Jul 6, 2022 - News

Town Talker: Kenyan McDuffie seeks four more years

Illustration of the Wilson building in Washington with lines radiating from it.
Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

In D.C., politicians rarely call it quits.

Council member Kenyan McDuffie suffered a setback after being kicked off the primary ballot for attorney general. But the Ward 5 lawmaker is back seeking four more years, this time as an at-large council member.

Why it matters: McDuffie is now taking on independent at-large council member Elissa Silverman. That likely sets up another proxy fight between progressive forces who power the current officeholder and a catch-all coalition — D.C. organizers not as far to the left, the business community, perhaps even the Green Team — who would like McDuffie to oust Silverman.

  • The race is one of the only competitive contests in November’s general election. Crucially, it will determine if D.C. Council progressives defend their bloc, which is poised to grow after last month's primary wins.
  • Silverman is known for her dogged oversight of District agencies. Her criticisms of the city’s failures in connecting residents in need to jobs have landed her in fights with Mayor Muriel Bowser.
  • She is also a formidable incumbent. In 2018 she won an eye-popping 90,000 votes for her second term.

What I’m hearing: McDuffie calls himself a “pragmatic progressive” — a term that’s catching on more and more in D.C. for those who aren’t as far left as Silverman and her allies, particularly on fiscal matters and mayoral control of education.

  • “I have been one of the most effective legislators on the council,” McDuffie tells me, referring in part to his sweeping work on criminal justice reform. “I think the contrast will be clear.”

Be smart: Confusingly, there are two at-large seats up for grabs in the November election. But one is almost assured to go to the Democratic nominee, who is Council member Anita Bonds.

  • That essentially makes Silverman’s seat the competitive contest.

McDuffie, who switched from Democrat to independent to seek the seat, joins four other challengers to Silverman. They include longtime D.C. government worker Karim Marshall and business community stalwart Graham McLaughlin.

Since McDuffie already ran this election cycle using public campaign financing, he is ineligible to use public dollars again for fundraising. He says he is in the process of returning those public funds for his defunct AG campaign. He will have to use traditional fundraising, which has largely fallen out of favor in D.C. elections due to the perception that business interest donors gain sway with politicians.

What’s next: For her part, Silverman believes “ward members have a very limited name recognition outside their ward.” She says she plans to poll the race within the week using the firm Public Policy Polling.

Silverman became a bit of a powerbroker after polling the Ward 3 D.C. Council race and accelerating lefty coalescing behind the eventual victor, Matt Frumin.

💬 Town Talker is a weekly column on local politics. Drop me a line about what your friends are chatting about: [email protected]

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