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At-Large Councilmember Elissa Silverman admits that she felt like she was heading “into the belly of the beast” when she swung by a soiree honoring outgoing Events DC CEO Greg O’Dell last week.
A swanky convention center gala full of a who’s who of D.C.’s business class is certainly not the most welcoming audience for a lefty lawmaker like Silverman, a vocal skeptic of the tax breaks and development deals that keep that crowd happy. Yet there she was, playing nice with developers, lawyers and even former Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans, who snagged a photo of them together for his (very active) Instagram.
That jarring juxtaposition is as close to Loose Lips catnip as anything in D.C. politics can get, so he called up Silverman to find out what, exactly, she was doing at O’Dell’s big party. As she tells it, her goal was to “send a message” of sorts; she may not always agree with the city’s business boosters, but she values those who engage in good faith on big questions.
“I even said during my speech, ‘I know what you’re thinking: Big, edifice projects, potentially for a sports team owner, not exactly Silverman’s cup of tea,’” she says. “But I wanted to send the message that we need to have difficult discussions about our resources. And Greg is an exemplary model of how we should be doing this.”
Silverman and O’Dell, who is taking off for a private sector gig after roughly 13 years in D.C. government, haven’t always seen eye to eye. The two clashed frequently over plans for a Washington Wizards practice facility on the St. Elizabeths East campus, in particular, with Silverman accusing O’Dell of playing budgetary games as he attempted to justify rising costs for the project.
Yet she says she still appreciated O’Dell’s willingness to answer all her pointed questions, even if the pair “had differences of opinion on what the numbers meant.”
Silverman’s relationship with Evans is even more frosty. Not only did the two frequently spar on policy matters, but Silverman was one of the leading voices calling for investigations into Evans’ business dealings and punishments for his ethical missteps. In one memorable exchange, she joked back in 2018 that she “might have a heart attack” when she happened to agree with Evans on one issue.
But Silverman says that things have thawed a bit between them since Evans left the Council two years ago and can no longer give her heart palpitations from the dais. She texted him recently to say that it must be a “big relief for him” that the federal investigation into his Council conduct appears to have ended without an indictment. And she says they’ve had other conversations, too, basically agreeing that they both want to see downtown D.C. stay “vibrant,” though they “have some disagreements on how to achieve that.”
“He’s done what he should do in this situation, which is be resilient,” Silverman says. “There’s a well-worn path for resilient politicians in this city. This is a city that embraces that to some extent… He’s on the rebound.”
Evans has certainly not missed out on D.C.’s rebounding social scene in recent weeks, as he ponders his next move. But why, LL asks, would Silverman be willing to snap a picture with him? Evans can’t be especially popular among the progressive activists who have staunchly supported Silverman over the years (and she’s up for re-election in a few months).
As she sees it, standing next to scandal-plagued politicians is just part of being in D.C. politics. She’s smiled for the cameras with Kwame Brown, Michael A. Brown and Harry Thomas Jr., so why not Evans too?
“Everyone knows that I don’t have anything to hide, so I can stand next to them without worrying,” Silverman says.