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Late last year, Dionne Bussey-Reeder was just organizing her at-large race for the D.C. Council. She and her wife Stephanie—they’ve been together for 19 years—agreed that for ballot simplicity, she would file as Dionne Reeder. They agreed that Reeder could campaign and maintain her three-year-old restaurant Cheers in historic Anacostia.
But Reeder, 46, was making her first run for office. The third-generation Washingtonian had worked nearly eight years for Tony Williams, first when he was CFO of the District and later, when he was mayor, as his Neighborhood Service Coordinator for Ward 8.
So Reeder says she set up a meeting with Williams last December and asked for his endorsement. “I asked him, I said, ‘Mayor Williams are you going to support me?’ And he looked at me and he said, ‘Definitely I’m going to support you. I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t going to support you.’ I said, ‘Will you endorse me?’ And he said, ‘I definitely will endorse you.’”
In an interview with City Paper on Tuesday evening, Reeder said Williams even agreed to do an endorsement video. But she says Williams postponed the event for a family matter, and not long after, announced that he was instead supporting S. Kathryn Allen.
“It was the strangest thing,” Reeder said in the interview. “It really was.”
Reeder spoke to City Paper after the D.C. Board of Elections ruled Allen off the November ballot because of faulty and fake campaign petition signatures. Williams and former D.C. Council member David Catania had been co-chairmen of the Allen campaign. Both have declined to comment on how the Allen campaign imploded. Williams was traveling and unavailable for comment on Reeder’s endorsement description. But a source close to Williams says the former mayor had decided that Reeder “was not taking off” and decided to support Allen, who Catania was backing.
“I didn’t get into this race for them to support me,” Reeder says. “I just knew I had to do something different. I’m running an inclusive campaign.” Living in the family home she grew up in on Kenyon Street NW in Columbia Heights, she says the city needs to do more for jobs and affordable housing and education—all areas in which she has experience.
As a small business owner, Reeder says she objected to the financing for the city’s new paid family leave program backed by incumbent Councilmember Elissa Silverman, her opponent in November. “I’m progressive but I’m a productive progressive,” Reeder says. She says that the .62 percent tax on employers is a strain on their businesses and that most of the beneficiaries of paid family leave are suburbanites who work in the District, and that employees should pay part of the tax. She says Mayor Williams had promised to work with her to help explain to voters why the employer tax was a bad idea.
Reeder says she also opposed Initiative 77, which would abolish the city’s two-tier, tipped wage system. She says she pays her bartenders $10 an hour plus tips and believes the city should enforce the law that requires restaurant owners to make up wages if tipped workers don’t earn a minimum wage. “I want my bartenders to have a quality of life.”
But right now, Reeder is surveying the changed election landscape with less than two months to go. Reeder, despite low fundraising and name recognition, suddenly is the independent candidate best positioned to be an alternative to Silverman. Whether business or other groups unhappy with Silverman turn to Reeder is an open question. But she says she’s ready for a real campaign and hopes communities schedule a lot of debates.
“I’m not dismayed by anything that has happened. I’m on fire to win.”