Muriel E. Bowser’s first week as mayor has not gone quite as smoothly as planned.
Less than an hour later, she walked into a packed St. Augustine Catholic Church where she might have been brought even further down to earth.
The Washington Interfaith Network gathered hundreds of concerned and churchgoing D.C. residents there to recite the group’s long-standing litany of grievances about a city that may be safer and more prosperous but is also less hospitable to seniors and low-income residents.
Bowser heard from anonymous residents of the D.C. General shelter for homeless families. She heard from a MetroAccess driver fighting for better wages from the WMATA contractor she works for. And she heard from a Brooklyn minister organizing a national campaign to end handgun violence by pressuring firearms manufacturers.
In the past, WIN’s “actions” have included asking elected officials or candidates to make specific pledges to create jobs, support affordable housing, or take action on other issues. On occasion, the group has taken steps to hold officials accountable for those pledges.
But Bowser was not asked to make any pledges this time, and she won sustained applause from the crowd after more than 20 minutes of remarks that included lines like this one, responding to WIN’s new focus on gun violence:
“You have a mayor who hates guns,” she said. “If it was up to me, we wouldn’t have any handguns in the District of Columbia. I swear to protect the Constitution and what the courts say, but I will do it in the most restrictive way as possible.”
Bowser spent more of her speech, however, promising to make good on her campaign pledges of making the city more hospitable to the poor, the old, and the longtime residents who have felt left out by the city’s growth. She pledged to “to listen, to learn and to also to act.”
She said, in her first 100 days, she would establish a “public works academy” to prepare D.C. residents without a college education for blue-collar jobs in the District government, as well as for public sector jobs with Metro or D.C. Water. She said she would create a “strike force” to focus on preserving affordable housing units that might be in danger due to expiring federal tax credits or voucher contracts.
And she again pledged to commit at least $100 million yearly to affordable housing subsidy programs: “Today, at my first cabinet meeting, I heard one of my budget people say, ‘We’re gonna try to make the mayor look good with her first budget.’ To which I said, ‘Oh, the mayor’s gonna look good.’ So we’re gonna figure out how to get that $100 million.”
Bowser closed her remarks with a plea for support.
“When it gets tough, and it will, I need you there,” she said. “So when we have to have tough conversations around building transitional housing, tough conversations about closing D.C. General, tough conversations about revitalizing Barry Farm, I need you there.”
“I didn’t get elected to warm the seat. And I only got elected for four years — though I’m going to run again,” she said to laughter. “But I know this, I can’t make decisions thinking about the next election, I have to make decisions that I think are right. And that is why I ran for mayor and that is why I need you every step of the way.”