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Mayor Muriel Bowser convincingly won reelection Tuesday. But rather than basking in her big win, Bowser managed to step on her own parade. It was a misstep that will affect her already shaky relationship with the D.C. Council.
“It could have been a coronation Tuesday,” one of the mayor’s political insiders ruefully told City Paper Wednesday, “except for Dionne Reeder.” Bowser’s ill-advised decision to openly support Reeder against incumbent At-Large Councilmember Elissa Silverman was a huge miscalculation, the adviser says, a self-inflicted wound.
Silverman trounced the little-known Reeder, winning six of eight wards and nearly beating the mayor’s candidate two-to-one.
At a post-election news conference Wednesday, Bowser downplayed the loss. “I think I have a great relationship with the Council,” she said. At almost the same time, Silverman was on WAMU radio playing nice, saying the mayor had called her and the two would maybe work past their differences.
But Silverman knows her hand was strengthened by the voters. “Silverman won big in the mayor’s home Ward 4,” one veteran political consultant says, noting that Silverman beat Reeder—an African-American business woman—two-to-one there. “You can’t paint a racial separation map here.”
That’s a reference to the campaign in which supporters of Reeder alleged that Silverman is not open to and even is hostile to the aspirations of longtime African-American D.C. residents who are losing population and influence in this rapidly changing city. Ending her concession speech, Reeder was blunt, shouting, “Don’t let nobody take our city over, ya’ll.”
Silverman, who is white, strongly disputes complaints she’s insensitive to African-Americans, but she did acknowledge on WAMU that she needs to be more inclusive, that too many African-American residents “feel they don’t have a place anymore.” Having lost in Ward 7 and Ward 8 east of the Anacostia River, Silverman said, “I just need to find my allies [there.]”
WAMU host Kojo Nnamdi said he would skip “the gory details,” but asked Silverman, who is Jewish, about the tone of antisemitism that has also partially underscored the at-large campaign since last spring. “We need to address the race and antisemitism issues” openly, said Silverman.
But beyond the particulars of this at-large race, Bowser remains at best distant from the Council. In a Wilson Building hallway, Bowser famously in 2016 shouted, “You’re a fucking liar” at Council Chairman Phil Mendelson during a tense battle over homeless shelters. They have a wary relationship to this day. The mayor has strained relations with Ward 3 Council member Mary Cheh over schools. Cheh was reelected Tuesday with 74 percent of the vote despite a Washington Post editorial criticizing her for undermining the mayor. [The Post endorsed Petar Dimtchev, a little known candidate with a weak and exaggerated resume].
As mayor, Bowser openly has backed five Council campaigns, losing four of them. She only has two firm allies on the 13-member Council. The most loyal is Ward 4 Democrat Brandon Todd, who replaced her in that seat with her blessing. The other firm supporter is Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans, who, as the longest serving councilmember and as chairman of the finance and revenue committee, finds a way to work with whomever is mayor.
Bowser won reelection but she wasn’t the most popular person on the ballot. She came in fourth citywide. While Bowser got 159,820 votes (76 percent), Attorney General Karl Racine topped the citywide list with 193,885 votes (92.7 percent). Chairman Mendelson won 185,578 votes (89 percent), and D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton got 185,535 votes (86.9 percent).
Bowser is the first mayor since 2002 to win reelection, a big achievement. Many allies and opponents alike say that she has work to do to show she won’t let her personal animosities interfere with what she says are her goals for a better city.