In coun­cil race, White is caught in the mid­dle

D.C.’s Ward 8 mem­ber re­sists en­dors­ing Sil­ver­man or Reeder

The Washington Post Sunday - - METRO - BY PAUL SCHWARTZ­MAN

D.C. Coun­cil mem­ber Trayon White Sr. is a man caught in the mid­dle of what has turned into the Dis­trict’s most con­tentious po­lit­i­cal fight of 2018.

On one side is Dionne Reeder, the in­de­pen­dent at-large coun­cil can­di­date and White’s friend who sup­ported his in­sur­gent cam­paign to win the Ward 8 seat two years ago.

On the other side is Elissa Sil­ver­man (I), the in­cum­bent whom Reeder is seek­ing to oust, who re­frained from at­tack­ing White when he was ac­cused of anti-Semitism in the spring and has sup­ported his leg­isla­tive ini­tia­tives.

White (D) has told both sides that he is re­main­ing neu­tral in the race be­cause he con­sid­ers both to be friends. Yet with next Tues­day’s elec­tion loom­ing, sev­eral of Reeder’s prom­i­nent al­lies have pres­sured him to en­dorse her, a group that in­cludes the Rev. Wil­lie Wil­son, Cora Masters Barry and Joshua Lopez, a former ap­pointee of Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), who is also back­ing the chal­lenger.

For Reeder, an African Amer­i­can who lives in Columbia Heights and owns a restau­rant in Ward 8, White’s en­dorse­ment would help turn out black vot­ers east of the Ana­cos­tia River and per­haps neu-

tral­ize Sil­ver­man’s ex­pected strength in pre­dom­i­nantly white precincts to the west.

But White, who did not re­spond to text mes­sages seek­ing com­ment, also has an al­liance with Sil­ver­man, who is white, and does not want to un­der­mine her cam­paign, his friends say.

“It’s po­lit­i­cal wis­dom for coun­cil mem­ber White to stand down,” said Stuart An­der­son, White’s former cam­paign man­ager who also helped Reeder when she be­gan run­ning more than a year ago. “Elissa has been the most sup­port­ive of things that White has pushed on the ta­ble. When you don’t ap­pear to have a lot of friends on the coun­cil, you don’t slap the gift horse in the mouth.”

When early vot­ing started, and turnout in Wards 7 and 8 was far be­low the wards across town, the pres­sure mounted on White to back Reeder. In a text ex­change last Sun­day, Lopez used an in­vec­tive to ques­tion White’s man­hood when he asked the coun­cil mem­ber whether he was plan­ning to “stay silent” or urge his sup­port­ers to vote for Reeder.

White re­sponded an­grily, ac­cord­ing to an im­age of the ex­change shown to The Wash­ing­ton Post by a friend of the coun­cil mem­ber.

An­other friend, Jauhar Abra­ham, in two videos posted on Face­book that had more than 1,500 views by week’s end, called Lopez a “clown” and a “punk” and ex­co­ri­ated him for send­ing a “dis­re­spect­ful text to my coun­cil mem­ber.”

“You crossed the line and we are not go­ing to be able to come back from the line you crossed,” said Abra­ham, a com­mu­nity or­ga­nizer and Reeder’s one­time busi­ness part­ner who has said he is not sup­port­ing her.

Lopez did not re­spond to an email and sev­eral text mes­sages seek­ing com­ment.

This year’s city elec­tion had been shap­ing up to be a sleepy af­fair: Bowser and the in­cum­bent coun­cil mem­bers were fac­ing only nom­i­nal op­po­si­tion — un­til midSeptem­ber. That’s when Bowser en­dorsed Reeder and por­trayed Sil­ver­man as an un­co­op­er­a­tive pro­gres­sive whose pol­icy po­si­tions — her sup­port for paid-fam­ily-leave leg­is­la­tion, in par­tic­u­lar — dam­age the city.

There are two at-large coun­cil seats up for grabs Tues­day. But one — the seat Sil­ver­man oc­cu­pies — is re­served for some­one not in the ma­jor­ity party, in this case, the Democrats. The other seat is held by Anita Bonds (D), who is ex­pected to win re­elec­tion. The rest of the field in­cludes David Schwartz­man (D.C. State­hood Green Party), Ralph Chit­tams (R) and Rustin Lewis (I).

With the mayor’s bless­ing, Reeder’s name recog­ni­tion soared, and her cam­paign ac­count, which con­tained $5,000 be­fore the en­dorse­ment, bulged to more than $310,000, com­pared with Sil­ver­man’s $240,000. Most of that money came from Bowser’s donor net­work, which in­cludes mem­bers of her ad­min­is­tra­tion, real es­tate de­vel­op­ers, busi­ness ex­ec­u­tives and at­tor­neys.

Once Reeder emerged as a po­tent chal­lenger, sup­port­ers from both sides be­came en­meshed in a vi­tu­per­a­tive de­bate, with Reeder’s de­fend­ers por­tray­ing Sil­ver­man as an out­sider and Sil­ver­man’s sur­ro­gates dis­miss­ing Reeder as a may­oral pawn.

At one point, the mayor jumped into a Face­book ex­change that be­gan when Bryan Weaver, a civic ac­tivist, pre­dicted that “the fall­out from the Bowser v Sil­ver­man proxy war will have larger longterm reper­cus­sions on DC — far be­yond who wins the At-Large race.”

“My en­dorse­ment is not in any way a war,” the mayor wrote. “This is an elec­tion — a com­pe­ti­tion of ideas for the city and the in­de­pen­dent, at-large Coun­cil mem­ber’s role in it. In­cum­bents can be chal­lenged.”

Michael Faun­troy, a Howard Univer­sity po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor and a long­time ob­server of D.C. pol­i­tics, said the cam­paign seems more in­tense than past races, in part be­cause of Bowser’s in­volve­ment, but also be­cause so­cial me­dia has pro­vided a con­ve­nient way for par­ti­sans to clash at all hours.

On a recent af­ter­noon, he said, he saw some­thing he has never seen in the Dis­trict — a yard sign at­tack­ing a can­di­date, in this case Reeder, over her op­po­si­tion to the paid-fam­ily-leave leg­is­la­tion coau­thored by Sil­ver­man.

“The stakes are high be­cause the city is in a pre­car­i­ous po­si­tion right now, cul­tur­ally and eco­nom­i­cally,” Faun­troy said. “In some cor­ners of the city, there’s a view that black peo­ple are be­ing pushed out, and that ten­sion is not far from the sur­face. I think it’s alive in ev­ery­thing, in­clud­ing this race.”

Al­though the mayor en­dorsed Reeder, along with the ed­i­to­rial pages of The Wash­ing­ton Post and North­west Cur­rent, Sil­ver­man is backed by la­bor unions, D.C. At­tor­ney Gen­eral Karl A. Racine and coun­cil mem­bers Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), David Grosso (I-At Large), and Bri­anne K. Nadeau (D-Ward 1).

Yet a ma­jor­ity of coun­cil mem­bers are re­main­ing neu­tral, in­clud­ing White.

When she asked for his en­dorse­ment, Sil­ver­man said White told her he was friends with Reeder and would re­main neu­tral.

As a restau­rant owner in Ward 8 and a long­time or­ga­nizer in south­east, Reeder has known White for years and sup­ported his cam­paigns for school board and the coun­cil, ac­cord­ing to mu­tual friends.

Sil­ver­man, too, has forged a friend­ship with White, back­ing sev­eral of his bills. She also sought to help him make amends last spring af­ter he was por­trayed as an anti-Semite for sug­gest­ing that the Roth­schild bank­ing fam­ily con­trols the weather and for us­ing his con­stituent fund to sub­si­dize a Chicago event for the Na­tion of Is­lam where founder Louis Far­rakhan railed against Jews. Sil­ver­man and Nadeau are the only two Jewish mem­bers on the coun­cil — Nadeau called for White’s cen­sure, Sil­ver­man did not.

China Dick­er­son, a se­nior strate­gist for Reeder, said when she asked White about en­dors­ing Reeder in Septem­ber, “He said, ‘China, of course I sup­port Dionne.’ ” Dick­er­son hoped that would trans­late into an en­dorse­ment.

“I keep it mov­ing,” said Dick­er­son, who hasn’t asked him again. “I’m not go­ing to beg for some­one’s en­dorse­ment.”

Lopez reached out to White weeks later, af­ter early vot­ing be­gan. By Fri­day af­ter­noon, turnout in Wards 7 and 8 — 4,667 — was about a quar­ter of 16,109 votes cast across the river in Wards 2 and 3.

Lopez is a vo­cal Reeder sup­porter. He was also Bowser’s ap­pointee to the Hous­ing Au­thor­ity’s board when he hosted a unity rally out­side city hall ear­lier this year dur­ing which a Na­tion of Is­lam rep­re­sen­ta­tive called Sil­ver­man a “fake Jew.”

Sil­ver­man de­manded that Bowser fire Lopez. The mayor de­clined, though she did ask him to apol­o­gize. Lopez then re­signed from the board. As a Reeder booster, Lopez has crit­i­cized Sil­ver­man, post­ing on Face­book in Septem­ber that she “re­turn home” to Bal­ti­more where she grew up.

Abra­ham, in an in­ter­view, said it was in­ap­pro­pri­ate for Lopez to pres­sure White, par­tic­u­larly in lan­guage that was of­fen­sive. “Where I’m from, it’s one of the worst forms of dis­re­spect to talk to some­one like that,” Abra­ham said.

As Ward 8’s rep­re­sen­ta­tive, it could be po­lit­i­cally risky for White to back Sil­ver­man, whose cam­paign is be­ing op­posed by some African Amer­i­can com­mu­nity lead­ers. But it could also be prob­lem­atic to sup­port Reeder be­cause of her al­liance with Bowser, who has been ac­cused by some res­i­dents of ne­glect­ing neigh­bor­hoods east of the river as the rest of the city pros­pers.

Bet­ter for White to steer clear, said An­der­son, his former cam­paign man­ager, par­tic­u­larly be­cause of an­other pos­si­bil­ity: Both Reeder and Sil­ver­man win.

“If that hap­pens, he has two friends on the coun­cil,” An­der­son said. “Each would ap­pre­ci­ate that he didn’t choose the other.”

BILL O'LEARY/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

Trayon White Sr. has re­frained from go­ing against fel­low coun­cil mem­ber Elissa Sil­ver­man, who has sup­ported his pol­icy goals.

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