In her first term as an at-large member of the DC Council, Elissa Silverman has established a strong track record as a supporter of public transit, affordable housing, and meeting the overall housing need. Greater Greater Washington encourages DC voters to return her for a second term on November 6.
Over the past few years, Silverman spearheaded reforms that help get vacant homes back into productive use, has worked to expand support for lower-income housing and fight against slumlords, and supported funding a new Metro entrance near Union Market rather than 600 parking spaces. Her most significant achievement, most likely, is the District’s law providing paid family leave to people who have new children or need to care for a sick family member.
During this spring’s debate about the Comprehensive Plan, Silverman asked some of the most insightful questions about opponents’ positions which in practice oppose the housing DC needs. She is highly intelligent and often cuts to the core of controversial issues.
Silverman’s questionnaire responses revealed a nuance and mastery of detail gleaned not only from incumbency, but also from first-hand experience, for example, biking, and using transit in the District.
How this at-large election works
Every two years, two of the council’s four at-large seats are on the ballot. Under the Home Rule Act, no more than three at-large members, including the chairman, can be members of the same party; in practice, that means Democrats can only nominate one person out of each at-large pair. Anita Bonds won the Democratic nomination in June.
Voters cast two votes and the top two vote-getters win the seats. The Democratic nominee always has received the most votes, so in practice, the race is among the non-Democrats to win the second slot, which Silverman (registered as an Independent) now holds.
Challenging are fellow Independents Dionne Reeder and Rustin Lewis, Republican Ralph Chittams, and Statehood Green nominee David Schwartzman.
Some business leaders like former mayor Tony Williams, allegedly upset over Silverman’s championing of the paid-leave law, initially rallied behind S. Kathryn Allen to oust Silverman. However, after Allen was kicked off the ballot, business support — as well as that of Mayor Bowser — has largely coalesced behind Reeder. Reeder, also known as Dionne Bussey-Reeder, owns the Cheers At The Big Chair restaurant in Anacostia and previously worked for Williams.
Silverman shows deep understanding and dedication
A Baltimore native, Silverman covered local politics for Washington City Paper and the Washington Post for 10 years. She then took graduate-level courses in urban studies and planning at the University of Maryland while working as a city budget analyst at the DC Fiscal Policy Institute.
Silverman’s questionnaire responses impressed the Elections Committee with their level of detail and passion for urban transportation modes. For example, Silverman notes that she is a bike rider, and cited particular routes she takes that would be improved by additional bike lanes or by dedicated lanes in a Bus Rapid Transit system.
I support dedicated bus, which has been proven in cities such as Cleveland to be incredibly effective in both moving people and being a catalyst for economic development. I am also a user of our bike lanes. I'd like to see more east-west connectivity both on BRT and bike lanes. For example, I live in NE Capitol Hill and often go to Shaw/Dupont. Right now my best route is K Street to 5th to R....but I'd love to be able to ride on a bike lane on Massachusetts.
She advocated for a BRT line on K Street Northwest as a more economical alternative to streetcar extension, since K Street already has density and doesn’t need the transit-oriented development that rail tends to drive.
On housing, Silverman discussed her record on preserving affordable housing:
I was a member of the Housing Preservation Strike Force, in which I advocated for a preservation team that would strategically look at the entire city for preservation opportunities. One of the tools we have not used and I think is a game changer for preservation is DOPA, District Opportunity to Purchase. We need to compete with real estate developers, and we need a team to identify preservation opportunities and use DOPA to preserve them. I also think we need to make sure Inclusionary Zoning is enforced appropriately and incentivize developers to build 2 and 3 bedroom units.
Reeder and Schwartzman have strengths and areas we disagree
To her credit, Reeder proposes several solutions to address affordable housing, with a focus on multifamily housing that is affordable below 30% AMI. She supports code updates within the new Comprehensive Plan to incentivize the creation of more of such housing, including west of Rock Creek Park.
On transportation, Reeder seems more wary of adding bike lanes and dedicated bus lanes when there would be a loss of on-street parking. That said, she points to data analysis capacity within city agencies and Howard University that could optimize locations for reducing on-street parking in transit hubs. Reeder also supports the expansion of express bus lanes.
Schwartzman also completed our questionnaire. He, too, supports more funding for affordable housing and bus or bike lanes at least in theory, but said, “Residential neighborhoods generally should not have either dedicated bus lanes and protected bike lanes.” He also is not supportive of expanding the streetcar or TIFs for parking.
The hot-button issues that are driving some people to support Reeder over Silverman are not issues that GGWash generally focuses on. Our community is also not unified on these, such as paid family leave or tax cuts. Some members of the GGWash community agree with Silverman's votes on these, and others disagree.
Nor do we agree with everything Silverman has done on our issues; some members of our community disagree with her on the streetcar (though Reeder has the same view), or taxation of ride-hailing (on which we don't know Reeder's view).
Overall, however, it's clear from her answers and her record that Silverman is more aligned with our community on GGWash's issues. With Silverman’s deep background in District policy and politics and her urbanist record in her first term, she earns our endorsement. Early voting in DC begins October 22, and Election Day is November 6.
This is the official endorsement of Greater Greater Washington. All endorsements are decided by our volunteer Elections Committee with input from our board and other volunteer committees.