Exclusive Interview: Mayor Muriel Bowser Has ‘Best Job in Washington’ and Plans to Keep It
By June 15, 2022 0 1891•
Mayor Muriel Bowser met with Georgetowner staffers at their office next to the C&O Canal on the hottest day of the year so far, May 31, to discuss what she and the city are doing to achieve “the Comeback of D.C.,” a major theme of her reelection campaign.
Before the interview, a photographer and others spent time with Bowser and her daughter — four-year-old Miranda — under bright sunshine, taking photos of them by Georgetown’s new historically accurate Canal Boat, moored at Lock 3 of the canal. Mother and daughter are scheduling a boat ride with friends next month. As the mayor says, her daughter “really likes boats… she is going to have a blast.”
Once back in the office with cool drinks, snacks and sans enfant, Bowser, who is understandably usually reluctant to talk about her personal life, shared during an almost 45-minute, wide-ranging interview how being a mother has added to her perspectives on D.C. issues, policies, politics and priorities.
She was experienced in these matters before becoming a mom, having been an advisory neighborhood commissioner and Ward 4 Council member before being inaugurated as mayor in 2015 – the first woman mayor re-elected and now running for a third term. As a mom, Bowser “sees some issues through a different lens,” she said, especially the vital importance of safety, accessible green parks and nature and reliable safe public transportation for everyone.
As a mom, she also has to be even more flexible, organized and practical than before. So many complicated issues affect D.C. — from crime and gun safety, to reopening the downtown, to making the schools better academically, more diverse and secure, having affordable accessible housing for all, getting the D.C. football team to return to the nation’s capital, along with the priority of statehood.
The 49-year-old mayor considers the big and broad goals. But she, like a mom, said she has to look at the moment. “When we can’t get a big thing done, we have to look at other strategies to get smaller crucial pieces in place immediately.” She did that when the Black Lives Matter demonstrations in June 2020 had the potential to turn violent.
“We had to take back our streets from the federal government… and make it safe for everybody.” D.C. turned 16th Street NW from K to H Street NW into Black Lives Matter Plaza. Overnight, it became and remains a destination where people meet, post art and feel safe to speak out. The Mayor of the District of Columbia stood up to the President of the United States.
The post-pandemic recovery of D.C. is top priority. “We have to work on getting people back in their offices,” Bowser said. “We have to adjust spaces…. The city will work with some businesses to reposition their property” in terms of housing, for example. “For Georgetown, we’re working with the BID in offering incentives…. There’s a vitality fund that allows us to attract business, these are job creators.”
Bowser asked: “How do we get more people to come to the city — to make it a destination? When I was here [for the Canal Boat christening on April 28], I talked about how enlivening the canal makes Georgetown a destination for tourists but also for our folks in the city and region looking for things to do.”
How about rising crime in D.C., from carjackings to gun violence as well as the controversary over police officers trained in mediation and violence interruption? “Crime has gone up across the nation,” Bowser responded. “We can point to some of the impact of the pandemic on our system and society in general…. That’s why you’ve seen me so focused on getting schools open safely… making sure businesses can come back and people can get vaccinated and have a state-out-the-art testing program. Because the sooner people can get back in the normal groove of things, I feel firmly that our court system, our prosecution, our police investigations, our job training program… will all work better in an environment where people are in person.”
The mayor is also pushing a rewards program, in partnership with the Metropolitan Police Department, for people who let D.C. know about illegal guns. “We would rather know before hand,” she said.
As for schools, Bowser admitted that kids lost ground during the pandemic, “but our schools are equipped with fantastic adults, a great teaching corps. Our administrators are awesome. There are tutors helping kids catch up.” She added: “Our Black and Brown kids are actually outperforming in gains over their national counterparts … there’s lots to learn from Covid.”
Bowser insisted the school system remain under “mayoral accountability and Council oversight.” She regretted that funds for school resource officers are not in the 2023 budget.
“My job is not to serve an ideology, it is to serve D.C. residents,” she said. “So, I’m going to look at whatever the issue is and do what’s best for D.C. residents.”
That includes many ideas for improvements in infrastructure. The mayor cited the K Street transit way with street cars to Georgetown, the Dupont Circle deck-over and aerial gondola from Rosslyn to M Street — even the unlikely dismantling of the Whitehurst Freeway. There’s the Anacostia boathouse row project, Bowser noted, along with help for Mt. Zion cemetery in Georgetown.
“This is how you transform cities. I want to be in the chair because I know how to do it,” she said. “I think the comeback of downtown is going to take skill, experience, probably a little luck… It’s going to take all of the things and experiences I have gained in almost eight years … how to talk to the federal government, procurement, how to talk to big business and developers.…”
During the pandemic, Bowser took up bicycling. She is considering participating in Georgetown’s BellRinger bike ride, which raises funds for cancer research.
One thing was clear before, during and after the interview: Muriel Bowser loves being mayor and believes she is good at it. Asked if she would ever want to be a senator in a new D.C. state, she shook her head no. Why? As mayor — “the best job in Washington” — she can get things done fast, work with 13 people to propose details, vote on it, fund it and get it done.
“I don’t talk about legacy because I’m not done,” Bowser concluded. “The next time we do this I will be done.”