Democrat Anita Bonds, who beat back five challengers and a biased media campaign to win her at-large seat on the D.C. Council in April 23 special election, attributed her win to “people who know me” all across the city.
Those last-minute robocalls by her council colleagues, especially Ward 8 Council Member Marion Barry, Ward 5 Kenyan McDuffie and Ward 2 Jack Evans, didn’t hurt either. Stories about voters leaving their dinner on the stove and their laundry in the dryer to rush to cast last-minute ballots abounded at Bonds’ victory party at the Channel Inn April 23 where an eclectic crowd of Bonds’ diverse citywide supporters nervously checked their cell phones while awaiting the close election tallies.
“Marion’s robocalls hit the spot; people came out, saying ‘I got that call,’” Bonds said.
In the end, the incumbent Bonds won with 32 percent of the vote in unofficial results. Elissa Silverman, a Democrat, followed with 28 percent and the media favorite, Republican Patrick Mara placed third for his third unsuccessful bid for the council with 23 percent. Voter turnout was lower than expected at an estimated 10 percent.
“I’m going to get in there and try to make a difference for all of the citizens of the District of Columbia,” she said, having compared budget surpluses to poverty in the city.
Even so, when a smiling Bonds’ lead an impromptu conga line into the room followed by her jubilant fellow Democratic council members and D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray bringing up the rear to the tune of “Ain’t No Stopping Us Now,” victory was still uncertain. As she proceeded to deliver guarded remarks, more filled with thanks and praise for her varied supporters than with a winner’s words, she stopped mid-sentence when someone whispered in her ear. Then she said, “We won? WE WON!”
Bonds seemed more surprised than anyone, even though one of her backers had already told me that they knew she was ahead by 25 percent in the early balloting which ended last week. Still, they were concerned about absentee ballots and the dubious influence of the local press in which most favored Mara, who was endorsed four times by one news outlet, or Silverman.
“People thought she couldn’t win,” said a joyous Barry. “But they don’t understand the business of helping people who give back to our community.” He was referring to Bonds’ reputation garnered over three decades of government and political service in the District.
Although he did not endorse a candidate during the campaign, Gray was among many who said Bonds, the former chair of the local Democratic party, “deserved to win” for her hard work, commitment and love of the city.
No doubt Bonds was helped by former D.C. Council member Michael Brown, another African American, who dropped out of the race. Some suggested that she was also helped by what they viewed as biased media coverage, which cast her as a part of an unworthy “old guard” versus the “progressives” and “reformers.”
“All over the city, I heard people say they weren’t even going to vote but they came out because they were angry at the way the media characterized her as a racist. It was a wrong read,” said Lynn C. French, a Bonds supporter. James Berry, another supporter, concurred. “Some rallied because of the nastiness of the campaign and there was some backlash,” he said.
Lee Wilson, of the Ward 7 Democrats, said, “We know what Anita has done for us, and people remember.” He added that she would bring “a kinder, gentler council.”
His sentiments were echoed by Ronnie Edwards, Bonds’ field operations director. “Anita has worked her way up over 30 years, and the people who really know Anita knows she is not prejudiced and that she has worked hard for everybody in this city, regardless of skin color.”
Edwards added that he viewed the racial issue “as a divide-and-conquer tactic, and people in D.C. are too smart for that.”
Though Bonds won in the predominantly African American wards–4, 5, 7 and 8–Evans downplayed the racial factor “I don’t know that race was all that big a factor,” said Evans, who is one of two white council members considering a run for mayor. “Anita is a good candidate, she works hard and I am happy to support her.”
Veteran journalist Adrienne Washington writes weekly for the AFRO about relevant issues in the District, Maryland and Northern Virginia. Send correspondence to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.