Graham McLaughlin launches candidacy for a large seat on the DC Council

The first time DC elected a council in 1974, three of its 13 members were pastors. Times have changed. Today there are five lawyers. But McLaughlin on Saturday launched a campaign with strong Christian themes as well as a goal to cut government regulations on businesses.

The first-time candidate plans to run as an independent for a big seat in November, making him the first to launch a bid to challenge incumbent Elissa Silverman (I), who is seeking a third term. (Two of the council’s four seats are up for re-election this year, and by law only one can be held by a Democrat.)

Silverman, a left-wing leader on the council, advocated the law to create paid parental leave for DC workers through a tax on employers. She won a bitter re-election campaign four years ago against Dionne Reeder, which Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) had supported as a pro-business alternative. Silverman ended up winning almost twice as many votes as Reeder. (McLaughlin says he supports paid family leave, but would have preferred it to focus more directly on DC residents rather than someone in DC jobs.)

Sitting large member Anita Bonds (D) is also seeking re-election, and several are running against her. Whoever wins the Democratic primary in June would run alongside the independent candidates at the ballot in November, where the two best voters will win seats on the council.

McLaughlin, 40, lives in the Hill East neighborhood between two institutions that have shaped his life in the district: to the north is Mount Moriah Baptist Church, a predominantly black church where McLaughlin, a white man from North Carolina, took his religion seriously. , and a few blocks to the south lies the DC prison, where he found a way to put that faith.

For eight years, he rented rooms in his house to men right out of jail or federal prison. As a result, McLaughlin – who has worked for several large corporations to oversee their volunteer and philanthropic efforts – helped found the nonprofit organization Changing Perceptions, which supports former inmates in the district. He also got into the habit of hosting events in his home: Sunday dinners to talk about faith; Thursday dinners for teaching former convicts about business; and pancake Saturdays for former criminals working to get their lives on track as well as everyone else who is hungry after brunch and conversation.

Some of McLaughlin’s former roommates were at Pancake Saturday this weekend, which served as a campaign launch, eagerly asking him when they could knock to promote his candidacy. They mingled with McLauglin’s neighbors in a crowd of more than 30 people.

The chef of the gathering, Reese Dixon, credits his catering business in part to Changing Perceptions’ entrepreneurship courses, which taught him how to become certified as a local minority-owned business so he could apply for public contracts. Now he said as he fell blobs of pancake batter from a massive bowl of three baking sheets on McLaughlin’s stove, he has 12 employees and a contract to provide three meals a day in a transitional house for former convicts like himself.

“I know the work it [McLaughlin] has done with returning citizens and in society, ”he said, adding blueberries to the pancakes. “This is my campaign contribution.”

McLaughlin is running as a pro-business candidate, meaning big and small businesses: “It’s the business owner with 10,000 units; it’s the guy who’s just coming home [from prison] says, ‘I want some of this bureaucracy removed so I can make a difference.’ ”

Among his campaign promises: to reduce rules that make it more expensive to build affordable housing in the district, including allowing developers to build higher-rise apartment complexes in some places. He says he reads research articles on his other top priorities, including reducing crime and reducing discrimination against LGBT residents, to come up with his political goals.

McLaughlin, whose girlfriend is a professor at Gallaudet University, also has ideas to help DC’s deaf community, including monthly cash scholarships and better child care options for deaf children.

Some for the pancake brunch offered suggestions, raising concerns about the new candidate about gentrification, support for recovery from addiction, and other issues. McLaughlin listened and addressed the group.

“When I see how many businesses have been started in this space and how we’ve tried to go together in a way, I hope we can go together as a city – I feel emotional even when I say that. “That’s what the city should be,” he said. His neighbors nodded, asked questions, and then snuck into the piles of pancakes.

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