DC Mayor Muriel Bowser on 2020, ‘It’s an Incredible Time to Be Mayor’

September 25, 2020 by Kate Michael
In this image provided by the Executive Office of the Mayor, District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser stands on the rooftop of the Hay Adams Hotel near the White House and looks out at the words 'Black Lives Matter' that have been painted in bright yellow letters on the street by city workers and activists, Friday, June 5, 2020, in Washington. (Executive Office of the Mayor/Khalid Naji-Allah via AP)

WASHINGTON — Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser has garnered more attention than ever as a result of the city’s ongoing COVID crisis response and reopening efforts as well as widespread demonstrations against police violence in 2020. 

To be sure, as mayor of the city which is home to the nation’s capital, her role is unique in the American system. So to find out more about her take on this year’s major events, the Meridian International Center, a non-partisan public diplomacy organization, hosted Bowser for a discussion with their diplomatic corps. 

The first female multi-term mayor the District has experienced, Bowser has been lauded for solidifying D.C. as a competitive global city and diversifying the city’s economy while focusing on housing and services to the city’s most vulnerable. In her position, she must recognize D.C.’s unique role in American society and politics while also focusing on the city’s specific needs for racial equality, equity, and inclusion. 

“It’s an incredible time to be mayor,” said Bowser, against a backdrop of the pandemic, volatile elections, and civil unrest. 

On Reopening and Investing in Economic Recovery

Before the pandemic and for the first time in history, D.C.’s coffers had 60-day reserves and the city was on track for 2% growth this fiscal year. But the health crisis reversed all of that. Out of its $5 billion budget, the city is projected to run an estimated $800 million deficit due to COVID with revised growth -3.8%.

“I see my job right now as bringing schools back, office workers, tourists, small businesses… All of these things require workforce confidence, consumer confidence, and parental confidence,” Bowser said. “We have done a very good job of reasonably containing the spread of the virus going into the Fall.”

However, Washington remains at Phase Two of pandemic recovery reopening, and plans for economic revitalization are at odds with a continued health crisis response.  While the city is increasingly reopening restaurants, retailers, personal services, and tourism, Bowser extended the city’s state of emergency through the end of the year.

On Racial Protests and Police Reform

“We are the heart and soul of political protests in our country as the nation’s capital and seat of the Federal government,” Bowser said. “Since the death of George Floyd, we’ve had nonstop protest activity.” 

“What Americans want is justice and they want to be safe in their homes and not fearful of being shot or killed by police,” she said.  To that end, she explained that the District has been working for the last two decades on improvements to its own police force and policies, and “we feel strongly that we are on the trajectory of reform.”

“As for the ‘Defund’ movement, that’s another question,” she said. “I’ve balanced a lot of budgets, and I have a very good sense of what our public safety investment needs to be. For the police… and also for crime prevention efforts, I feel good around my budget proposals around policing.”

On Statehood 

“We’re about to become a state. I feel that’s true,” insisted Bowser, who points to “momentum finally moving in [the District’s] direction,” like D.C. statehood’s historic vote in the House of Representatives and an unprecedented level of support from Democratic Senators.  

“D.C. has all of the burdens and none of the benefits [of statehood],” she told diplomats, citing specifically that when it came time for Senators to vote on the next Supreme Court justice, D.C. would have no voice in either the hearings nor the confirmation. 

On Voter Confidence

“Our [DC] elections are done by an Independent Board of Elections,” said Bowser, reiterating that elections were performed and votes counted by a non-partisan entity. She felt Washingtonians should feel confident about the validity of their ballots, though they should be prepared for exceptional turnout on election day.  

“I think all Washingtonians should be making their plan to vote and [should] not wait until the last second.”

“Nationwide, what concerns me already are attempts to invalidate the vote,” Bowser said. But still, “I think the president will step down when he’s voted out.”

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