D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said she opposes President Trump’s plan to put himself at the center of a redesigned Fourth of July celebration in the nation’s capital, expressing concerns about what could be major logistical changes and the resulting strain on police and emergency services.
During an interview Thursday, Bowser said she would prefer that the event on the Mall — which has not undergone wholesale changes to its planning since the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 — remain in its current format.
“We are very happy to host the nation’s fireworks here every year, and over the years it’s become a pretty well-oiled machine,” Bowser said. “That is our primary concern: How do people have a good time, celebrate and be safe on the Mall and getting home?”
The Washington Post reported last week that Trump wants to overhaul the nation’s premier Independence Day event, which attracts hundreds of thousands of people and is broadcast live on national television. The president wants to move the massive fireworks display from its usual place on the Mall and perhaps deliver a speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
The news ignited fears among the president’s critics that he might try to transform one of Washington’s most popular and nonpartisan traditions into what would effectively be a campaign rally. Some Democratic lawmakers said his appearance could inject partisan and divisive notes into what is normally a celebration of national unity.
Trump has become intimately involved in planning the details of the new event, which would be called “A Salute to America,” administration officials told The Post.
For the city, however, the president’s designs entail a host of planning headaches.
The president’s appearance would require moving the fireworks to a new location. Federal officials said last week that the launch spot would likely be West Potomac Park, less than a mile southwest of the usual location near the Washington Monument.
That could require a new police presence in that area, Bowser said, as well as additional security to cover the president’s movements to and from the Mall for his speech.
“If we have to put more police to cover his movements, more police for the fireworks and an additional location for police where the fireworks are going to get set off, that puts a strain on us,” Bowser said. “We won’t allow it to impact neighborhood safety. So the chief will have to think about if he needs additional resources.”
The closure of roads for Trump’s travel could affect visitors’ access to nearby Metro stations, which are heavily used on that day, as bus service is typically limited and parking is nearly impossible.
Kevin Donahue, D.C. deputy mayor for public safety and justice, said the relocation of the fireworks could also have “ripple effects” on where the crowd gathers as people jostle for a better view of the show.
“Anytime you’re dealing with fireworks, I think, you have to be very careful, and a system of setting off the fireworks with that many thousands of people has worked for us pretty well,” Bowser said. “We’re concerned about that. And anytime you move the president, if the president is moving during that time, figuring out how to get people in and out . . . could be problematic.”
Asked whether she would prefer that the event remain as is, Bowser simply said: “Yes.”
“The president can speak at any event that he wants to speak at,” she added. “And my great hope would be that he recognizes that the event is a unifying event that celebrates the birthday of our nation.”
Deputy White House press secretary Judd Deere said planning for the event among federal agencies is moving forward.
“President Trump loves America and wants to help all Americans celebrate our Nation’s Independence on July 4,” Deere wrote in an email. “The White House, along with the National Park Service and the Department of Interior, continue to make preparations for the day’s activities.”
Trump lashed out at D.C. officials after the collapse of his last effort to organize a marquee patriotic event centered on himself and his supporters.
In August, after Trump canceled a military parade in the District amid concerns about its high cost, the president blamed the city in a tweet.
“The local politicians who run Washington, D.C. (poorly) know a windfall when they see it,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “When asked to give us a price for holding a great celebratory military parade, they wanted a number so ridiculously high that I cancelled it.”
Bowser responded with her own tweet: “Yup, I’m Muriel Bowser, mayor of Washington DC, the local politician who finally got thru to the reality star in the White House with the realities ($21.6M) of parades/events/demonstrations in Trump America (sad).”
Donahue said federal officials have been “verbally briefing” the District’s law enforcement and fire and emergency medical services agencies on the evolving Fourth of July plans. However, final details for the event have not been shared, and no cost estimates have been produced.
Terrence W. Gainer, a former executive assistant police chief for the District, said the sudden changes sought by the president will be difficult, but not impossible, to pull off.
“This will be painful to manage,” said Gainer, who oversaw the city’s July 4 security plans in the aftermath of 9/11. However, he said the city’s long experience with hosting protests and large events such as the presidential inauguration showed they could rise to the challenge.
If the president speaks, officers will have to anticipate a boisterous, rally-like atmosphere similar to that of a campaign event, Gainer said. That would require tighter security, with more roads, transit and bridges closed.
“He’s sure to be a gigantic draw,” Gainer said. “There’s going to be a lot more people. . . . It’s just going to be a lot of work. A lot more people to move. A lot more law enforcement. It’s going to be a huge event. Apparently, that’s what [Trump] likes.”
Kim Dine, a former assistant D.C. police chief and former chief of the U.S. Capitol Police, likened preparing for July 4 as “being in a ballet,” with “police as the conductor.”
“There are so many agencies and jurisdictions that have to be coordinated,” he said. “It’s not as simple as locking down this area or that area. There has to be a plan. . . . If the president comes, that adds another host of concerns, in terms of traffic and safety.”
Juliet Eilperin, Josh Dawsey and Marissa Lang contributed to this report.