Public safety and schools. Those two issues are key to the health of any city, and they explain in large part why the District of Columbia rebounded from its hard times in the 1990s to thrive. Mayor Anthony Williams (D) overhauled police and strengthened city services; Mayor Adrian Fenty (D) reformed schools.
With the District again emerging from hard times — an unprecedented pandemic that has upended every aspect of life in the city — those areas have taken on renewed importance and, as before, the future of the city will depend upon the actions of the person voters choose as their next mayor. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) has provided capable and steady leadership, made all the more remarkable by the fact that a year into her second term the global covid-19 pandemic hit. Her sure-footed response — executing a shutdown of the city virtually overnight, setting up testing and quarantine sites, overseeing a vaccination effort with a high rate of participation, navigating a reopening of D.C. that put students back in the classroom — makes her uniquely qualified to continue to lead the city as it seeks to come back from the difficulties of the past two years. In addition to her deft handling of the pandemic, Ms. Bowser can point to success in reducing homelessness, investing in affordable housing and — no small feat — standing up to then-President Donald Trump and his threats against the city.
Ms. Bowser faces challenges from two D.C. Council members — At-Large member Robert C. White Jr. and Ward 8 member Trayon White Sr. — and a third opponent, former Ward 5 commissioner James Butler, in the June 21 Democratic primary. Robert White has done admirable work on behalf of returning citizens, and Trayon White has been a passionate advocate for the underserved residents east of the river. But neither is equipped to deal with the challenges that lie ahead, and they are on the wrong side of the critical issues of public safety and schools. Both voted to cut police funding — over the mayor’s protests. Trayon White favors a retreat from mayoral control of schools, and Robert White’s confusing and sometimes conflicting answers on the topic should be cause for concern.
Third terms can be perilous for mayors. Ms. Bowser said she is aware of that and will guard against complacency and staleness. She needs to take to heart some of the criticism of her administration — such as how it botched the operation of its forensic lab and turned a blind eye to the conditions at the D.C. jail. Her relations with other parts of the government — the council and attorney general — need repair, and we would urge Ms. Bowser, if reelected, to make the first move. But, third terms can also be times for big things to happen when mayors have the knowledge and experience to tackle problems and undertake initiatives they might not have attempted in their first or second term. We have confidence in Ms. Bowser and urge voters to reelect her.