By Sasha Fernandez
There is a highly competitive race happening in the nation’s capital and it’s not just to become the president. 23 candidates are vying for just two spots on the D.C. council, the city’s most powerful electorate body.
However, in a local race with a large candidate base and where twenty-one candidates are running as independents, voters have had to determine their vote based on other factors besides party affiliation.
For American University alum Ellen Sheehy, she hadn’t even been informed about the contest.
“I wasn’t aware of how many people were running for council-at-large until I got the ballot,” she said. “I was kind of overwhelmed by how many options there were.”
Sheehy said she is passionate about healthcare and affordable housing, so she decided to vote for candidates advocating to expand both these programs. To find information, she reviewed The Washington Post’s informational guide on the candidates and consulted each of their personal websites.
“I’m not super into D.C. politics, but I felt like I had a responsibility to make an informed choice with my ballot,” Sheehy said.
Voting for the District of Columbia’s council has some political significance, considering that citizens lack voting members of Congress. The council members act as advocates for their community by holding hearings and establishing legislation. The council is made up of an executive chairman, one representative from each of the eight wards and four council members “at-large” who act as representatives for the entire D.C. community. It is these two “at-large” seats, which are open to candidates from any ward, that are up for grabs.
Due to restrictions on the number of council members who can have political affiliations, only four of the candidates are associated with mainstream political parties.
For Joan Eisenstodt, a D.C. resident for over 40 years, this election is pivotal for her work. As a consultant for the hospitality industry, she said the pandemic has devastated the District’s economy. For example, the Downtown D.C. Business Improvement District’s 2020 report, which evaluated the economic losses for the district due to the COVID-19 epidemic, said the cancellation of theatre performances led to a net loss of nearly 400,000 patrons.
This financial loss was front of mind for Eisenstodt when she cast her vote. She said other residents should do the same.
“I think that people need to think about, what are we gonna do? How is the city going to survive?” she said.
In the decision making process, Eisenstodt said she frequented the personal websites of all of the potential council members. She voted for candidates Ed Lazere and Markus Batchelor based on their policies, after she monitored their political views for years.
Lazere and Batchelor are progressive candidates who support policies like reducing the police budget, raising tax rates on the wealthy, and expanding rent control.
Eisenstodt said that she supports Lazere because of his work at the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, a research organization that monitors the city’s budget and advocates for budgetary changes, including supporting public housing.
“He understands DC and he is both forward thinking, and he’s pragmatic,” she said.
Laura Fuchs, the chair of the political branch of the Washington Teachers’ Union, also voted for Lazere and Batchelor, because of their support for the public school system. The Washington Teachers’ Union endorsed Batchelor and incumbent Robert White (D), who is expected to maintain his seat, according to The Washington Post.
Fuchs got to meet and interview many of the candidates as the union calculated their endorsement. She said that for her personally, she wanted to vote for people that were against mayoral control of the D.C. Public School system and would listen to the teachers’ requests.
She said Batchelor, who is the Ward 8 representative for the State Board of Education, fulfills that brief.
“On the state board of ed, he has been strongly in kind of a progressive education block that has fought for our neighborhood public schools and used the position as a bully pulpit,” Fuchs said.
While Fuchs was part of the decision making process behind the union’s endorsement of Batchelor and White, she said that she had a hard time picking just two, because she said that Lazere, White and Batchelor were all good choices.
“Really, any of the three. If two out of those three win, I am totally happy in any combination,” she said.