Continued from page 1

“I don’t think it’s being disingenuous. It just provides for me to have a broader scope,” said Ms. Alexander, who continues to refer to herself as a die-hard Democrat. “You look at opportunity.”

Mr. Catania, by contrast, was elected in a 1997 special election as a Republican but left the party in 2004 to be an independent after dissatisfaction with the national party’s support of a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. His election is the only time in the council’s 40-year history that a minority-party candidate beat a Democrat outright and held an at-large seat other than the two set-aside seats.

The first independent elected to the council was William Lightfoot, who served from 1989 to 1997 and now is chairman of Democrat Muriel Bowser’s mayoral campaign. He characterized himself as an “independent Democrat” — a phrase Brown borrowed — and doesn’t recall his party switch as controversial at the time.

“My chances at winning were best to run as an independent Democrat because I was running for an open seat,” he said.

“The fact that I won using this opportunity shows that it is a viable option,” Mr. Lightfoot said, adding that he switched his party affiliation back to Democrat after leaving office.

David Grosso, who is serving his first term after his election as an independent in 2012, was also a Democrat. Mr. Grosso worked for the District’s nonvoting congressional representative, Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, prior to his party switch. But he has sought to empower independent voters by introducing legislation that would open primaries and allow voters to switch party affiliation on Election Day.

The ‘independent’ field

About 76,000, or 17 percent of registered D.C. voters, have forgone party affiliation — among a growing number of predominantly younger voters across the nation who are declining to identify with a political party. Because of the Democrats’ stranglehold on city politics and the tendency of the Democratic primaries to pick the presumptive winners in local races, independent voters have long lamented that their lack of affiliation prevents them from being an engaged electorate.

Five people who have expressed interest in running for the at-large seat were Democrats before switching their status to independent, according to interviews and data from the D.C. Board of Elections.

Graylan Hagler, an activist who helped lead the charge to raise the minimum wage in the city, said he switched back to where he started politically in the District. Originally an independent who later joined the Statehood Green Party, Mr. Hagler said he registered as a Democrat in 2000 “to have a voice in the process.”

He points to the 27 percent voter turnout in the April 1 primary as a sign that voters are tired of the same old political establishment.

“I think many of the political parties have generally taken us for granted,” said Mr. Hagler, who ran unsuccessfully as a Democrat in a 2007 Ward 4 special election.

For others, there is little love lost in renouncing party affiliation.

Elissa Silverman, who sought an at-large seat as a Democrat in a 2013 special election, said many of her beliefs fall in line with Democratic values but she got scant support from the party when she faced off against D.C. Democratic Party Chairwoman Anita Bonds.

“When I ran last year, I ran as a reformer. I don’t think that the party has been very interested in pursuing for reform and certainly wasn’t very supportive of my candidacy,” said the former reporter and D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute analyst who has changed her affiliation but has not made a firm decision on whether to run.

Story Continues →