Credit: DARROW MONTGOMERY
Credit: Darrow Montgomery

Incumbents were the big winners in D.C. on election night. At-Large Councilmember Elissa Silverman held off Mayor Muriel Bowser-endorsed challenger Dionne Reeder to retain one of two at-large council seats that were up. Incumbent Democrat Anita Bonds will retain the other at-large seat.

With 142 of the 143 precincts counted, Bowser had earned 76 percent of the votes. Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton did even better, winning 87 percent of the votes in her re-election race. And Attorney General Karl Racine did the best of all with 93 percent. His lawsuits against President Donald Trump have helped elevate his profile.

The biggest surprise of the evening: Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh skipped her own victory party to attend the birth of her first grandchild

City Paper reporters spent the day talking to voters and candidates at polling places, and the evening at candidate parties, listening to victory and concession speeches. —Kelyn Soong

Tabard Inn, 11:30 p.m.

At-Large Councilmember Elissa Silverman thanked her “people-powered campaign” for propelling her to re-election—a coalition on show at her election night party that included union members, lefty activists, and diehard supporters wearing red.

Progressive activists said they believe that the results of this race—Silverman held a 12 point lead over her main rival,Dionne Reeder, with just one precinct unreported—re-energizes their movement.

“It’s a good shot in the arm,” said Ed Lazere, the director of the liberal DC Fiscal Policy Institute, where Silverman previously worked as an analyst.

Declaring victory with more than 120 precincts reporting, Silverman said after 10 p.m. that the win means she can continue to push for workers rights, close gaps in health care and economic opportunity, and fix the “too damn high rent” prices.

“We’re a city that wants paid family leave,” she told supporters to big applause at the Tabard Inn.

With increased voter turnout, Silverman had more than doubled her vote count from 2014, winning more than 85,000 votes, according to results at press time. Democratic nominee Anita Bonds, as expected, finished first to win re-election, with 44 percent of the vote.

“This was a campaign in which people wanted to divide us, they wanted to focus on division,” Silverman said, then turned to thank the support of longtime Ward 8 pol Sandra “SS” Seegars, who turned into an outspoken backer of Silverman on social media during the campaign.

In a brief interview, Silverman said she hoped to work with the mayor on affordable housing, closing the achievement gap, and on other matters. “I look forward to sitting down with the mayor,” she said.

While giving her victory speech, Attorney General Karl Racine received a rock star’s welcome. Taking the microphone to chants of “our next mayor,” Racine again boosted Silverman’s record on oversight.

“When does asking a government agency appropriate questions ever become caustic?” he said to cheers, a reference to The Washington Post editorial board’s characterization of Silverman. He later worked the crowd, fist bumping and kissing supporters.

D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson and Councilmembers Jack Evans, Charles Allen, and Brianne Nadeau dropped by as the hours drew on. 

Silverman fans relished the win, after a bruising battle against a mayoral-backed candidate who out-fundraised the incumbent. Silverman’s campaign manager,Zach Weinstein, held up a copy of one of S. Kathryn Allen’s original campaign brochures attacking Silverman’s paid leave law.

“The S stands for signatures,” Weinstein crowed, a reference to Silverman’s successful challenge to Allen’s nominating petitions.

“It definitely shows that we have power,” said Keith Ivey, an activist with DC for Democracy. “We beat the mayor and the Green Team.”

—Cuneyt Dil

11 p.m., Ivy City Smokehouse

At around 8:30, when early voting numbers showed Dionne Reeder was losing by a significant margin, the crowd gathered at Ivy City Smokehouse was rather sparse.

While DJ Mim kept the early arrivers entertained, a voice came over the speakers: “We’re congratulating Dionne Reeder tonight. It’s the congratulations before the congratulations.” The voice said it again.

By 9:30, Rare Essence had the growing crowd moving. Several of Reeder’s supporters in pink and black “Dionne for D.C” T-shirts moved on the dance floor. Some spilled out onto the patio for fresh air and maybe a cigarette, where CNN played on the TV. Nearly just as many were wearing Green Team shirts.

They mingled and told stories about how they got to know Reeder: as the owner of the Cheers at the Big Chair, through her program helping young people in southeast D.C. get jobs, or through the campaign.

By that point, Councilmember Elissa Silverman’s lead has grown even larger, but nobody seemed phased.

It wasn’t until around 10:15 that Reeder first appeared on stage to make her concession speech. Her eyes welled slightly with tears and her voice cracked only slightly from the stage as she named the people who supported her through the campaign. Among them were Cora Masters Barry, who stood near the stage, and Harry Thomas Jr., a former D.C. councilmember. Reeder says he sent her a scripture verse every morning during the campaign.

Reeder also gave a shout out to Ron Moten and Josh Lopez, a Bowser appointee whose antics twice caught the public’s attention during the at-large race—most recently for calling another councilmember a “bitch” in a text message, pushing him to support Reeder.

“I don’t care what they say about you brother, thank you,” Reeder said. “I love you more, you hear me?”

Finally, Reeder acknowledged Mayor Muriel Bowser, whose 11th hour endorsement pumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into Reeder’s campaign.

“What mayor that’s going to win endorses a person that never ran?” Reeder said, her voice cracking. “She didn’t expect me to be a rubber stamp. She expected me to be who I am. And that’s what I told her, that’s who I was going to be. I don’t care about nothin’ nobody says about me. I am me.”

Reeder stopped short of saying she’ll make another run at a Council seat, but closed by pledging to continue fighting Initiative 77 and the District’s new paid family leave program.

“Don’t let nobody take our city over, ya’ll,” she said. —Mitch Ryals

Provision No. 14, 10:30 p.m.

Of all the incumbents re-elected tonight, Karl Racine was the biggest winner. As D.C.’s first elected attorney general, he received more votes for his re-election than any other incumbent, including Mayor Muriel Bowser, with more than 192,000 votes.

“I’m thrilled that voters returned to elect me to a second term,” Racine told City Paper at his election night party tonight. “We’re also thrilled with, honestly, the number of votes we got. I think the residents of the District of Columbia recognized that the Office of the Attorney General is a force of good for the District of Columbia.”

For the past couple of years, there’s been much speculation about Racine’s mayoral ambitions, and he’s been nothing but coy when anyone brings it up. Tonight was no different: “It’s way too early for any discussion on that,” he said. “I’m razor-focused on the job of being attorney general, as well as, to be honest, developing, mentoring, guiding new leaders.”

At Racine’s party, which he co-hosted with Council Chairman Phil Mendelson and Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau at Provision 14, on 14th Street just north of U Street NW, the vibe was celebratory as Mendo and Nadeau easily clinched re-election. People were glued to the TVs broadcasting CNN and NBC News’ coverage of the House and Senate races as the three victors worked the room.

It was even hard for the candidates to ignore coverage of the national races to focus on their own victories. With a strong voter turnout for today’s election—more than 42 percent of registered D.C. voters voted today, compared to the primary election’s measly 18 percent—Mendelson wondered if people really knew what they were voting for.

“I think the reason for the turnout, being as high as it was, was because voters are mad at what’s going on nationally,” he told City Paper. “And even though the District is not going to flip the House or the Senate, people are like, ‘This is my chance to come out and make a statement that I hate Donald Trump.’”

Of course, the local race on everyone’s mind was the contentious at-large race. All three hosts of the party endorsed their colleague Elissa Silverman over Dionne Reeder, who had the mayor’s support and access to donors.

“She asks tough questions at oversight hearings, which is appropriate and needed … there’s this notion that she’s been characterized as a caustic, aggressive person,” Racine said of his endorsement of Silverman. “I’ve only seen a confident, hardworking, and focused individual. Period.”

At-Large Councilmember Robert White, who did not make an endorsement in the race but dropped by the party to congratulate his colleagues, worried about what the long-term effects of the at-large race might be. “I saw two smart candidates that I have respect for and I was very disheartened to see how negative the peripherals of those campaigns got,” he told City Paper. “Because I think it injects something into this city that I think is going to take us a long time to heal from. And we’re going to have to be very deliberate about it.” —Matt Cohen

10:00 p.m., Franklin Hall

The star of the night was Muriel Bowser, but judging by the mood of the room, you wouldn’t know it. Clusters of staff and District employees wearing white nylon windbreakers––with “MURIEL OUR MAYOR” stamped across the back, no less––stared nervously at the flat-screen televisions tuned to CNN, as national election returns flashed in front of them. (To be fair, so did this reporter.)

The chatter was focused largely on Senate and gubernatorial races, too, with bargoers swapping horror stories of their home state returns. During Bowser’s brief victory speech, a member of her team turned around to shush a handful of tipsy men in green Bowser T-shirts who were loudly talking over her speech. It was hard to hear Bowser over the din of bargoers, but her speech was a highlight reel of her first term in office––closing DC General, investing tens of millions of dollars in affordable housing, and working to close the achievement gap in public schools.

“I came from Ward 5, where hard work pays off,” Bowser said. “I learned early on that the only way to get people to vote for you is to do what you say you’re going to do.”

Spotted in the sardine-packed room: pretty much every agency chief in the city. D.C. Fire and EMS Chief Gregory Dean, Child and Family Services Agency head Brenda Donald, Department of Human Services Director Laura Zeilinger, Department of Housing and Community Development Director Polly Donaldson, and D.C. Public Library Chief Richard Reyes-Gavilan all made appearances, as did the mayor’s senior staff and communications team.

Also in attendance were U.S. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, At-Large Councilmembers Robert White and Anita Bonds, Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans, and Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie.

By the time Bowser spoke, around 9:45 p.m., it became clear that the candidate she endorsed for the At-Large Council seat, Dionne Reeder, had lost to incumbent Elissa Silverman. As Bowser asked the crowd to give a round of applause to the incumbent councilmembers who won their races (plus Attorney General Karl Racine), she then asked them to give it up for Reeder, who “add[ed] to the conversation” in D.C. It was a confusing, and standout, moment.

“Are you with me?” Bowser intoned. There was thunderous applause from the crowd in front of her, while the back of the house drank on, eyes glued to the TV. Morgan Baskin

Update, 9:40 p.m.

Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh will return to the Wilson Building, successfully holding off her Post-endorsed challenger Petar Dimtchev. As of 9:40 p.m., Cheh has 19,002 votes to Dimtchev’s 6,454. But Cheh isn’t celebrating at an election night party. City Paper contributor Tom Sherwood reports on WAMU that she’s in Baltimore with her daughter Jane Lewis, who is giving birth to Cheh’s first grandchild. “I’m over the moon,” Cheh told Sherwood. —Caroline Jones

Update, 8:45 p.m.

With 83 of the 143 precincts counted, Muriel Bowser, as expected, has a commanding lead with 76.24 percent of the vote, according to the D.C. Board of Elections. Ann C. Wilcox of the Statehood Green Party is in second with 9.63 percent, while independent Dustin Canter, a D.C. yoga teacher, has 6.72 percent of the votes. —Kelyn Soong

Intermission: 

Credit: Tom Sherwood

A variety of local Democratic political types filledBen’s Chili Bowl on Tuesday afternoon, including Miranda Elizabeth Bowser. We snapped these close-ups of D.C.’s First Baby. —Tom Sherwood 

Credit: Tom Sherwood

Eastern Market, precincts 88 and 89, 1:33 p.m.

District residents flocking to their voting precincts this morning reported a variety of wait times. Some people zipped in and out to vote in just minutes. Individuals voting in precincts 88 and 89 at Eastern Market were not so lucky. Some people reported waiting for up to two hours to cast their ballots. Even Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, who’s expected to retain her seat as the District’s non-voting Congressional representative, dropped in to complain. The reason for the hold up, it seems, was that there was only one vote-counting machine for two combined precincts.

https://twitter.com/tomsherwood/status/1059865663030902786“There are just a lot of voters today,” Rachel Coll, the public information officer for the D.C. Board of Elections, told City Paper. When asked if it’s normal for the Eastern Market voting location to have only one vote-counting machine, Coll said it was. But the Board of Elections is aware of the situation at Eastern Market and Coll said they’re “bringing over another” vote-counting machine, along with some additional B.O.E. staff to help out. After the 2016 election, Coll adds, precincts 88 and 89 were consolidated into one polling place, making Eastern Market even more chaotic. —Matt Cohen

Van Ness, precinct 34, 11 a.m.

A line of about a dozen people waiting to cast their ballots filled up the Edmund Burke School gymnasium, the highest voting precinct in Ward 3 on election day last June. One voter, Jeanean McKay, said she was “mad as hell with Bowser for raising hell with Silverman.” She said she voted for councilmembers Mary Cheh and Elissa Silverman for re-election.

“She’s done good stuff,” McKay said of the mayor, “but she couldn’t’ seem to rise above it. Really disgusted me. … Playing the race card, and putting her money into the gal who’s running. Just unconscionable.”

Another bullet voter for Silverman seemed to concur.

“I am not very happy with the tone it took,” Vivien Clair, who also voted for Cheh, said of the at-large race. “I don’t appreciate Muriel Bowser injecting herself and adding race into the contest. I had nothing against Reeder.”

National races were also on her mind. “But really our votes here in the D.C. aren’t going to affect the national election, which is really my most concerned part of the election,” Clair said. —Cuneyt Dil

Lamond Recreation Center, precinct 64, 10:30 a.m.

Melanie Mitchell, who was volunteering at precinct 64 and campaigned for Bowser and Reeder, wants to see a new face on the Council dais.

“I like her platform,” Mitchell says of Bowser. “I’m a clinical social worker, and I share some of the same ideas that she has about making sure people have a place to live.”

Mitchell says she voted in favor of Initiative 77, and disapproves of the Council’s decision to repeal it. Asked how she reconciles her support for Bowser and Reeder, who are both were in favor of repealing the initiative, Mitchell says she’s disappointed.

“Perhaps we can convince them otherwise,” she says. “Mayor, I hope you hear me.” —Mitch Ryals

Eastern Market, precinct 89, 10 a.m.

Ward 6 voters take refuge from the rain under a green covering outside Eastern Market. Anna pulls a soggy sample ballot from her bag to help recall who she’ll be voting for in D.C.’s at-large Council race. It reveals the answer: incumbent Elissa Silverman and Statehood Green Party candidate DavidSchwartzman.

Others are quicker to assert their votes. Franco declines to say which bubbles he’ll circle in the at-large race, but he tells City Paperhe will not be voting for Mayor Muriel Bowser. He plans to write in Michelle Obama. Jeannette, who’s a long-time D.C. resident, says voting for the mayor is “pretty much a slam dunk.” She likes, among other things, that Bowser kept her promise to close the DC General family homeless shelter. Melanie forgot her own cheat sheet, but knows she doesn’t want to vote for the mayor. She also knows she doesn’t like Trump, who she calls a “malignant narcissist.”

It’s a sentiment many share, as voters here seem, generally, more preoccupied with elections across the nation than our local one. Brad, who works in health care advocacy, confesses that he’s “so consumed with the work that I do at the national level that I’m not as well informed as I’d like to be at the local level.”

Another undecided voter tells City Paper she will have to consult with her “political advisor,” tapping her laughing friend’s shoulder. The political advisor, for her part, will not say who she plans to vote for, but notes that The Post’s endorsements carry a lot of weight with her.

Most voters lament that their vote doesn’t count for much at the national level, and when asked if he regrets registering in D.C., Ruben, who plans to vote for all the Republican candidates, doesn’t hesitate. “Yes. I wish I was voting in Texas today.” But Rob, who moved here four years ago, would disagree. “You should be a part of the community you’re a part of and live in.” —Will Warren

Shepherd Park, precinct 62, 9:30 a.m.

Mayor Muriel Bowser cast her ballot at Shepherd Elementary School at 8:30 a.m., arriving to the Ward 4 polling station with baby Miranda. In brief remarks to reporters after voting, the mayor talked up the importance of Democrats winning in regional elections. 

Bowser didn’t directly address the Dionne Reeder campaign’s criticism that incumbent Elissa Silverman was born outside of the city—rhetoric that even Bowser’s 2014 campaign manager denounced. But she did draw a subtle distinction between her own mayoral message and Reeder’s campaign. “When I campaign across all eight wards, I made it very clear that I’m going to be a mayor for all eight wards, and a mayor for people who have been here for five generations or people who have been here for five minutes,” she said. 

Under the rain outside, Ward 4 Councilmember Brandon Todd and top Bowser aide Beverly Perry passed out literature for Advisory Neighborhood Commission candidates. Todd said he did not make any endorsements for D.C. Council other than supporting the Democratic nominee in the at-large race, Anita Bonds. —Cuneyt Dil

Lamond Recreation Center, precinct 64, 9:30 a.m.

Sankar Sitaraman voted for Silverman and Green Party candidate David Schwartzman.

Why Silverman? “She seems to be more in tune with the poor and struggling people, not corporate interest,” Sitaraman says.

Why Schwartzman? “I’m an environmentalist. For me, the most important issues are climate change and democracy. I think they go hand in hand. If people had a voice they would support more action around climate change and the rights of minorities and immigrants.” 

***

While her 4- and 1-year-old danced around her feet, LaDavia Drane cast her votes in favor of Democrats all the way down, including Bowser and Anita Bonds. With her second at-large vote, Drane chose Reeder “because Bowser supports her, and I worked for Bowser.

“I know a little bit about the way the Council is set up and there are certain folks who vote together, so because I support the policies supported by the mayor, I figured Dionne would as well because [the mayor] is supporting her.” —Mitch Ryals

Lamond Recreation Center, precinct 64, 9:15 a.m.

Kristen Chellis, 33, cast a vote for Silverman because she was disappointed with Reeder’s refusal to present an alternative to the paid family leave program co-sponsored by Silverman.

“Dionne Reeder didn’t have a plan, and made it worse by saying she didn’t owe us a plan before the election,” Chellis says. “That was a deciding factor.” She says she voted for Bonds with her second at-large pick. — Mitch Ryals

Lamond Recreation Center, precinct 64, 9 a.m.

Patrick Everson, 33, voted for Bowser and Silverman.

Bowser because “she’s been doing a fairly good job with the city. It feels like after [Vince] Gray, there was a lot of rebuilding that had to be done and she’s doing that. Things aren’t perfect, but I think she deserves a little bit more time.

Silverman: “I like that she’s more independent. I didn’t like that Mayor Bowser endorsed an opponent to her. And it seemed like a lot of the business interests in D.C. didn’t like [Silverman], and it would be good to have a check on other people around her.” —Mitch Ryals

Lamond Recreation Center, precinct 64, 8:20 a.m.

More than 160 people already showed up to vote at the precinct 64 voting location in Ward 4, according to election officials.

Throughout the morning, voters who talked with the City Paper were split between At-large Councilmember Elissa Silverman and Dionne Reeder, who is running as an independent. —Mitch Ryals