WASHINGTON — Although it was her first bid for elective office, Anita Bonds' victory in a special election for an open D.C. Council seat was a win for the city's political establishment.
Bonds, 68, is the chairman of the D.C. Democratic State Committee, which appointed her to the seat on an interim basis last December. She also worked in the administration of former mayor and current Councilmember Marion Barry, who enthusiastically supported her candidacy.
Her victory Tuesday maintains the racial makeup of the council in a city where African-Americans no longer make up 50 percent of the population but still outnumber any other race. There are six black and seven white councilmembers. Bonds' closest challengers were white.
Bonds said during the campaign that black voters have a "natural tendency" to support a black candidate, and she fared best in parts of the city where African-Americans maintain substantial majorities, including east of the Anacostia River.
Democrat Elissa Silverman, who finished second, and Republican Patrick Mara, who finished third, largely split the vote in neighborhoods with substantial white populations, with Bonds a distant third. The voting pattern was similar to the 2010 mayoral primary in which Vincent Gray defeated Adrian Fenty amid a similar geographic divide.
"Race is a factor. We know that," Bonds said Wednesday on NewsChannel 8's "NewsTalk" program. "But that's not the only factor, and we know that."
Bonds also said she would quit her job with Fort Myer Construction Corp., a major city contractor. Councilmembers, who earn a $125,000 annual salary, are not barred from having outside employment, even with firms that do business with the city. But Bonds said she would leave Fort Myer and become a full-time councilmember.
Bonds said Tuesday night that her priorities would be to develop more affordable housing and to bridge the racial, economic and gender divides that persist in the increasingly prosperous city.
"I've really been impressed with her focus on helping people in our city who need affordable housing, who need to make their way out of poverty and into the middle class," said Councilmember Muriel Bowser, a Democrat who is running for mayor.
Bonds enjoyed support from several councilmembers, and while Gray did not endorse anyone in the race, he attended her victory party Tuesday night.
Silverman was a first-time candidate, and her supporters, including many self-described "progressives," were largely encouraged by her finish. She carried 28 percent of the vote and finished about 2,300 votes behind Bonds. Turnout in the special election was extremely light, with just under 10 percent of the city's 505,000 registered voters casting ballots.
Mara, meanwhile, lagged behind 22 percent in his third run for the council. He fared better during a 2011 special election, despite efforts by the D.C. Republican Party's new chairman, Ron Phillips, to fire up the party base. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie recorded a robocall for Mara.
Democrats outnumber Republicans 11-to-1 in the district, and a Republican has not been elected to the council since 2004. The GOP saw the special election as a unique opportunity to break through because it was able to avoid a 1-on-1 matchup with a Democrat.
Phillips said Wednesday that it appears some city Republicans are disengaged with local politics.
"I've got to figure out what's wrong with our Republican base vote in D.C.," he said. "Because we did everything to turn out Republicans in this special election — I mean, everything. There's something else. There's a missing element."
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