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Want to know how popular Attorney General Karl Racine is in D.C. as he nears retirement? No need to look at a poll, just watch At-Large Councilmember Elissa Silverman.
Locked in yet another competitive re-election fight, Silverman is seizing every opportunity to put her name next to Racine’s these days. For the outgoing AG, who revels in playing political kingmaker, this must be one heck of a swan song on the way out the door.
It was perhaps no great surprise that Racine would endorse Silverman, as he did late last month. He backed her four years ago, and hasn’t been much of a fan of one of her chief competitors, Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie. Racine pointedly decided not to endorse McDuffie’s short-lived bid to fill Racine’s seat earlier this year. But Silverman and Racine’s subsequent march in lockstep has gone a bit further than your typical endorser-endorsee relationship, especially considering both are still in office.
It all got started in earnest with some very bad news for the D.C. Housing Authority, but some very fortuitous political news for Silverman. A HUD report brought to the fore many of the issues Silverman has been railing against for years, so it was an obvious move for her to push out a reform bill a few days after its release. Racine has now twice sued the housing authority, and so the pair teamed up on legislation addressing some issues at DCHA (and made no secret of that fact in press releases and on social media).
The bill only makes few changes around the margins, mandating more training for DCHA’s executive director and governing board and creating new reporting requirements. But it didn’t hurt Silverman’s campaign prospects that she got to trumpet its swift passage (and Racine’s involvement) earlier this week while promising more reforms to come. Plus, this functioned as a not-so-subtle jab at fellow campaign rival and At-Large Councilmember Anita Bonds, who has taken quite a bit of heat for her lack of oversight of DCHA in her role as housing committee chair. Bonds has promised new legislation to address the shortcomings outlined in the HUD report, eventually, but Silverman got to show action right away.
Then, there was Silverman, standing side-by-side with Racine on Thursday as he announced a landmark, $10 million settlement with DARO Management Services and two related firms over their blatant discrimination against housing voucher holders. She wasn’t involved in the litigation, but that didn’t stop her from being on hand for the very well-attended press conference to champion “a tremendous win for working families in this city.”
A former Loose Lips herself, Silverman knows how to grab a good news story and not let go. “How much have DARO execs given to Green Team?” she asked the current LL shortly afterward. A decent sum, it turns out, but perhaps not as much as other big developers in the city. As a company, DARO hasn’t done much recent donating. It gave $500 to Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh in 2018 (though it gave a combined $1,500 to Mayor Muriel Bowser’s first bid for the mayor’s office in 2013 and another $2,000 to her mentor, Adrian Fenty, in 2010). DARO Management President Carissa Barry has been a bit more active recently, giving $200 to Racine’s likely replacement (Brian Schwalb) this year, another $500 to former Ward 4 Councilmember Brandon Todd in 2020, and $250 to Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau in 2018. Maybe not a perfect illustration of Silverman’s campaign critiques of “big-money special interests” dominating D.C. politics in this instance, but there is no shortage of other examples.
In general, Silverman has made her efforts to fund the AG’s office a big part of her re-election pitch, arguing it needs more capacity to manage violence interruption and housing investigations like the one that nabbed DARO, so Racine’s actions fit seamlessly into her messaging on the trail. In a housing-focused debate for the at-large candidates Thursday, Silverman reveled in the opportunity to trumpet Racine’s win.
“We need to make sure our next attorney general has as much zeal as our current one on these issues,” Silverman said. “I am going to miss Karl Racine.”
Her eagerness to defend Racine’s record on the matter produced one of the rare clashes of the entire evening.
As fellow at-large hopeful and longtime D.C. government staffer Karim Marshall noted the $10 million settlement equates to “a rounding error given the amount these buildings make over the course of a year,” and pushed for “real consequences” for companies caught in housing discrimination cases, Silverman began interrupting him, sans microphone. She responded that the executives behind the offending companies will be banned from owning real estate companies in the city as part of the settlement agreement, and Barry will be forced to give up her real estate license for the next 15 years.
Marshall and Silverman went back and forth for a bit before she relented. Marshall told her, to “stop, dude, you’re being mad rude,” and that admonishment seemed to finally convince her to let him finish his point. He went on to explain that he favored “asset forfeiture” as the appropriate remedy in such cases.
“We need to look at their properties as things we can take and use for the greater good,” Marshall said. “We need to make sure a company like this can’t just shutter and form a new LLC and start doing business again.”
That bit of tension aside, Silverman’s close embrace of Racine is strategic as the race gets down to the wire. Racine is an obvious favorite of D.C.’s left flank, whose support she’ll need to consolidate if she hopes to survive McDuffie’s challenge (and stay ahead of newcomers like Marshall and the Post-endorsed Graham McLaughlin). Racine has shown some evidence of broader, city-wide popularity, too, given his propensity for high-profile lawsuits during the Trump years. And he famously took great joy in scoring more votes than Bowser when they were both on the ballot in the 2018 general election, so it’s not the worst idea for Silverman to stick close by as she runs her own citywide race.
Bowser, by contrast, has stayed conspicuously out of the race, offering some implicit support for Bonds and McDuffie, but nothing compared to her vocal boosting of Dionne Bussey-Reeder challenge to Silverman four years ago. Could Racine’s aggressive advocacy in her absence help Silverman stay put? Just two-and-a-half weeks left to find out.