D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) announced Monday that she will reappoint Police Chief Peter Newsham and State Superintendent of Education Hanseul Kang, bringing continuity to key posts in her administration as she launches a second four-year term.
At a news conference to kick off the new year, Bowser displayed confidence in her administration’s approach to crime and education despite recent struggles.
Homicides in the city jumped 40 percent in 2018 compared with 2017, reaching levels not seen since 2015. The 2018 rise occurred as homicides declined in many other large cities and as the number of killings elsewhere in the Washington region rose slightly or dropped. And the new year is off to a violent start, with five people killed over the weekend alone.
Bowser said her administration’s core strategy regarding violence hasn’t changed: a focus on illegal guns and repeat violent offenders. And she says she is working to extend the contract of Newsham, who was named chief in 2017, when it expires this month.
Newsham has faced criticism from progressive activists who say police have been too heavy-handed, and he recently sparred with lawmakers, suggesting they emboldened drug dealers by scrutinizing police tactics used on a troubled street.
Kang is set to be the longest-serving education official in Bowser’s administration. The Office of the State Superintendent of Education handles a variety of issues involving traditional and public charter schools, including truancy, academic standards and graduation requirements.
The city’s public schools have been reeling from scandals such as fraudulent graduation rates and those involving government officials — including former schools chancellor Antwan Wilson — who violated policy by skirting the city’s lottery system to place their children in desirable schools.
Bowser forced out Wilson and her deputy mayor for education, Jennifer Niles, last year over the school placement scandal.
But she said Kang, who led the Office of the State Superintendent of Education since 2015, was not responsible for those problems.
Kang did come under scrutiny after The Washington Post reported that a lawyer for her agency suggested slowing down an investigation into residency fraud at the renowned Duke Ellington School of the Arts because it was a mayoral election year. But Bowser said she was confident that Kang did not suggest that, and most students accused of residency fraud were ultimately cleared.
“The only issue I connect directly to OSSE is school registration at Duke Ellington, and those have been addressed,” Bowser said.
She also did not fault Kang for the 2017 graduation scandal in which 1 in 3 students graduated from District high schools despite not meeting attendance requirements, undermining the validity of hundreds of diplomas.
“The responsibility lied at DCPS largely, and we have spent the last seven months correcting those policies,” the mayor said.
Bowser also announced Monday that she would appoint her deputy chief of staff, Lindsey Parker, as the District’s chief technology officer and economic development official Andrew Trueblood to lead the Office of Planning, as the city revises its comprehensive plan to guide growth.
In the coming weeks, the D.C. Council will also consider Bowser’s nomination of Indianapolis Superintendent Lewis Ferebee to serve as chancellor of D.C. Public Schools.
Ferebee faces scrutiny over the way he handled a sexual abuse case in 2016. He is a defendant in three civil lawsuits that raise questions in part about whether he met his obligation to ensure that such allegations are reported to the state’s child protective services agency.
Six days passed before the relationship was reported to outside authorities. The delay was considered so serious that two school system employees were criminally charged and resigned, and two others were fired on Ferebee’s recommendation. Both have sued to get their jobs back.
Ferebee testified under oath that he was not aware that an alleged relationship between a staff member and a student was “sexual,” even though emails show that Ferebee was told that the relationship was “intimate.”
Ferebee was not disciplined and received a performance bonus. Prosecutors investigated his role but did not charge him.
On Monday, Bowser dismissed concerns about Ferebee’s actions.
“I think that Dr. Ferebee has run a large agency, and what we know about large agencies is, sometimes employees do bad things and that supervisors, or the superintendent in his case, has to hold them accountable. And that’s what’s happened here,” Bowser said.
The mayor also announced Monday that she will reintroduce three pieces of legislation that her administration was unable to push through the council last year.
One bill would have expanded the rights of sexual assault victims, particularly juveniles, and expanded what could be considered a crime during an attack. The others would ban “ghost guns” that could evade metal detectors and would make it easier to seal a person’s criminal record, including automatic sealing when a person is not convicted.