Inaugural 2015: Back to the Future With Mayor Bowser

Even though the holidays are technically over, at a function like the 2015 Inauguration of Muriel Bowser as the seventh mayor of the District of Columbia, you start to feel like a political Ebenezer Scrooge. Look, here are the ghost(s) of elections past. Here are today’s leaders,  ensconced, and here is generation next, proclaiming the future of the city.  

“This is an auspicious day,” said WUSA Channel 9 reporter Bruce Johnson, presiding at the Washington Convention Center ceremony. He should know, since he’s been doing the presiding for years and presents himself as a familiar, affable ghost of politics past, present and future.

It was indeed, with all those timelines crisscrossing. Here was Muriel Bowser, who had rolled over formidable opponents to be here on the dais being handed the city seal in a formal handover of power from Mayor Vincent Gray,  proclaiming in a empathic windup to her speech that “I’m ready to get to work.”

Here was a generational moment and occasion, with three newly elected and energetic District Council members making their presence felt with speeches laced with optimism — and with two more council member seats (Ward 4 and 8) to be filled, making for a council full of relatively new faces.

Elissa Silverman—a policy analyst but also well known for years as a reporter and “Loose Lips” on the irreverent City Paper—won an at-large seat. Our process was  “keep it simple and make it fun.” Brianne Naldeau, upset the long-time Ward 1 rep, the always bow-tied (along with former mayor Anthony Williams) Jim Graham. Charles Allen, the young chief of staff for Tommy Wells in Ward 6, won his boss’s seat after Wells ran unsuccessfully in the Democratic Primary for mayor.

There was also the dynamic Kenyan McDuffie, winning his first full term as Ward 5 Council Member easily after a special election to replace the disgraced Harry Thomas, Jr., gave him a seat on the council.  McDuffie duly noted the importance of ethics and honesty in politics, and he did not have to go into specifics for people to understand what he was talking about.  Thomas and the two Browns, former chairman Kwame, and former at-large member Michael,  were the ghosts and shadows of politics past, promising politicians and elected officials who had run afoul of the law. (The three were not in attendance.)

Consider, then, the also auspicious presence of Karl Racine, the Washington lawyer, who became the District’s first-ever Attorney General.
The future—impatient, with its own set of challenges, problems to be solves, obligations to be met—was invoked often by all the people sworn in, the incumbents, the newcomers,  those elevated—like Bowser and Racine—to new responsibilities.

“Fresh starts,” embraced by just about everybody, might have been a part of the swearing-in oath, so often was it invoked by speakers—that and “Let’s get started,” “We must work together so that all of the city’s residents are served,” “Let us move forward” and “affordable housing . . . ”

The ghosts made their way into the speechifying machinery. “Marion, you are not forgotten,”  Bowser said at one point, to cheers from the audience.  Former Mayor Marion Barry, who passed away Nov. 23, still seemed a vivid presence at the inaugural proceedings, like a ghost not yet invisible. His memorial was held in the same hall less than a month ago.

Bowser, whose confidence grew with every appearance and interview and debate—“Actually, I kind of liked the debates”, she said, even though she was criticized for not having enough of them during the general campaign—burst onto the dais in full bloom. 

She was empathic, full of hope and plans: “We’re going to tackle homelessness head on,” “We need good jobs “ and “Si se puede [yes, we can,” “We’re going to allocate $100 million for affordable housing” and “We’re going to bring the Olympics to the District.”  She is the second female mayor, the second youngest (Adrian Fenty was the youngest), and the seventh elected mayor.

When you listen to Bowser talk like in this manner (and in person), you can see how see she’s grown. She touted her hometown beginnings. “I’m in Ward 4.” “My parents, as everybody knows, are in Ward 5, and my siblings are in Ward 6 and 7, but I aim to be a mayor for all eight wards.”
You could see a friend helping a couple, who said they were not “from here or from this country,” explain the ward system by drawing a diagram on the inaugural program for them.

An inauguration is a kind of spectacle of hope, memory and forgetfulness—judges and children move up with the new council members and the old ones.  Allen’s two-year-old daughter, once on the dais, seemed reluctant to leave her daddy.  “Actually, if you know two-year-olds, that was pretty good,” Allen said.  District Council Chairman Phil Mendelson’s daughter gently padded her dad’s partially shiny dome. 

One shouldn’t expect detailed policy speeches from those recently—seconds ago—sworn in.  It is the tone and the key words that count—”humble” was another word used one and all,  and the tone throughout was one of gratitude, of inclusion,  community, and uniform support for the promise of statehood . . . eventually. 

It was all strangely intimate.  

Newcomers, millennial types, mixed with officialdom, and officials past—hello, Harold Brazil, now a practicing lawyer, there’s Bill Lightfoot, who, while not running himself, has helped many to run, and media types, Tom Sherwood and legendary photographer Lateef Mangum and a pat on the back for Jim Graham from old constituents.  

There were politicians from the past or elsewhere: D.C. mayors Adrian Fenty and Anthony Williams—the recent past–former Maryland Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown, who lost his bid for governor—and current stars—Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

And so . . . as they might say, the newly minted “honorable” and the mayor herself, wrapped around a prayer breakfast, a gala: “Let us begin,”  “moving forward” and “l’m ready to get to work”—and, for sure, “God bless us, everyone and the District of Columbia.”


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