WHAT IS AN INDEPENDENT DEMOCRAT?

July 31, 2018

A significant part of the DC population may have hightailed it to the beach, but many local political candidates have resigned themselves to the summer heat as they work to score a place on the ballot for the November general election. At least nine individuals have their eyes on the at-large DC Council seats currently held by Democrat Anita Bonds and independent Elissa Silverman.

 

Party nominees — the Statehood Green Party’s David Schwartzman, the Libertarian Party’s Denise Hicks, and Bonds — don’t have to bother about circulating qualifying signatures. On the other hand, independents, including Silverman, must by law gather the signatures of “3,000 or 1.5% (whichever is less) of the total number of registered qualified electors” in DC, according to the DC Board of Elections.

 

Several candidates could present a significant challenge to the incumbents. S. Kathryn Allen, Dionne Reeder and Traci Hughes have strong resumes and solid support among voters.

 

Interestingly, at one point, each described themselves as “Independent Democrat” — not to be confused with Democratic Socialist. The term Independent Democrat isn’t new to the local political lexicon. Some people, myself included, have called it a deliberate end run around the Home Rule Charter.

 

When Congress granted DC quasi political independence, it sought to mandate at least one at-large seat would go to a minority party member. Once, moderate Republicans got elected to the legislature. Carol Schwartz was the last of that line.

 

Along the way, the new minority party became not the Republican Party or the Statehood Green Party but “Independent Democrat.” The DC Republican Party tried but failed to put an end to those shenanigans. Consequently, the city has been stuck each November with a gaggle of crossbreeds.

 

“I have been a Democrat my entire adult life,” Hughes told me. She said her thinking on the issues “is not all that different” from that of most progressives. Besides, she said, she came late to the campaign season and “didn’t have a choice.”

 

Hughes served as a deputy attorney general for communications and legislative affairs during the administration of former Mayor Anthony A. Williams. Hughes was also a deputy to former Metropolitan Police Department Chief Cathy Lanier handling corporate communications and an executive with the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation. It was as the first director of the DC Office of Open Government that she gained her broadest recognition, however. She fell on the wrong side of the Bowser administration after filing a lawsuit against it, siding with residents and forcing the release of various government documents. Bowser subsequently chose not to renew Hughes’ term. Good government fans urged Hughes to run for office. “I think I have a chance,” she said, adding that her goal is to secure 6,000 valid signatures to stave off any ballot challenge by the two incumbents.

 

Allen and Reeder said their goal also is to substantially exceed the 3,000-signature requirement. If you ever have had to travel around the city with a clipboard, you already know that is no easy feat.

 

Reeder said she has been all over the place, persuading voters to help her get on the ballot. She also has hustled some customers in her restaurant Cheers, which is in Ward 8; she doesn’t live there but in upper Northwest. She formerly worked on Capitol Hill as a legislative assistant and served as a staffer at the DC Community Prevention Partnership. During the Williams administration, she was a neighborhood coordinator for Ward 8; later she joined the staff of the Far Southeast Family Strengthening Collaborative. Reeder jumped in the race last October.

 

“Initially, I identified myself as an Independent Democrat,” she told me. She said she has matured on the campaign trail. “I believe in independent thinking. We do not have to focus our attention on either of the two parties.” She said where she lines up politically depends on the issue. So now, she’s an independent — straight, no chaser. “I’m comfortable with that because my track record and the work I’ve done actually reinforces that.”

 

Allen described herself emphatically as an “independent.” However, she said, “I have strong Democratic values and viewpoints.” She is a small-business owner, who also served as the head of what was then the DC Department of Banking and Financial Institutions, the first African-American in the country to hold the title of Banking Commissioner. She has been characterized as a stalking horse for the business community by Silverman, with whom the business community has expressed great dissatisfaction.

 

“I’m not going to allow Elissa or anyone else try to put me in a box,” said Allen. Asking when the business community became “the bad guy,” she said legislators need to take a balanced approach: “You can’t call yourself pro-worker without being pro-business.”

 

Oddly, Hughes, Reeder and Allen all have had connections with highly regarded Mayor Williams. He and former at-large DC Council member David Catania are, however, co-chairs of Allen’s campaign committee. It’s too early to know how much that will distinguish Allen from the others. Don’t forget: Williams was kicked off the ballot for his 2002 re-election bid, and in 2014 Catania lost the general election mayoral race to Bowser.

 

 

This article was previously published by TheDCLine under the heading of "Get ready to rumble"

 

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