IN FAVOR - David P.

for Resolution 20-05-R03
***
Will’s campaign has been covered in the media (City Paper, DCist, WAMU), where they describe his experience as a tenant lawyer for the last 8 years, fighting some of the biggest front line battles against gentrification at Brookland Manor and in Congress Heights. His campaign will focus on forward thinking solutions like building dense, green, mixed income public housing (aka ‘social housing’) through a jobs program for underemployed District residents. Building on the approach of Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal for Public Housing Act and the Homes Guarantee campaign, Will’s candidacy will accelerate the local fight to make housing a human right.

As a community-powered campaign that’s received public financing, Will’s candidacy for the at-large seat is a step taken in solidarity with a multitude of community leaders, organizers, tenants and activists who are seeking to promote economic, racial, and environmental justice in the political arena of the District of Columbia, particularly east of the Anacostia River where the city’s progressive establishment has failed to connect in previous races. His platform will focus on making housing a human right through social housing, full employment for District residents, ending mass incarceration, funding public education, closing the flagrant disparities in health equity, and fighting for full statehood for the District. Will has proven that he can win transformational fights, not just incremental ones, by building organized power on the ground and in the streets, particularly around housing, which is central to building socialist power in this city. With DSA’s endorsement, we can collaborate through Will’s campaign to build capacity for DSA to win more of these fights moving forward, particularly with our tenants’ rights, migrant justice, ecosocialist, and abolition work. Based on his politics, I believe that Will is the candidate in this race who would be most likely to continue to build power for and with DSA as a councilmember.

I also want to say a word about the conversation that was started during the GBM regarding viability. As I mentioned, the appropriate comparison here are previous at-large races, not Ward- based races. The most relevant race is 2014, when Elissa Silverman snuck into an at-large seat with just 11.6% of the vote after the incumbent in the independent seat (David Catania) chose not to seek re-election. This is the same situation in this race, where David Grosso is not seeking re-election, and even parallels the 2014 race in other ways: like Ed Lazere, Elissa Silverman left a job at the DC Fiscal Policy Institute and, having already lost a citywide race as a Democrat, changed her affiliation to Independent to run in that race. Here are the relevant numbers from the race:
Democratic Anita Bonds (Incumbent) 24.10% 85,575
Other Over and Under Votes 23.10% 81,847
Independent Elissa Silverman 11.60% 41,300
Independent Michael D. Brown 8.10% 28,614
Independent Robert White 6.30% 22,198
Independent Courtney R. Snowden 5.50% 19,551
Green Eugene Puryear 3.50% 12,525
Independent Graylan Scott Hagler 3% 10,539
Independent Khalid Pitts 2.90% 10,392
Republican Marc Morgan 2.80% 9,947
Independent Brian Hart 2.50% 8,933
Independent Kishan Putta 1.70% 6,135
Independent Calvin H. Gurley 1.30% 4,553
Independent Eric J. Jones 1.20% 4,405
Libertarian Frederick Steiner 1.10% 3,766
Independent Wendell Felder 0.80% 2,964
Other Write-in 0.40% 1,472

First, notice that Anita Bonds won re-election as the Democratic incumbent of one of the seats with 85,000 votes, and that right behind her, the orange box highlights the nearly 82,000 people who voted for too many or too few candidates. All but 226 of these were under votes, which were from people who simply don’t vote for any independents, mostly because they aren’t following local politics closely. Elissa Silverman won the race for the second seat with just 22% of the remaining votes– 11.6% of the total number of votes cast, with endorsements from the same broad swath of progressive and labor groups that Lazere is likely to receive. This was a great progressive win, but let’s be clear: Elissa Silverman won 41,300 votes, and only 1,566 of them came from Wards 7 and 8. (When Ed Lazere challenged Phil Mendelson for council chair in 2018, he only garnered 1,300 more votes in Wards 7 and 8, despite running in a two person race on the more progressive platform).

What I think these results show us is that firstly, although the built in advantage for the Democratic candidate is big, it is not as relevant to this race for the independent seat as has been argued, because of the severe drop off in voters for the independent seat. Secondly, it is not at all apparent that the strategy that Silverman used to win, that largely ignored wards 7 and 8, can be replicated by Lazere. This year, there will be as many as 9 candidates that will have public financing in this race. There were two candidates to Silverman’s left in 2014 that together garnered 23,000 votes, half of Silverman’s total (Puryear and Hagler). With the advent of public financing, it’s now easier for candidates to run professional campaigns, and with DSA on the scene, our presence in this race could boost the share of the vote for the leftists in the race significantly. Because this is the first at-large race run with these rules, I don’t believe it is possible to forecast with any degree of confidence what the dynamics in this race will turn on.

The case for Ed Lazere is built on what has worked before for Elissa Silverman and similar candidates, but with at least a half dozen other candidates running as progressives, and based on the material conditions we’re facing in 2020 where the ground is changing rapidly on what constitutes a progressive campaign, I believe it is fair to say that they are both viable candidates, and that the key factor will be who can build the most unique base of voters that aren’t likely to vote for one of half a dozen other similar candidates. Given this assumption, I don’t believe it could be clear to anyone which candidate’s strategies are more likely to succeed in this new environment – the safest thing for DSA to do would be endorse both candidates and assess the dynamics along the way as new information comes in.

I also want to say that it is valuable in itself for us to challenge Robert White and not let him stand unopposed. Just to name a few things, he voted for public financing but is taking private donations, and has voted repeatedly for tax breaks for corporations like Chemonix and developers like Mid-City Financial that are taking away resources we could be using to fund our communities. A strong combination of campaigning for Will and for Ed in this race from our unified At-Large electoral working group can flood the scene and drive the dynamics of this race to the left, a valuable role for DSA that will be augmented by a dual endorsement. The audiences we can reach through both campaigns span the spectrum of audiences we want to join DSA.For those who are interested in learning more, join us for a Virtual Town Hall this Wednesday, June 17 at 6pm hosted by Will and the leaders of the Brookland Manor Tenants’ Association to learn more about why many tenant leaders have already endorsed Will, and to get involved with our work to address gentrification, displacement, and over-policing at Brookland Manor.


Full list of member statements on this resolution: