I’ve reworded the intro to not sound like it is claiming any knowledge or facts that don’t exist.

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David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle.