President Trump’s governing style seems to have brushed off on D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser. If so, she’s not having much luck with it.
Trump is well known for bulldozing ahead with his agenda, showing little regard for Congress or anybody else. Bowser (D) has tried to deal in the same way with the D.C. Council. But, there’s a difference.
Trump faces a Congress chock-full of servile Republicans too scared to run afoul of his rabid political base. Bowser, on the other hand, has lukewarm voter support, which undercuts her clout with the council. For proof, look no further than Tuesday’s legislative meeting, when council members, led by Chairman Phil Mendelson (D), had their way with Bowser’s proposed fiscal 2020 budget, cutting and reshuffling it to a fare-thee-well.
The council’s rebuff of the Democratic mayor, however, should come as no surprise given the results of last year’s election.
To recall: Bowser, facing only token opposition, cruised to victory, capturing 76 percent of the votes for mayor last November. But her performance was anemic when compared with the votes garnered by other winners in the seven citywide races.
Among them, she landed third from the bottom. She trailed the leader, Attorney General Karl A. Racine, by almost 36,000 votes. She brought up the rear behind Mendelson, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) and even “Shadow U.S. Representative” Franklin Garcia (D) and “Shadow Senator” Michael D. Brown (D). Tens of thousands of voters decided to skip over her name on the ballot.
That’s not the worst part.
In an unprecedented move, last November Bowser went all out to defeat her political nemesis, incumbent council member Elissa Silverman, for the independent at-large seat — throwing boatloads of money, volunteers and her own personal time behind a Bowser surrogate, political novice Dionne Reeder.
The council member handily beat Reeder in six out of eight wards, even trouncing Reeder by a nearly 2-to-1 vote in Ward 4, which is Bowser’s home turf.
Bowser’s weakness at the polls was laid bare by the council’s treatment of her budget.
They killed Bowser’s plan to keep the Circulator bus rides free indefinitely. A plea by her chief of staff, John Falcicchio’s, to keep the freebie rolling (it’s “a priority for folks who ride it”) brought chuckles. Who wouldn’t love a free ride?
The council also:
●delayed funding for Bowser’s much-ballyhooed $122 million redesign of K Street NW to make getting around downtown easier;
●voted to close the city’s financially struggling United Medical Center within four years, turning aside Bowser’s request for $40 million to keep the hospital open;
●whacked $10 million from her Housing Production Trust Fund but added $7.1 million for housing vouchers;
●rejected Bowser’s proposal to bring the independent DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities under her authority and with it control over spending decisions;
● strengthened the hand of the D.C. attorney general in crime fighting by adding $3.8 million to Bowser’s budget for the AG’s use in violence interruption and crime prevention programs.
Perhaps the council’s most audacious act of the day, however, was the rejection of Bowser’s proposal, by a 7-to-6 vote, to build a new campus for the elite and top-rated Benjamin Banneker Academic High School on vacant property in the booming Shaw neighborhood.
Bowser’s budget had included more than $100 million to relocate Banneker, which serves a mostly black student body, to the empty Shaw site. Shaw families, in a gentrified neighborhood that is experiencing a baby boom, claim they were promised a stand-alone middle school on that site, which now has a dog and skate park.
Banneker students have been making their case for a new school, citing the lack of space for sports and other activities at the current location.
Wrote Bowser to the council members: “After weeks of protests in Shaw against gentrification and displacement,” she was “shocked” that seven members had signed a letter telling Banneker students, families and staff that “they need to stay put in their current location.”
Alex Padro, a 10-term advisory neighborhood commissioner in central Shaw, said making gentrification the issue was “totally unconscionable and is not supported by facts,” and he accused Bowser of “ throwing these communities against each other.”
In her May 16 newsletter, Bowser again denounced the rejection, asking, “Who will stand up for the families and students who know that, for years, Banneker has served as a unique source of opportunity for black students, particularly our young, black women, in Washington, DC?”
Padro’s claim notwithstanding, the gentrification issue is not a myth. A contributor to #backbannekersmove wrote, “The same Shaw residents that are walking their dogs on Howard University’s campus are the same people who are trying to block . . . Banneker High School in Shaw.” There it is.
The council takes a final stand on the budget later this month, so there may be time for Bowser do-overs on several items. Maybe.
Heard somewhere in the background: Elections have consequences.
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