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As At-Large Councilmember Elissa Silverman looks back on her loss to Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie, she’s faced with a bit of a conundrum.
On the one hand, Silverman steadfastly believes that the last-minute controversy over her polling of the Ward 3 Council race cost her the election. “We went from being on offense to defense,” she says in her first interview after conceding the race, and “you never want to be on defense in the end.”
But at the same time, she remains equally convinced that she did nothing wrong in surveying the race.
“That’s why I’m still going to be pursuing the appeal, because I believe I’ll prevail, and it will show that the ruling was wrong,” Silverman says. “But it won’t change the outcome of the election. I know that.”
For some, Silverman’s refusal to relent is off-putting. Karim Marshall, her fellow at-large candidate who initially asked for the OCF investigation, said her defiant stance was the whole reason he continued to press the issue even after the initial ruling. Several voters have emailed LL since the election to say that Silverman’s refusal to simply accept the OCF’s decision and refund the roughly $6,300 she spent on the polls helped contribute to their disgust with the dispute.
Even in defeat, Silverman (who was City Paper’s Loose Lips reporter nearly 20 years ago) isn’t backing down. She is as convinced as ever that her decision to discuss the broad contours of poll results with other Ward 3 candidates did not amount to the sort of election interference her critics accused her of, considering that many Ward 3 activists discussed the idea of consolidating behind Matt Frumin to best Eric Goulet (and his well-funded supporters) long before she put the polls in the field. Those surveys “were for me,” she insists, despite the many arguments otherwise.
Silverman believes she was “running a strong campaign until the OCF ruling came out.” And, true to form, she is quick to note that the business-backed groups opposing her (chiefly, the newly formed Opportunity D.C.) used its copious funding to send mail and text messages to highlight the OCF’s decision and paint her as a corrupt candidate.
But as eager as she is to rehash those old arguments about the campaign’s chaotic closing days, she is still sensitive to the other factors that her colleagues on the progressive left see contributing to her loss. She agrees with the analysis that McDuffie was “a stronger candidate than Dionne [Bussey-Reeder],” her 2018 Green Team-backed opponent, and leaned on his base of support in Ward 5 and extensive inroads east of the Anacostia River to beat her.
“The voters just didn’t value my work as much as McDuffie’s, and I have to respect that,” Silverman says. McDuffie has yet to respond to LL’s request for comment on the election results.
Still, Silverman bristles at the suggestion from some corners that she didn’t pay enough attention to wards 7 and 8, noting that her campaign chair, Franselene Clarke, hails from Ward 8. Washington Post reporters even happened to shadow her the day she canvased in the area, which she says was part of her strategy and not some choice she made for the benefit of reporters.
Similarly, Silverman takes issue with the claims from Ward 7 activist Mysiki Valentine that she too frequently accuses Black activists east of the river of antisemitism. She notes that Valentine had described her as being “rude” in conversations with community leaders about the ward’s redistricting, a descriptor he did not attach to fellow redistricting task force members and At-Large Councilmembers Anita Bonds and Christina Henderson. She says she was merely hoping to communicate that this can be a loaded term when describing Jewish people and play into long-standing stereotypes. She says she regrets getting frustrated with one of her former supporters in doing so.
But what’s done is done, and the votes have been counted. Silverman plans to focus now on doing “the best job I can as a councilmember through Jan. 1.” Her biggest remaining priority is shepherding through her bill to establish protections against discrimination for domestic workers by the end of the year. Ironically enough, it’s awaiting review in McDuffie’s economic development committee.
She hopes that her colleagues will take up the work on the other issues she cares about and embrace her penchant for aggressive oversight, yet she doesn’t plan to follow the Council especially closely when she’s out of office. It might be difficult for Silverman to take a step back from politics after decades of following the ins and outs of D.C. drama (from her time as LL to a progressive advocate to her own Council runs) but she wants to create some distance from the Wilson Building, for now.
“I’ll probably eat a lot into the money I’ve saved to take time to figure out what’s next,” Silverman says. “My hope is that I will have time to work on me. You know, I’ve worked my heart out these last eight years, focusing on being the best councilmember I can be, and the silver lining of all this is that I can spend some time working on some things personally that will help me be a happier, healthier person.”
After taking time to do some of that work, would she ever consider a return to the political arena?
“I don’t want to even think about it,” she says.