Oct 5, 2022 - Politics
Town Talker

Kenyan McDuffie seeks breakout in D.C. at-large bid

Kenyan McDuffie speaks from a podium

Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Election Day is just over a month away, and the talk of the town for D.C. political insiders revolves around Kenyan McDuffie's uncertain future.

Why it matters: The Ward 5 council member is challenging At-large council member Elissa Silverman for her seat. It’s the latest episode in the struggle between moderate liberals (McDuffie camp) and progressives (Silverman camp). Plus, it’s a rare showdown between sitting lawmakers.

The big picture: Silverman is a progressive power broker with a formidable coalition of support. Her persistent questioning of Mayor Muriel Bowser’s administration over the years has earned her plaudits, and her battle scars have only seemed to strengthen her political hand in the Wilson Building.

McDuffie has represented his native Ward 5 since 2012. In recent years, he has increasingly been an ally of businesses, which fuels some activists' disdain. But McDuffie says his focus includes economic development and wealth-building for Black Washingtonians.

What I’m hearing: All that being said, pessimism runs deep among McDuffie supporters. Many, especially some activists in majority-Black wards and business community types, see long odds.

  • At last Saturday’s boat ride held by the Anacostia Coordinating Council, the annual social event for the wards 7 and 8 glitterati, hushed talk turned to the at-large race.
  • The parlor game among insiders goes something like this: Democratic At-large council member Anita Bonds will probably get at least 100,000 votes. Most predict her to finish first, if only because she’s the only Democratic nominee on the ballot.
  • Given Silverman’s past performance, McDuffie needs to go find more than 90,000 votes to finish second and oust Silverman. The math is daunting.

One McDuffie donor, who requested anonymity to speak candidly, said McDuffie needs to draw more sharp contrasts with Silverman: “I think he’s working hard, but the question is, is he tough enough?”

McDuffie told me he wants those with doubts to know “this is one of the most consequential elections in the District’s recent history.”

  • “I have a track record of delivering results that are pushing the city to be more racially equitable, socially just, and economically inclusive,” he added.

The intrigue: This week, the Washington Post endorsed McDuffie, days after he won support from former DNC chair Tom Perez. (The Post also endorsed political newcomer Graham McLaughlin over incumbent Anita Bonds.)

  • Voters can pick two candidates.

Meanwhile, last week, Silverman was hosted in the Palisades to receive the endorsement of Attorney General Karl Racine, who is somewhat of the D.C. equivalent of a smooth-talking California pol, at a backyard shindig that resembled a valley wine party.

  • The wealthy Northwest enclave is not exactly fertile ground for lefty activism. But Ward 3 is a key base for Silverman. Co-hosts Tricia Duncan and Paige Ela pledged to rally votes.

“We can’t take anything for granted,” Racine told the crowd.

💬 Town Talker is a weekly column on local D.C. politics and power. Drop me a line about the talk of the town: [email protected]


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