Karim Marshall launches D.C. Council bid for at-large seat

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Karim Marshall, a lawyer who worked in the city government for more than a decade, is running for an at-large position on the D.C. Council, becoming the latest independent to launch a bid for the seat.

Marshall, 41, whose family has lived in the District for three generations, is a first-time council candidate. He has spent the majority of his career in various roles with the city, including as a legislative director with the Department of Energy and Environment.

In detailing his campaign to challenge incumbent Elissa Silverman (I-At Large), who is seeking a third term, Marshall says he is tired of debates over the number of city police officers and suggests there should be more of an emphasis on how they are trained and recruited instead. Crediting his education at D.C.’s Benjamin Banneker Academic High School with helping him become the first person in his family to attend college and law school, he says teachers throughout the city need more resources to better support their students.

And he points to a lack of housing affordability as a driving issue for other problems plaguing the District, asserting that lawmakers must think critically about how to best expedite the construction of new housing units, while still making sure developers are compliant with the law.

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Despite those areas of focus, Marshall demurred on detailing specific bills he might introduce if elected.

“I think that’s the wrong approach, to think a council member can introduce a bill on Day 1,” Marshall said. “It’s arrogant, frankly. The first step a council member should take is to start listening, aggressively.”

A resident of the Benning Ridge neighborhood in Southeast Washington, where he lives with his wife and 2-year-old daughter, Marshall got his introduction to D.C. government in 2009, when he earned a spot in the city’s Capital City Fellows program, which connects graduates who have advanced degrees with fellowship roles with local government agencies.

He left the program early for a job with a D.C. Council committee focused on procurement oversight and environmental issues. By 2012, he was working full time as a legislative director for the city’s Department of Energy and Environment, where after about four years he took on an additional role running the department’s environmental justice program.

Marshall estimates that he helped write about 20 laws during his time with the DOEE, including omnibus sustainability legislation in 2013 that resulted in a plastic-foam ban for businesses and established energy performance metrics for buildings, among other green initiatives.

Writing the bill meant getting input from building owners, environmental groups and companies that produced plastic foam, Marshall said, illustrating the importance of reaching constituencies across the District when proposing and drafting legislation. He worked on affordable-housing development during his final 2½ years in city government and said one of his priorities as a lawmaker would be to better coordinate the city’s job training programs so young people graduate from them as new housing projects are underway.

“Legislation is supposed to be a collaborative process, and that’s missing in this seat right now — someone who has an opportunity to build community, and something that will last,” Marshall said.

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Marshall, who left D.C. government in March for a job as general counsel and chief operating officer with the Juneteenth Foundation, a nonprofit group focused on raising awareness about the holiday, said his range of experiences would make him a thoughtful and effective legislator.

“Council members need to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time,” he said.

Two of the council’s four at-large seats are up for reelection this year. By law, one of them must be held by an individual who is not in the majority party. In the race to unseat Silverman, Marshall is joined by three other independent candidates: pro-business candidate Graham McLaughlin, Jennifer Muhammad and Fred Hill, who ran for the Ward 8 council seat in 2020.

The other at-large seat up for grabs this election cycle is held by Anita Bonds (D), who will square off against several other Democrats in the June primary. The winner of the primary will appear alongside the independent candidates on the November ballot. The top two vote-getters, regardless of party, will be elected to the council.

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