Nov 10, 2022 - News

Inside the D.C. Council's progressive power vacuum

Elissa Silverman

Photo: Marlena Sloss/The Washington Post via Getty Images

At-large council member Elissa Silverman’s defeat would leave a power vacuum for a politically young crop of progressive lawmakers.

Why it matters: Over Silverman’s eight years on the D.C. Council, a growing bloc of lefty lawmakers have passed landmark laws that instituted paid leave, raised taxes on rich residents, and delivered aid for workers during the pandemic.

  • Along the way, Silverman has often been a leader of the group, combining behind-the-scenes political savviness with outspoken scrutiny of Mayor Muriel Bowser’s administration, particularly on housing and employment for the city’s poorest residents.

State of play: Council member Kenyan McDuffie — a more business-friendly legislator who has also authored landmark legislation, including criminal justice reform and baby bonds — declared victory Wednesday night after Silverman conceded the race.

The big picture: A loss for progressives is a gain for the agenda of more moderate Democrats, such as Bowser and council chair Phil Mendelson.

Here's what’s imperiled

Sports betting reform: Silverman had recently introduced legislation to open up the marketplace to multiple betting apps. Her loss could stall any reforms to the District’s sports betting program, as McDuffie hadn’t signed on to her bill.

Watchdog-ism: As chair of the Labor Committee, asking tough questions was kind of Silverman’s thing. Mendelson will announce committee assignments by January, but he may prefer to pick a more moderate council member for the Labor Committee.

The next big progressive idea: Silverman’s absence would be felt as progressives try to pass council member Janeese Lewis George’s proposal for a Green New Deal for Housing, a first-in-the-nation idea to bring a European model for public housing.

Here's what’s in play

New football stadium at RFK: Silverman opposes a new stadium, but McDuffie is supportive, per the Washington Post. His victory, combined with news that Dan Snyder is exploring selling the Commanders, could build momentum for a stadium deal.

Biz subsidies: McDuffie leads on economic development issues, and it’s worth wondering in a post-pandemic recovery whether there will be more appetite for incentivizing businesses — especially with a top critic out.

What they’re saying: Silverman brought a dose of political bravery for progressives. “She might have put in bills that maybe nobody might put in,” said outgoing Ward 3 council member Mary Cheh, who is being replaced by the more left-leaning Matt Frumin.

The bottom line: There were a handful of council members who often voted with Silverman. It’s now unclear how closely that bloc will stand with two new council members — Frumin and Ward 5's Zachary Parker — who could be wildcards on some votes.


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