Jonetta Rose Barras: Another progressive voice on the council?

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Local,DC,Jonetta Rose Barras

If there were a sound track to Elissa Silverman's campaign for the at-large seat on the D.C. Council, it might be the song "Please Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood." She has had a difficult time removing the tax-and-spend liberal label stitched to her after she joined the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute.

There's solid reason for the branding. Among other things, Silverman successfully lobbied the council to levy several taxes, including increasing the rate on residents with annual incomes of $350,000 or more.

"People have a stereotype of me and they are not accurate," she told me during a recent interview. A former Washington Post reporter, I worked alongside her when we were both at the Washington City Paper. Later, Silverman became the paper's Loose Lips columnist.

She faces six opponents in the April 23 special election: Paul Zukerberg, Perry Redd, Michael A. Brown, Matthew Frumin, Anita Bonds and Patrick Mara. Except for Mara, all are considered liberals.

"It's easy to do Monday morning quarterbacking," continued Silverman. "At the time, we had a $320 million (budget gap.) I favored a balanced approach. We needed to do some cuts and do some revenue enhancements. "Given the choices, the high earner tax was the right way to go," she added.

Silverman has argued her fiscal and social policies are more nuanced than have been portrayed. "I don't think we [necessarily] need more money," she said. "We spend plenty of money. We're not getting the outcomes we should."

The "One City, One Hire" employment program may be a good effort for getting jobs for the long-term unemployed, she noted. "But do we have retention data." (Interestingly, the City Paper's Alan Suderman recently wrote that some people in the program have been paid to write reports about their visits to museums.)

Silverman said, if elected, she would ask to be assigned to the workforce development committee. She has embraced school reform and has advocated for aggressive ethics and campaign finance reforms. She has promised to resurrect Initiative 70, which she had others tried unsuccessfully to get on the ballot; it would have banned all corporate donations, ending so-called "pay-to-play practices" in the government.

"People have heard for years candidates say they are 'progressive', they are 'ethical' and they have ended up in jail," said Silverman. "Those fully loaded SUV stories are fun to read but they're distracting."

Casting herself as a typical resident, Silverman said, "Affordable housing is not some academic work issue to me. It's serious." She said she could only afford to buy "an 800 square foot little house.

"I live here. I rely on city services," she continued. "We need to make more good investments that people feel."

Silverman argued her years as a reporter have given her intimate knowledge and perspective of the city -- its people and its government. "I have a record of producing change. I can hit the ground running," she said. "I feel there needs to be a real progressive voice [on the council]."

What, no Amens?

Jonetta Rose Barras's column appears on Tuesday and Friday. She can be reached at jonetta@jonettarosebarras.com.

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