Report from the W4Dems At-Large Council Forum

Pictured: Crowd at the beginning of the Ward 4 Dems/CCCA At Large Forum. Photo by Candance Tiana Nelson

Last night, the Ward 4 Democrats and Chevy Chase Citizens Association hosted a forum for At-Large Council candidates.

All six candidates, including Councilmember Anita Bonds (D), Councilmember Elissa Silverman (I), Dionne Reeder (I), Dr. Rustin Lewis (I), David Schwartzman (STG), and Ralph Chittams (R), attended, but Councilmember Bonds left after opening remarks “to attend another event.”

With answers limited to about one minute, candidates responded for more than two hours on topics ranging from the Comprehensive Plan to climate change, juvenile justice to the legitimacy of referenda. Rather than break it all down for you here, I encourage you to check out my Twitter thread, which tracked candidate answers to almost every question.

There are so many ways to rate candidate performance in a forum like this. Are you interested in their policy prescriptions? Audience reaction? Mastery of the issues? On all fronts, Councilmember Silverman owned the night, in my opinion.

At one point, a question was posted regarding legislation that aims to update regulations of assisted living facilities. It was Reeder’s turn to answer. She admitted (to her credit) that she wasn’t familiar with the bill. The moderators, with the other candidates’ consent, had to turn to Silverman to explain it. Silverman put her policy chops on full display again when she helped the audience understand what exactly the Comprehensive Plan is and when she rebutted mis-characterizations of paid family leave.

While applause during the forum was forbidden, the audience frequently broke through with laughter and some restrained clapping after remarks from Silverman, Schwartzman, and Chittams. Silverman and Schwartzman regularly engaged voters directly, asking for a show of hands to gauge experience with issues. Schwartzman and Chittams delivered the most quotable lines. Schwartzman’s biggest laugh came when told the crowd that his green signs represented a green and just future, unlike the Green Team’s, which represented big money.

On policy, the distinctions were clear.

Chittams, a Republican, criticized tax-and-spend liberalism, overbroad legislation, and regulation of property rights. Reeder, a small business owner, frequently sounded like a Republican on the economy and campaign finance regulations. She expressed skepticism about limits on corporate money in politics (“divisive”), government interference in property rights related to AirBnB (“it’s YOUR property”), and using taxation to fund social programs. Lewis was the centrist of the bunch, calling for compromise with the business community on paid family leave while offering progressive solutions on criminal justice.

Silverman held strong as the “reasonable progressive,” fiercely defending paid family leave while repeatedly saying she wanted to “ensure your tax dollars are well spent.” Schwartzman repped his Statehood Green and socialist credentials well, calling for social housing, transit investment, stronger police oversight, and the elimination of child poverty.

DC voters can cast two votes in the At-Large Council race. The general election is November 6.

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