Mayor-elect Muriel E. Bowser passed a major milestone in her still young career as an elected executive Monday evening: She held her first pair of giant scissors.
“Fresh start,” said aide John Falcicchio.
“Fresh start!” Bowser said and smiled. “One, two, three … fresh start!”
While Bowser’s campaign mantra provided a handy exclamation for her first post-election ribbon-cutting, Monday evening’s open house was a reminder of just how difficult a fresh start can be in D.C. politics. For sure, Mayor Vincent C. Gray and the still-percolating federal investigation into his 2010 mayoral campaign will depart the John A. Wilson Building on Jan. 2. But left behind will be a passel of campaign promises, many supplicating supporters, and a cadre of D.C. political lifers who expect respect, attention and, in some cases, a livelihood from the new mayor.
Bowser’s open house was a celebration that also had the unmistakable feel of the Sistine Chapel after a papal election, with the cardinals lined up to kiss the ring of the new pontiff. In this case, many hundreds waited in lines that began at a lobby security checkpoint, then continued upstairs inside the building’s warrenlike halls — past a spread of cookies and water and a steel drum performance. There was no room large enough to allow visitors to mingle much with one another, so in queue they waited their chance for a photo with the mayor-to-be and a slip of paper inviting them to submit a résumé to the transition Web site.
That said, visitors were more than happy to have an opportunity to greet the new mayor — Bowser didn’t circulate widely at her election night victory party — and they were glad to talk about the message that the open house sent.
“Openness and transparency,” said Harry Wingo, chief executive of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce, whose political action committee endorsed Bowser.
“Inclusive, not exclusive,” said Margery Goldberg, a former arts commissioner active in city politics for decades. “This is about serving the people, not serving yourself.”
But the tensions that will suffuse the Bowser mayoralty — between making a “fresh start” and maintaining the trust and cooperation of the political establishment — were on display. Last week, Bowser unveiled a transition committee whose leadership is heavy on respected city leaders, many of whom also happen to be former Gray supporters. On Monday, she announced a campaign staff heavier on her most trusted advisers and some veterans from the Adrian M. Fenty administration.
They include transition director Falcicchio, aka Johnny Business, a Jersey City native who served as perhaps Fenty’s most loyal political deputy and went on to a high-level Democratic National Committee position after running Fenty’s ill-fated 2010 campaign. Angie Gates, a New Orleans native with a background in the entertainment business who served at Bowser’s side throughout the campaign, is handling transition operations. Joaquin McPeek, her campaign communications chief recruited from Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, continues as press secretary in the transition. Lindsey Parker, who worked in the Fenty policy shop before joining the gun-control group founded by Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) then coming back to the Wilson Building as Bowser’s council policy chief, is handling transition policy matters. Brandon T. Todd, Bowser’s former constituent services director frequently mentioned as her possible successor as Ward 4 council member, is handling scheduling and other executive functions. And Tamara Watkins, a close college friend of Bowser’s who is an executive with biotech firm Amgen, is set to handle “talent acquisition.”
That team will be manning what Bowser called the “fresh start office” and will be dealing not only with the nuts and bolts of taking over the city government and setting out Bowser’s priorities and personnel but also with managing the expectations of all those well-wishers. Gray’s transition botched that job, making ill-advised appointments that blew up his administration within months.
For now, grand gestures like an open house are enough to keep folks on Bowser’s side.
Among the visitors Monday was Rip Preston, a veteran community leader and former advisory neighborhood commission chairman from Brookland, who supported Gray in the Democratic primary. “Of all the mayors I’ve run with, this is the first time I’ve been invited to a transition office,” he said.
“She reached out to us early on,” he said. “When she won, I pledged my support to her. And that’s the way it should be.”