WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 15: DC mayoral race candidates, Muriel E. Bowser, David A. Catania, and Carol Schwartz prepare to take part in a debate at NBC4 Washington on Wednesday October 15, 2014. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

“I’d rather give up than give in to this

So promise me only one thing, would you?

Just don’t ever make me promises,

No promises.”

“Promises, Promises,” by Incubus

Too late for that. Election Day is around the corner, and the politicians feel compelled to tell us what they think we want to hear, even if it means making promises that can’t be kept.

But set cynicism aside. Assume they mean what they say. Nagging questions remain: What will those promises cost? How will they be paid?

Those concerns were reinforced after I read nearly cover to cover the campaign manifesto of Democratic mayoral nominee Muriel Bowser, “Moving Forward Together: Priorities for the District’s Future”; independent candidate David Catania’s “Vision to Secure Our City’s Future”; and independent Carol Schwartz’s more modest position papers on affordable housing, education and growth.

The worthiness of the promises in those documents is not at issue. Many have value. Some, however, clearly come with huge costs. And many of the price tags are missing.

Let’s start with Schwartz.

Schwartz, a fiscal hawk, makes her share of promises in those position papers. She says she would increase funding for tenant assistance programs, double the funding for the Local Rental Support Program, commit $50 million to jump-start affordable housing programs and offer a “Welcome Back” tax credit to entice former residents to return to the city. She would expand magnet and vocational schools. She also says she would offer incentives to businesses to set up shop in enterprise zones, propose a system that allows large organizations to claim a tax credit for purchasing a percentage of their services and supplies from small, locally owned businesses and support minority business growth through increased funding.


But when it comes to really making promises, make way for Catania.

If elected mayor, Catania promises to: invest more capital funds in the University of the District of Columbia (UDC), create a local low-income housing tax credit and increase funding for the Home Purchase Assistance Program.


He also promises to double down on investments for college access and career training, fund and build a “D.C. Business Portal” to centralize and simplify permitting and licensing processes; expand the D.C. Health Professional Recruitment Program to ensure that every neighborhood has high-quality primary care; and ensure universal access to school nurses for all public school students.

And Catania promises to invest in programs that “help young people grow into productive members of our communities” and provide resources to get former inmates back on their feet. He pledges to invest in emergency preparedness and expand substance-abuse and mental-health treatment, including school-based mental-health services. He promises to “properly resource and empower” the Office on Aging, expand the presence of senior villages throughout the city and provide resources to “sustain this model in low-income communities.” He also wants to increase the investigative capacity of Adult Protective Services.

Catania says he will seek to build an east-west and north-south streetcar system and more priority bus lanes and expand bicycle infrastructure to all areas of the city.


Bowser’s priorities, too, are chock-full of promises.

Bowser says she will, if elected: transform all middle schools by 2020, including “renovation and/or construction of new buildings”; expand early childhood education programs; increase science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) options across the city; provide additional resources to chronically underperforming schools; expand career and technical education; increase investment in UDC and the D.C. Community College; work to double the number of “community schools” in the city; and increase investment in professional development for teachers of students with disabilities.


Bowser also promised to: invest in job creation; target financial support to growing small businesses; invest in new industries through a series of incentives and benefits; and launch a General Services and Public Works Academy.


On public safety, Bowser promised to: bring the police force up to its authorized strength of 4,000; allocate funding for the purchase of body cameras; upgrade and modernize police headquarters and stations across the city; modernize fleet maintenance operations of the Fire and Emergency Services Department; and give that department money to hire more staff.


Bowser cuts loose on the housing and environment fronts. She says she will dedicate $100 million every year to meet the District’s affordable housing production goals; increase resources for single-family rehab programs; improve tax subsidies for longtime residents; double the amount of down-payment assistance under the Home Purchase Assistance Program from $40,000 to $80,000; focus greater public subsidies on mixed-income development; end family homelessness by 2018 and all homelessness by 2025; and make solar power — now prohibitively expensive — accessible and affordable to all residents.

Cha-ching, cha-ching, cha-ching.

And the money to pay for all this?

Promise everything, give them . . .

Read more from Colbert King’s archive.