730DC’s 2022 Spring Primary Guide for Washington, DC
Welcome to the 730(D)C Primary Guide
We’re back! This time for the city’s 2022 Democratic primary. In DC, this primary can effectively be the election, which is why we’re stopping to take stock.
While independents can and do mount challenges in the general, Elissa Silverman and Christina Henderson already occupy the Home Rule-required minimum of two non-Democratic seats in the at-large Council offices.
For most of these seats, this is it.
In this guide, we’ll share how we’re thinking about the different races, stopping shy of hard endorsements, and draw on our coverage in doing so — regular readers probably won’t find any surprises here.
By the way, if you’re considering whether or not to vote at all, please do. Primary turnout rarely surpasses 35%-40% of eligible voters, especially in an off-year election. Primary turnout in 2018 was all of 18.66% of registered voters.
This year’s going to be a lot like 2020, in that all registered voters will receive a ballot in the mail. If you’re a registered voter, yours has probably arrived by now, but you can track the status of your ballot here; call if it won’t get there in time. One of our writers received a herculean effort from DCBOE in 2020 to get his ballot — they want your vote to count!
For example, DC has in-person same-day voter registration if you’re not registered. If you’re so compelled, you can vote in person, but voting is as easy as completing your ballot and depositing it in a Ballot Drop Box in your ward. (Don’t put it in the COVID-19 test box.) Here are all the details from the DC Board of Elections.
- Council Chair
- Attorney General
- House Delegate
- At-Large Council
- Ward 1 Council
- Ward 3 Council
- Ward 5 Council
- Endorsements & Guides
Mayor Bowser Presents: A Third Term, Maybe
It’s easy to see this as the city’s marquee race. And it would be — if it was competitive enough to merit the lights.
There’s no way around the challenge that Councilmembers Robert White and Trayon White (At-Large and Ward 8, respectively) have created for themselves by staying on the ballot together. It’s a name-recognition game, and less-engaged voters may struggle to differentiate the two candidates — not to mention that both face an uphill battle against an entrenched incumbent, Mayor Muriel Bowser.
Washington has only had seven mayors in its forty-seven years of Home Rule. A third Bowser term would equal the length of Marion Barry’s legendary first stint in charge. Incumbents don’t always win, but Bowser has avoided the kind of sinking scandal that helped end Vincent Gray’s tenure, and while she’s susceptible to the kinds of charges that undermined Adrian Fenty — who lost Black voter support; firing teachers en masse didn’t help — she’s had two full terms to consolidate her position to his one. She has the advantage. (Indeed, the fact that none of the various scandals related to her has scored a critical hit could be seen as evidence of the way she’s consolidated power in the Wilson Building and support in the electorate.)
Since they’re the top three candidates in this primary, we’ll just cover the three.
Robert White has sewed up the progressive and union endorsements in this race. He is perhaps the only candidate who can skateboard. Both candidates are more or less running to Bowser’s left; it feels like Trayon’s is a campaign centered more on his brand of populism than a left-or-right ideology.
Robert and Trayon White share more than a last name: Before the Council, the two crossed paths in Attorney General Karl Racine’s office, where Robert supervised Trayon. Now, though, they’re rivals. Earlier this year, Robert formally challenged signatures collected by Trayon’s campaign to get him off the ballot and it almost worked, since half the signatures really were invalid.
Like it or not, this has become a public safety election, and on some days, Mayor Bowser almost sounds like a wartime president. She’s fond of saying that her administration is “throwing every resource we have” at crime, often suggesting a woke, procedural DC Council is in the way. The mayor has cheered public health approaches to violence prevention, like Building Blocks, but these are mostly absent when she’s making her pitch these days.
Because it’s not just public safety: Mayor Bowser specifically wants 4000 Metropolitan Police officers. This is a political strategy, and to her credit, probably a good one. Police staffing is Bowser’s clearest dividing line with the DC Council, two members of which are running to unseat her. To hear her say it, police response times have increased and people feel unsafe. The former might be because our 911 center needs more money and better management. Bowser recently reappointed her former director of the Office of Unified Communications, which handles DC 911, even though the director resigned in the face of a tough audit last year.
It should be noted here that homicides have gone up every year of Mayor Bowser’s second term (per MPD data) even as she consistently got the police budget she wanted from the DC Council. Even in 2020, when calls to defund the police were ringing out in the streets during budget season, the mayor only saw her proposed budget for police trimmed by $10 million — still a year-over-year increase of about $9 million. The 4000-officers thing has been thoughtfully interrogated and DC’s recent history, much of it under Mayor Bowser’s own leadership, has seen fluctuations in crime rates that cannot be neatly explained by the size of the police force; there is not an equation for “crime levels” with “police levels” as the sole independent variable.
On her campaign site, “some elected officials support defunding the police” floats, part of an unfinished thought, in the public safety issues section.
None of this is to dismiss District residents’ real and valid concerns about crime here after the rise in gun violence and carjackings and a series of high-profile violent crimes so far this year.
If anything, tossing us a nice, round number of police we “must have” feels reductive — and it is.
Robert White and Trayon White noticed. They’ve seized on Bowser’s reactive, police-centric stance as overly simple and potentially dangerous. Both champion a public-health approach to violent crime — the idea that violence is a symptom of deeper issues, codified in DC by the NEAR Act in 2016. Trayon White did vote with Bowser to return police to schools in the next budget and centered MPD in answers to debate questions. He’s paid particular attention, though, to the issues plaguing people incarcerated at DC Jail. Robert White’s been more adamant about DC police being asked to do too much and diversifying who responds to what crises in the city. Along with other proposals that sound like his work on the DC Council, he unveiled a proposal for a massive new jobs program for DC residents, arguing that well-paying jobs will keep people away from violent crime — though that plan has been less and less in the spotlight in recent weeks. He has been endorsed by former boss and outgoing Attorney General Karl Racine.
Reducing this race to a police referendum is bad and we won’t do it. But it does help illustrate something we touched on in the 2020 election guide (linked here), which is that both Bowser and Phil Mendelson, the Chair of the Council (who’s also on the ballot this year) champion a certain flavor of relative centrism in DC government. These two have spectacular power over what is voted on, passed, funded, and carried out in DC. And as in past cycles, much of the electoral debate hinges on whether you think Bowser and Mendelson have done right to restrain the more progressive Council.
The ideological difference between these two and the Council causes tension. There’s no question that a third term for Bowser would mean rewinding this video, even if we’ve seen it before. The Homes and Hearts Amendment Act of 2021 or the Initiative 77 fight are examples of how their (minority?) positions on The Issues can have concrete consequences for the rest of us.
In DC, to start the annual process, the mayor proposes a budget. This will be an extra important thing in the next mayor’s term: See, despite the pandemic, DC has been fairly flush in recent years. Federal funding has a lot to do with that, but COVID-19 relief and (to a lesser extent) infrastructure funds will run out in coming years. This will probably force the budget to be cut. What goes, of course, depends on who’s writing it.
Did someone say infrastructure?(It’s always Infrastructure Week somewhere.) Let’s talk about housing.
On housing for the Washington Football Team, the entity: Mayor Bowser and Trayon White want the team at RFK. Robert White wants housing there. Please don’t put another stadium there during a housing crisis, we’d look stupid (if not as stupid as the actual football team moving to Woodbridge).
On housing for the rest of us: Since Bowser took office in 2014, years in which the city’s population swelled and the housing crisis escalated. The median home price here is now over $700,000; the median price for a detached house, the OG “luxury housing,” is $1.4 million. Homeownership is solidly out of reach for nearly all of us. During the pandemic, those who could afford to buy a home did, contributing to a searing hot housing market that further inflated prices even as tens of thousands of people left the city.
Like it did elsewhere, the pandemic intensified existing inequalities and made them worse.
(A note: When we say affordable housing here, we’re talking about the kind that’s formally subsidized. Market-rate housing that is affordable is also a thing, but the two shouldn’t be conflated.)
Mayor Bowser did set ambitious goals to build and preserve affordable housing during her second term but the unexpected arrival of millions of dollars in the American Rescue Plan might have done more than anything else to move these efforts forward. How affordable housing is financed and built is complicated, and the DC Council deserves lots of credit here too, but DC now has a real pipeline of capital-A affordable housing construction projects. This is something to celebrate.
But Bowser has also championed a number of deals that look too good for developers — undervaluing public land, issuing massive tax breaks, and carefully selecting which firms win projects. The construction and developer connections in her administration and on her fundraising list aren’t going away. The District’s portfolio of public housing is behind hundreds of millions of dollars in repairs for HVAC, mold, and other maintenance needs. Residents wait an average of three years for urgent fixes. In 2022, Bowser allocated just a fraction of what was needed, despite a relatively flush budget:
The Mayor allocates just $22 million for public housing repairs and maintenance in fiscal year 2022 and an additional $35 million split over the following two years of the financial plan — far short of the $405 million that the DC Housing Authority (DCHA) has said it needs over the next six years. Both the Executive and DCHA have confirmed that the total allocation of $57 million for repairs will go entirely to just one building — Claridge Towers — while more than 80 percent of DCHA’s 41 buildings need urgent repairs. (DC Fiscal Policy Institute)
It’s a deplorable situation with dire consequences. Moreover, she told the Post she wants nothing to do with raising density citywide and would not entertain something like abolishing single-family zoning in DC — an idea that would encourage small kinds of density (duplexes, for example) and really, really help here. We don’t even have a centralized record of buildings in the city that are subject to rent control! (This is on Bowser and Anita Bonds both.)
Robert White has correctly hit the Bowser admin for not doing more with community land trusts, social housing, and other progressive instruments for affordability and stability. His co-sponsorship of Janeese Lewis George’s Green New Deal for Housing bill is good, and it’d be a promising part of the toolkit to fund and sustain affordable housing.
And yet… his housing priorities are light on specifics, with the exception of office building conversions — interesting but complicated, and not at all a panacea. His GAIN Act, introduced last year, would convert existing market-rate rental units into affordable units — but wouldn’t actually increase supply and could be used to yoink rent-controlled units off the market. Some of his campaign housing arguments (“No more luxury condos!”) feel like he’s picking up the comments section culture war about housing, which is noisy, and maybe you need to hitch your cart somehwere, but it doesn’t get anyone into a home anywhere. His 2017 effort to convert office buildings into apartments does at least show that he understands the need to increase the housing supply — a key foundation to build from.
Trayon White’s approach to housing is a little more scattered. He was involved in fighting evictions and utility shutoffs during the pandemic and broadly votes with the majority of his colleagues on housing matters. He co-introduced with Brianne Nadeau a major bill to expand rent control, even though it didn’t go anywhere (and likely wouldn’t as long as Bowser and Mendelson are both in power). He’s campaigning against developers but has, in fact, gone ahead with some sizable development projects in Ward 8. He wants “displacement-free zones” in the District, though it’s not clear what that means.
In this race, both Whites have seized on the city’s Housing Production Trust Fund (HPTF) and labeled it a “giveaway for developers.” It is a fund that pays for construction of affordable housing, and one that Mayor Bowser is using the budget to pay into (and something she’s campaigning on). It’s been mismanaged and was the subject of a recent audit with alarming findings. It is notoriously opaque and there is a history of awarding contracts to developers that would not have been the first choice on an objective basis. But none of these are things that justify destroying it — “you’re doing it wrong” is separate from “don’t do it.” These issues call for diligent leadership that cares about administering the HPTF well and using it to most efficiently build housing for District residents at all income levels. In this race, it’s hard to tell who that is.
(As an aside, it’s not cool to make an election about management; that’s how someone like Howard Schulz campaigns for the presidency. The ideal is someone with good management and leadership experience, plus good policies and politics.)
Both Robert White and Trayon White object to clearing homeless encampments and maintain that the Bowser administration’s approach makes it harder for unhoused people to find housing. The Point in Time (PIT) count — the city’s annual measure of people experiencing homelessness — has shown a marked downtrend in people experiencing homelessness for several years, though the numbers are contested. But Bowser takes a hard line on this issue, insisting that White and White would “do nothing” about the encampments — not mentioning that her interpretation of “doing something” can be as much a bulldozer as it is providing housing.
All three candidates acknowledge that transiting around the city has gotten noticeably more dangerous and more difficult, especially since the pandemic, with pedestrian and cyclist deaths reaching numbers not seen in years. It took entirely too long for Mayor Bowser to notice, let alone respond to, the years-long surge in traffic violence — one death every 18 days in 2021! — especially because it disproportionately impacts communities east of the Anacostia River. During the pandemic, she oversaw a period of time when drivers with expired temporary tags from Facebook Marketplace discovered they could do anything they wanted. The near-total collapse of Metrorail service is not her doing, nor could she address it alone, but her relative silence on it is depressing — especially as a former Metro board member.
Good things have happened during Mayor Bowser’s tenure: DDOT’s bus priority plan, already in motion, will make buses across the city faster and more efficient as it paints the town red (well, lanes in certain roads at least). The protected bike lane network is set to grow by 10 miles this year, a big number for a city that only built 13 miles in the last two years combined. Dangerous road and intersection redesigns are happening.
Of Mayor Bowser’s opponents, Robert White is better. His record mostly demonstrates that he understands the value of a connected, multimodal, citywide transportation network. Both he and Mayor Bowser want more camera enforcement. Robert White is more upfront about projects to create speed-limiting infrastructure, too.
Trayon White’s long maintained the stance that traffic safety infrastructure is ineffective and causes gentrification, part of the reason that roads in Ward 8 are a bloodbath. He’s also against additional traffic cameras for law enforcement, insisting fines are regressive (which is valid, but there are ways to restructure them).
On this issue, Trayon White’s stance demonstrates something important to know. In DC, making roads safer often triggers a proxy fight over who a street is “for.” Bike lanes in particular have become a visual symbol of changes in DC that have nothing to do with who can safely use a street and how. To extend this logic, blocking a bike lane keeps the rent down and prevents displacement. This is not how it works, but the misapprehension is understandable; bike-lane fear has plenty of adherents and should be dealt with fairly, without condescension. Churches, with large congregations that drive and expect to park, are often vocal and politically powerful opponents of these projects. The fight over the 9th Street bike lane in Shaw is illustrative here.
This particular fight is a big asterisk for Robert White. After years of Bowser Administration stonewalling (one of her advisors was a member at a church that opposed the plan), the project had begun moving again after a rash of traffic violence in the corridor and initiative on the Council. But Robert White singlehandedly spiked this project at the end of 2019, citing a lack of community buy-in. He then all but promised that he could resolve local tensions to advance the project, but a bill he co-introduced in 2020 to make the project proceed failed. Bowser then just did it herself last year, more than five years after the project began. None of it speaks well to White’s recent claim that he’ll have “tough conversations” on contentious road projects.
This is relevant because no matter who it is, our next mayor will face the fact that when it comes to road safety, much of the politically easy stuff has been done. Upcoming priorities — like making avenues and arterial roads safer, congestion pricing, and projects that will require removing street parking — will be difficult. Slower, safer roads — and the wraparound public services and policies to make alternatives to single-car driving viable — will require a mayor with the fortitude and political ability to fight for them. How you feel about this is inextricably linked to both how you get around the city and how you feel a city should balance stated goals (like road safety or Vision Zero) with community engagement — sometimes useful, sometimes representative, sometimes reactionary.
Switching gears: An unrelated demerit to Bowser for that weird power grab over the DC Commission on Arts and Humanities and her very MBA proposal to convert artist grants to loans. Artists, that famously debt-free, money-making group of people who all have great credit, would not benefit under this plan. It displays a core misunderstanding of how the arts works and does not bode well for artists, here, in the future.
On marijuana: This feels like a curiously underreported issue in the primary race, but we’d note that Bowser and Mendo both favor a “tax and regulate” structure for recreational marijuana retail in the city. As long as the Harris Rider is in place, though, the latter is not happening. Robert White and Trayon White voted against a recent bill that would have cracked down on the gifting shops. Trayon White’s bill to ban employers from drug testing for marijuana, introduced last year, may go to a vote soon.
On childcare and education: The Council has led here. Robert White and Trayon White joined others on the Council to co-author Birth to Three to expand affordable childcare to all children under 3. (DC has a nationally renowned universal pre-K program for 3–4 year old children.) Birth to Three is big, ambitious, and needed — childcare costs exploded once COVID-19 hit. But it’s expensive, and it isn’t fully funded yet, and a new mayor could change that. Robert White alarmed the Post by attempting to “start a conversation” about ending mayoral control of DCPS, which teachers want to end and which is wrapped up in the ongoing charterization of DCPS. We’re not sure what to make of Robert White’s idea for public boarding schools in DC, which seems to come from a good place but is also easy to envision going poorly.
One last note: So much of the city’s COVID response was centralized in the Mayor’s office that it’s hard to compare Bowser with the Councilmembers White, who had far less responsibility in a very stressful time. Did the Bowser administration do a good job managing COVID? It may have been an impossible task — but it wasn’t made any easier by standoffish responses to reporters asking for dashboard data, for example. Overall, the response was a little too quick to get back to “business as usual,” emphasis on business — but your mileage may vary.
Chair of the Council: “Still Phil”?
This is the other hot ideological matchup on the ballot. Chairman Phil Mendelson has been on the Council since 1998 and has served in his current position since 2012. He’s the spiritual Head RA of the Council and its most lowercase-c conservative member, with much of this conservatism masked as managerial centrism, balancing the concerns of constituencies who are neither equal in numbers nor power: If you are a District resident who makes over $200,000, a landlord or landlord association, or a large business seeking a favorable tax scheme of some kind, he would like to hear from you.
Mendo is notorious for consolidating power and using his position as Chairman to casually scythe DC’s budget to fund tax cuts, sometimes at the 11th hour. The ad tax proposal in 2020 and the streetcar are great examples of this, key parts of the MCU (Mendelson Civic Universe).
He is the Council’s budget hawk, quick to remind us that the tax base will up and leave DC if pushed too far even though this is kind of what he’s said for 20 years and it hasn’t happened. (That might be true in other cities, but the demand for office space in the nation’s capital is inelastic, people!) During the height of the pandemic, when no one else on the Council would step up to restart utility shutoffs and evictions, he introduced bills (that thankfully didn’t pass). Mendelson played a pivotal role in awarding a sweet contract for DC Lottery’s GambetDC app, which has the rare distinction of losing millions of dollars despite being a gambling app — $4 million in 2021 alone.
Challenger Erin Palmer is a Ward 4 Area Neighborhood Commissioner (ANC) and the more progressive of the two. Though not a Council member, she’s involved and diligent, in a way that we like, a mother and former ethics lawyer. Her statements on issues — from violence prevention and the failed DC crime lab to the city’s inclination towards websites that are only available in English and don’t work — speak to a real understanding of not just the banner issues and the Twitter issues but the little things that matter, too. She has a long list of endorsements that reflect real progressive consolidation behind her.
In Palmer, Mendelson faces a very similar challenge to the one mounted in 2018 by Ed Lazere, who also ran to his left in a primary challenge. Mendo won that, handily.
In 2018, Mendelson contended that he was a “reasonable progressive,” that was a check on a “too progressive” Council and threatening that financial irresponsibility would yeet us back to the Control Board days. (If you don’t know what the Control Board is, stop and read about it right now.)
Compromise was not really his pitch this time. His campaign materials lead with his start as a tenant activist (an interesting point considering that he opposes expanding rent control). He’s fond of reminding us of progressive bills he’s voted for and advanced, like mandated paid family leave, even though he fought to significantly reduce the number of weeks provided by the program. For someone who traditionally doesn’t do a lot of high-profile campaigning, he seems to be doing more of it this time around and has been visible in debates and forums. So maybe he’s worried after all?
Palmer’s greatest problem will be Mendelson’s base, which spreads across all 8 wards. But maybe he’s sleeping on what an energized contender with a dedicated alliance behind her can do — and either way, Palmer will be a positive force for years to come.
Attorney General: What’s Law Got To Do With It?
This race got a lot of attention because of who isn’t in it — Kenyan McDuffie. The Ward 5 Councilmember was often named a frontrunner in the race to replace Karl Racine. That all changed when Bruce Spiva challenged his candidacy on the basis that McDuffie was not “actively engaged” in the practice of law, a requirement to run for the office. The DC Board of Elections agreed with this interpretation, ruling to kick him off the ballot and making this a three person race.
(Side note: It is astonishing how often candidates run afoul of the BOE, whether for campaign finance violations, gathering false or invalid signatures, or this unique case — a pretty strict interpretation of the phrase “actively engaged in the practice of law.”)
Departing Attorney General Karl Racine has shown us what the office is capable of. He was the city’s first elected attorney general — the position was a mayoral appointment until 2014, when Racine was elected. In his time, Racine joined national class action suits and created an office of consumer protection. His office has sued Mark Zuckerberg for failing to protect residents’ data and vigorously gone after wage theft cases, from local employers all the way up to Doordash and Grubhub. He made local slumlords a consistent target. It kicked ass.
But there was intensifying friction with Mayor Bowser as Racine’s influence grew and as he refused to accept blame for rising violent crime rates, particularly juvenile crime and carjackings. She accused him of “doing a lot of politics” as he endorsed her opponent on the way out. Spicy!
Juvenile crime was a focus because it’s basically what the Attorney General does here. In DC, because we’re not a state, the DC Attorney General prosecutes all juvenile crimes and misdemeanor adult crimes, while the local United States Attorney’s office prosecutes anything more serious. It is a difficult setup, unlike anything else in the country, and one that’s doubly complicated as the Capitol riot prosecutions continue — the largest case in DOJ history.
With McDuffie’s departure, this is now a race between Bruce Spiva and Brian Schwalb. Both are highly accomplished lawyers in their own right; they are very close to each other on the issues (the DC4Democracy questionnaires offer useful detail and minute differentiations: Spiva, Schwalb.)
Schwalb has won Racine’s endorsement, which might have locked this one up, but let’s get into it.
Both hail from Big Law firms, though Schwalb spent more time with corporate law. Spiva may be the more accomplished lawyer of the two; he has a truly impressive record of tenants rights, union, and voting rights cases. He’s not using public financing but has won the endorsement of Ed Lazere, opening the argument that he’s the more progressive of the two. Schwalb has invaluable experience managing a law firm of over 600 people that would probably make him an excellent lead at an attorney general’s office. He is running on public funds, unlike Spiva. We like his stance on field arrests; his stance on the punitive Clean Hands Law is also worth considering.
Delegate, House of Representatives: Holmes’ Home
Most of us have never known anyone but Eleanor Holmes Norton in this seat. She won it in 1990 and has held it since, “never consider[ing] retirement,” in her words. While we’re a little wary of anyone thinking they can work forever, for a non-voting delegate, she’s an active and visible legislator, engaging on local and national issues. Overall, she’s a strong incumbent — her loss would be a massive upset here, to be honest.
Still, two people are running to make that happen. Rev. Wendy “Hope Dealer” Hamilton is a former Yang 2020 outreach director keeping the universal basic income (UBI) thing going. Kelly Mikel Williams, a former director of constituent services for Ward 7’s Vincent Orange, kind of sounds like he wants to run for a District office, not a national one?
At-Large Councilmember: We Have the Enigma, Where Are the Mystery and the Riddle?
A recent WaPo profile described Councilmember Anita Bonds as an “enigma” who “says the unexpected,” framing her as a politely chaotic but sage presence on the Council with grand vision for what could be. She is the Council’s resident “never let them know your next move” member.
Unfortunately for us, she is also head of the Housing Committee, one of the Council’s most powerful and influential. This is less a place for a quirked-up bit character and more a place for someone interested in addressing the decades-long waitlist for housing vouchers (which Bonds recently denied knowledge of?) or the administration of the Housing Preservation Trust Fund, the subject of a deeply worrying audit last fall, or recent scandals at the DC Housing Authority and the DC Housing Finance Agency. A former executive at Fort Myer herself — perhaps the city’s worst-behaved and most politically connected construction company — Bonds retains those industry connections and has taken bundles of money from them in the past (though she is running on public financing this time, like the rest of the field).
All of this aside, she just doesn’t have much to show for her time on the Council. Her own site doesn’t list legislation passed after 2018. Not that she won’t be a contender for reelection; she easily kept her seat in the last go-round. In fact, perhaps one of the strongest things working in her favor are the three candidates running against her, who run the risk of splitting the vote.
Nate Fleming, Lisa Gore, and Dexter Williams are quite close to each other on a number of issues. Fleming comes to the race from Trayon White’s office; he’s also a former shadow representative. Lisa Gore is a current Area Neighborhood Commissioner in Chevy Chase (the Ward 4 side) and a retired federal investigator. Dexter Williams is a former member of Robert White’s office.
On public safety, Bonds has called for hiring more police and “increased visibility” for them. Fleming and Williams both say they want to focus on root causes, while Gore has said she’s not opposed to the idea but wants more transparency around MPD’s need — not just a number.
None of these candidates are bad choices, but Gore (endorsed by Greater Greater Washington) is probably the best replacement for Anita Bonds here. As a former investigator in HUD’s Inspector General office, Gore would bring a needed skillset to the Council and, while not eligible to lead a committee in a first term, her presence on the Council could only make oversight stronger. She’s a well-liked and effective ANC.
If you prefer an endorsement from the DC Latino Caucus and WTU (Williams), or Jews United for Justice and the Washington Post (Fleming), choose accordingly. (At least one of us would pick Williams.)
But with all three in the race, it becomes less likely that anyone dislodges Bonds, and the fact that DC 4 Democracy didn’t even make an endorsement feels like an indication that the energy isn’t there — which is vexing, given how boring Bonds herself is.
When the DC primary is effectively the election, opposition groups face an unenviable coordination problem. Without ranked-choice voting, you can’t just let challengers hash it out in the voting; the incumbent will win just by virtue of having a defined bloc. The possible next move — not that we’ve heard anything to this effect — would be an energetic, concerted campaign by a progressive running as an independent in the general. But in the long term, it would be interesting to see if the progressive bloc could coalesce around some sort of mechanism or forum for sorting this thing out earlier.
Ward 1: She’s The One
In Ward 1, Councilmember Brianne Nadeau is running for a third term against two challengers, U Street advisory neighborhood commissioner Sabel Harris and former police officer/merch vendor Salah Czapary.
Nadeau has proven perhaps more than any other DC councilmember that it’s possible to both take unabashedly progressive stances and be effective at getting lots of legislation passed into law. She worked to mandate that 30% of housing built on public land be affordable, “led the way” for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) reform that increased benefits for children in poverty, and co-authored last year’s tax increase on the rich that funded thousands of permanent housing vouchers and established a monthly basic income for low-earning households. She’s supported building protected bike lanes in front of her own house and is a “housing champion,” for efforts like ensuring more housing can be built in high-demand neighborhoods; she co-introduced that major rent control legislation we mentioned earlier, with Ward 8’s Trayon White.
Nadeau has been endorsed by the other leaders’ of DC’s progressive bloc, including Attorney General Karl Racine, councilmembers Janeese Lewis George, Charles Allen, and Elissa Silverman, and organizations like the Working Families Party, multiple labor unions, Greater Greater Washington, the Sierra Club, and DC for Democracy.
Mounting a campaign against an incumbent in a DC Democratic primary requires the challenger to “pick a lane,” amplifying what makes you different even if you largely agree with your opponent on most or all major issues.
For Harris, that’s meant criticizing Nadeau for having weak constituent services, plus a somewhat contradictory grab bag of smaller issues. For example, it’s hard to read Harris’s embrace of a NIMBY effort to block the construction of public housing, considering she has historically supported affordable housing construction. Several supporters of Muriel Bowser’s “Green Team” have donated to Harris’s campaign, possibly showing a belief from DC’s moderate wing that Harris would break with progressives more frequently (Harris has pushed back on this characterization). Harris, who has called herself a “moderate progressive” (?), does not appear to have any major endorsements. She would be DC’s first Asian American councilmember.
(In 2018, Kent Boese ran a Ward 1 campaign that similarly centered complaints about constituent services. He came in second, but wasn’t close to Nadeau.)
Czapary has won the Washington Post’s (typically conservative) editorial board endorsement and the endorsement of the Victory Fund. He would be DC’s first Arab-American councilmember and says he could be the only openly LGBTQ+ councilmember since Jim Graham in 2015, though Zachary Parker in Ward 5 could say the same.
There’s a bad joke here — the Council has had its share of crooks, does it have room for a cop?
While his policy platform is otherwise similar to Nadeau’s, Czapary has chosen response to crime as his wedge with Nadeau, drawing on his own experience as a former police officer and criticizing her for voting to reallocate some police funds elsewhere (even though she, too, has voted for more funding for DC police). He asserts that hiring more cops will reduce crime, even though DC already has more police officers per capita than any other major US city.
If “use crime as a scare tactic” sounds like a Republican talking point, it might not surprise you that Czapary’s (now former) campaign chair is a Chevy Chase Republican who worked for his dad at the the far-right insurrection idea incubator Claremont Institute (listen to this Know Your Enemy episode if you’re not worried yet). The candidate himself, a former registered Independent, has never voted in a DC Democratic primary since moving to the city three years ago.
These are either unforced errors, indicative of bad judgment, or else something more sinister — an attempt to Trojan-horse a right wing candidate into the Council. Either way…bad.
The way out of this house of illusions is simple: Nadeau has a record as an accomplished, effective legislator on the right side of issues. Czapary does not. As a perfect example, the issues section of Czapary’s site cheers unspecificed “proposed legislation” to protect people coming to DC for abortion care; it’s Nadeau’s bill.
Ward 3: Three’s Company, This Is Chaos
The surprise retirement of four-term incumbent Mary Cheh in February was the catalyst for the competitive race here. Lots of people expected her to cruise to an easy reelection and were surprised by her February withdrawal.
But it does feel like a reset of sorts at an important moment. DC’s wealthiest, whitest ward didn’t lose as many residents as other wards during the pandemic, but it’s been losing something else: commercial tenants, a trend that started well before 2020. A number of big land sales and development proposals in short succession — the former Fannie Mae headquarters, the Wardman Park Marriott, Palisades’ DIY food desert, and Friendship Heights’ sprawling dead mall — have spurred bigger conversations about equity, density, transportation, and school overcrowding in the ward famously laid out by trolleys and racial covenants. That legacy manifests today in several ways, including a total absence of progress on their stated affordable housing goals.
Despite Cheh’s own transportation advocacy on the Council, and there was a good bit of it that was good, her ward did not make it appreciably easier to get around without a car. Hell, some people even fought to keep the deathtrap rush hour reversible lanes on Connecticut Avenue. But the dam is breaking there, too — a design for dedicated bike lanes on Connecticut Avenue went through in December and Wisconsin Avenue is a route in DDOT’s Bus Priority Plan.
It is, in short, a bit of an urbanist’s election.
The field is wider than in any other race. Ward 3 voters will get to choose between current and former ANC Commissioners, a Jackson-Reed High School student, a longtime registered Republican who swears it was not really a thing, several residents of the Palisades, and more. Many of them are aligned with Mary Cheh. We have no idea how this one is polling, so to be real with you, we can’t tell you who’s in the lead. (We reiterate our plea for one of our several major area universities to invest in local election polling. Even political science students need something to do.)
A quick rundown:
Ben Bergmann vs. Beau Finley: This is the big progressive matchup of the race, and it feels certain that the two ANC Commissioners will split votes. In this — and again, the two candidates are inches apart — some of us are drawn to Finley, whose work was instrumental in making the aforementioned Connecticut Avenue redesign happen in Cleveland Park. It was a real political feat in a historically difficult, historic-preservation-y part of the ward, and not his only one, as in 2016 he also stood up for a new family shelter that was unpopular with many neighbors. Others are drawn to Bergmann, who has shown facility with the details of regulatory oversight and recognizes the relative bubble of Ward 3.
Deirdre Brown: Almost no one was in this race before Cheh got out. Brown was, though — she is the only remaining early challenger, in fact (Monika Nemeth dropped out). She’s a former ANC Commissioner who is largely self-funding her run and says she challenged Cheh because, while they agreed on the issues, Cheh wasn’t working fast enough.
Henry Cohen: An admitted longshot and high school student who nevertheless speaks knowledgeably and capably to real issues in the ward. Wants to eliminate single-family zoning (!) in Ward 3, one of the most radical proposals in this race. Inspired to run by deferred maintenance at school, he immediately tapped into the DGS/DCPS maintenance loop of hell that’s intimately familiar to parents and school officials across the city but not talked about enough. (At one point this year, ⅓ of DCPS HVAC systems weren’t working.)
Tricia Duncan: The president of the Palisades Community Association, Duncan won a late sort-of endorsement from Mary Cheh — a commitment to vote for her, but not an endorsement, per se. It’s still probably the most valuable thing in this race, and something that immediately makes her a favorite for this seat. As a former parent-teacher organization (PTO) leader and mother, it’s no surprise that schools are at the center of her campaign. She says she’ll address teacher retention and overcrowding. Duncan claims a “realist perspective” on housing, which may be a taste of the NIMBYism that runs deep in this ward, or a preliminary sign that she just isn’t interested in engaging on the issue, or both.
Matthew Frumin: A former ANC Commissioner with lots of Ward 3-specific service to local communities and seniors. On the issues, he is a near-duplicate of Mary Cheh. Was part of some lowkey mess in 2013 in exchange for an endorsement for this seat in 2014. In DC politics, something from 10 years ago is always relevant, but we’ve also heard his name mentioned quite a lot recently as people send in their ballots and announce their votes. Endorsed by SEIU 32BJ and JUFJ among others.
Eric Goulet: The most pro-police of the candidates here; may actually want more than Mayor Bowser. Longtime DC government budget guy, an alum of Vince Gray and at the center of a bit of questionable budget math about ten years ago worth about $42 million. Likely had some racist stuff to say about people holding housing vouchers, though we’re waiting for the tapes. Endorsed by the DC Police Union. Not a candidate to count out, unfortunately, for that reason.
Phil Thomas: Chair of the Ward 3 Democrats, Thomas is a former Ward 3 ANC Commissioner and former Ward 3 outreach staffer for Mayor Bowser. We doubt that anyone in this field is closer to the mayor than he is; his signs are Green Team green. As of this writing the mayor has not endorsed anyone in this race, but if she does, it will almost certainly be him, and it will be a big get.
Monte Monash: The second “enigma” in this guide, a former Republican who… Actually, just read this column.
A Ward 3-specific resource: Ward 3 Housing Justice questionnaire.
Incumbent Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie probably would’ve cruised to reelection here — but he left the office to run for Attorney General, had his candidacy successfully challenged, and could not return to Ward 5 to run for reelection afterwards. We’re not really shedding tears over it; McDuffie keeps finding himself in situations where a cousin is vying for and/or winning lucrative contracts from the DC government. But it was a twist that changed the race.
Ward 5 is undergoing massive demographic and neighborhood change, from H Street to Union Market, Ivy City to Woodridge, and Brookland to Fort Totten. (Yes, it’s a big ward, too.) The suburban, historically Black ward is getting denser — and white and Latino residents are increasing in numbers.
There is a clear progressive favorite in Zachary Parker, who once represented Ward 5 on the State Board of Education (SBOE) and now serves as SBOE president. He’s locked in high-profile union endorsements as well as those of departing Attorney General Karl Racine and Councilmember Janeese Lewis George (Ward 4) and the Metro DC chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), of which he is a member, though he is not campaigning as a socialist. Accordingly, his stances on public safety decenter police; he says he wants the Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement (ONSE) to be a nonviolent alternative to the police, with funding and presence to match. His thoughts on housing — more community land trusts, social housing, and limited equity co-ops — are good. During his time on the SBOE, Parker fought for federal pandemic relief and COVID-19 safety measures in DC schools; he took heat from parents for pushing to delay the return to in-person learning. He is running as an openly gay Black man, and if elected, would be the first on the Council.
He is running against Faith Gibson Hubbard, who serves as director of the Bowser Administration’s Office of Community Affairs. She, too, would be a historic choice as the first Black woman to represent Ward 5. She has thoughtful, detailed takes on housing, arguing to expand inclusive zoning and rent control, and offers a particular focus on issues that affect women and families — which includes an endorsement of some universal basic income and expanding DC Paid Family Leave to cover victims of intimate partner violence. (These are not, of course, issues exclusive to women or families.) Her focus on maternal health is appreciated in a city where there is an appalling racial gap in Black and white maternal health.
Faith Gibson Hubbard has been endorsed by departing Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie, former At-Large Councilmember David Grosso, onetime KIPP DC official/current SBOE member Jacque Patterson, and the Washington Post, as well as At-Large Councilmember Christina Henderson. It’s a more “establishment” slate of endorsements.
A Ward 5-specific question is what to do about the vast number of industrial properties and zoning there — probably more than any other ward in the city. Residents say it affects the environment in the ward and their quality of life. Zachary Parker wants to turn that land to mixed-use ends that serve people in Ward 5, while Faith Gibson Hubbard says she would start a framework based on the 2014 Ward 5 Industrial Land Transformation Study. For more, check out Eckington Civic Association’s survey of candidates.
Also in this race is Vincent Orange, who has been running for office for years and has a long record of unethical behavior in office before his recent comments about Zachary Parker’s coming out. We’re name-dropping him here to explicitly ask you not to vote for him. But with a pro-business pitch — he was most recently the head of the DC Chamber of Commerce — and significant name recognition in the ward he once represented, Orange may have a real chance. Especially as votes split over the six(!) other candidates in the race.
ENDORSEMENTS AND GUIDES
We’ll add to these — if you see any missing please let us know.
AFL-CIO Metro Washington Labor Council