In Primary, Bowser Asserts Independence

By Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 20, 2008

D.C. Council member Muriel Bowser, trying to position herself for a four-year term, is eager to get a point across before the Sept. 9 primary: She's no Adrian M. Fenty.

Not because the Ward 4 Democrat doesn't identify with her predecessor. On the contrary. Bowser adopted his campaign colors, eagerly accepted his endorsement during last year's special election and has benefited from the thousands of campaign dollars the mayor's support has helped generate.

But in her reelection effort, she knows she's got an image issue. Community leaders and political rivals -- and even some of her supporters -- say the 36-year-old, who was handpicked by Fenty, has spent her time in office doing his bidding and little else.

Bowser, of course, sees it differently and needs others to as well.

"I expected the type of criticism I would get and decided it was worth it," she said, recalling her decision to run to fill Fenty's council seat after being the Ward 4 coordinator for his mayoral campaign.

Holding office is still worth it, she said, because she's got more work to do on development in the ward, constituent services and numerous other issues, including education, crime and senior citizen care.

But Bowser will have to get past her challengers: Baruti Jahi, former president of the Shepherd Park Citizens Association; Malik Mendenhall-Johnson, who heads a nonprofit group that teaches young people chess; and community activist Paul E. Montague.

Jahi and Mendenhall-Johnson cite what they call Bowser's lack of independence from the mayor, as well as what they describe as her inattentiveness to residents' priorities.

Jahi called it a "pattern of a lack of responsiveness."

Ward 4, which straddles Georgia Avenue at the city's northern tip, is about 70 percent African American and is considered a hub of wealthy, community-oriented black residents. The ward also has its social ills, including a high crime rate along Georgia Avenue and Kennedy Street NW.

Residents have lived with a lack of amenities, having to travel north to Silver Spring or south to the now-booming Columbia Heights in Ward 1 for dining and shopping. Reducing crime and guiding the new apartments, condominiums and stores planned for Georgia Avenue NW are top issues.

"We like this development that's coming in, but we don't want it to take over the residential neighborhoods," said Shirley Richardson, president of Concerned Neighbors Inc., a citizens group in Takoma. Mocha Ground, part of the Mocha Hut chain, opened on 14th Street NW this year.

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