In the June 19 Democratic primary for at at-large seat on DC Council, incumbent Anita Bonds — on the council since 2012 — faces young challengers running viable campaigns. Housing affordability and inequality appear to be emerging as critical issues in this race.
As chair of the Committee on Housing and Neighborhood Revitalization, Bonds occupies a critical role on issues of affordability in the District. Challenging Bonds are two, formerly three, millennial men: real estate associate Marcus Goodwin and environmental organizer Jeremiah Lowery.
Aaron Holmes, who works in communications and ran for the Ward 8 Council seat in 2016, petitioned to be on the ballot but was disqualified for not having enough valid signatures after a challenge by Lowery.
Bonds, Goodwin, Holmes, and Lowery all filled out our questionnaire, as did David Schwartzman, who is running unopposed for the Statehood Green nomination. The Elections Committee has asked to speak further with Bonds, Goodwin, and Lowery.
Bonds, the housing chair
In her role leading the housing committee, Bonds has overseen a number of policy and program changes to housing — including affordable housing — in the District. The Housing Production Trust Fund has been maintained at $100 million a year, and her office has put forward a number of bills to reform and close loopholes in DC’s rent control policy.
Most recently, she proposed and won a major change to DC’s Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA), carving out an exemption for all single-family homes. Some realtors and homeowners have praised this move, but many affordable housing and tenant advocates are irate.
The latter say Bonds and her staff had been leading a working group to reform TOPA with adjustments both realtors and tenant advocates could agree on, rather than exempt all single-family homes. Then she suddenly reversed course and proposed and passed a much larger change that exempts single-family homes including condos flat out, abandoning the process and negotiated reforms her office had been leading for months.
A substantial amount of Bonds’ $51,000 in donations in the February 1- March 10 reporting period were from industries related to her committee: builders, land-use lawyers, and landlords.
Although Bonds’ questionnaire responses did not score as well as those of her two remaining challengers, her tenure on the housing committee and council in general afforded her a detailed and nuanced understanding of the issues. For example, she demonstrated a strong knowledge about zoning and the Comprehensive Plan. She argued the council must avoid creating “loopholes” in programs like Inclusionary Zoning, the Housing Production Trust Fund, and the Preservation Fund.
Regarding the tax-increment financing (TIF) proposal for Union Market that included subsidized parking, Bonds argued that there was a “clear need for parking infrastructure for the expansive retail area [that] is to come” and defended TIFs as a “vital tool in attracting private capital,” but also expressed concerns about the overall cost to the District and supported enhanced public transit access.
Bonds' remaining challengers mount a strong effort
Goodwin, who possesses a master’s in design studies focused on real estate investment and a bachelor’s in urban studies, has been the best fundraiser in the field, hauling in $80,000 in total through the March 10 reporting period.
Lowery, an activist who has worked for Universal Childcare Now DC Coalition, Cheseapeake Climate Action Network, and Common Cause, has earned endorsements from a number of progressive organizations including Democracy for America, the DC Chapter of the National Organization for Women, and Run for Something.
Questionnaires submitted by Goodwin and Lowery both outscored the incumbent on our rating tool. (Holmes, meanwhile, did not score well.)
Lowery had the best scores overall, with strong positions cited in favor of “increased housing density along transit corridors for low-to-very-low income residents in the Comprehensive Plan’s text and Future Land Use Map,” “more protected bike lanes” and Capital Bikeshare in Wards 7 and 8, and increased focus on bus service. He also opposed the parking subsidies in the Union Market TIF, and noted that he would hire a legislative director with housing experience.
Goodwin, meanwhile, gave thoughtful responses that were a bit more frank and pragmatic than Lowery’s. We generally agreed with his stances — on Union Market parking, Metro funding, bike lanes, and opponents of new housing using historic preservation as an anti-development “bludgeon.” He sometimes also expressed practical concerns. For example, he explained how dedicated bus lanes would lack demand during off-peak hours but suggested that other types of vehicles could use them to maximize their utility, and he described how density can function as a double-edged sword in the city’s development.
The primary isn't the only race
Bonds, Goodwin, and Lowery will be on the ballot for the Democratic primary on June 19. It's extremely likely that whoever gets the Democratic nod will win in the general election. However, there are actually two at-large seats up for election in November.
According to the DC Home Rule Act, only three citywide councilmembers (currently Chairman Phil Mendelson and at-large members Anita Bonds and Robert White) can be members of the same party. That means that every two years, there's only one Democratic nominee and two seats, meaning one (or both, but it's always been one) goes to a non-Democrat. Right now, the non-Democrats are Elissa Silverman (who's up this November) and David Grosso (next up in 2020). While the two fall to the left of many of the Democratic councilmembers, they're registered independents.
We'll be looking at Silverman's race later this year and posing a questionnaire to her, fellow independent Dionne Bussey-Reeder, and any other candidates who emerge.
This post stated an incorrect date for the Democratic primary in one reference. It has been corrected.