Though Mayor Muriel Bowser does not face any viable challengers in next week’s Democratic primary, she will have to face several major issues if she wins a second term come November. Key among them are controlling crime, keeping the city’s finances healthy, reducing homelessness and improving our public schools.
In her first three-and-a-half years, she has a strong but mixed record on several of these matters. Over the past few years, serious crime has declined. For the year to date, overall crime is down by 9 percent and violent offenses down by 6 percent compared to the same period in 2017. But a steep rise in homicides this year compared to last — 48 percent — is deeply troubling and requires an effective response. It’s the mayor who appoints the police chief, and it’s her duty to make certain he does a good job. Though the courts and prosecutors are outside her purview, she also oversees many other government services that can help stem violence and provide greater opportunity.
The District’s finances continue to improve, and Mayor Bowser has continued the steady course set by her predecessors. This had led to stronger reserves, an asset that it is important to preserve so we can stay on solid footing even during less-prosperous times.
The mayor deserves credit for her aggressive push to close the decrepit homeless shelter on the grounds of the former D.C. General Hospital and to create new short-term family housing across the city. According to one study, the number of D.C. families experiencing homelessness declined 20.8 percent in the past year and is down 40 percent from the 2016 level. But as the mayor and her appointees recognize, there is still tremendous work ahead — with the urgency visible in the face of every homeless person on the street in our city.
Unfortunately, it’s unclear whether the public schools have improved during the past year or two. They’re clearly in better shape than they were a decade or two ago — when officials had trouble starting the school year on time, and when modern facilities were few and far between. But we now know that students have been graduating who did not deserve a diploma based on attendance policies and other requirements. Investigators say that Marylanders and Virginians are filling almost a third of the seats at Duke Ellington School of the Arts without paying required tuition. The achievement gap remains.
There is no evidence that either James Butler or Ernest Johnson, her opponents in the Democratic primary, has the background to accomplish what Mayor Bowser has done well in her first term — or to improve on the areas where she has fallen short. But we see a strong enough record to say that she has earned Democrats’ support in the June 19 primary.
For D.C. Council chairman
Under the leadership of Phil Mendelson, the D.C. Council has consistently voted to expand the education budget, often over the mayor’s recommendation. He has also brought stability after a raucous, scandal-filled period that resulted in tremendous turnover on the council and even some prison sentences. On a policy level, Mr. Mendelson also coordinated the District’s minimum wage increases with our neighboring Maryland counties to limit the number of District employers who might move there to save money. He led the council to make our income taxes among the most progressive in the country.
This year, Mr. Mendelson faces a challenge from Ed Lazere, himself very experienced in District affairs as the longtime head of the liberal-leaning D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute. Both are well-versed in policy matters. Both want to invest in housing for the homeless and for low-income residents squeezed out by the city’s prosperity, though Mr. Lazere has strongly dismissed the efforts of D.C. leaders so far as wholly inadequate.
But a push for sorely needed human services could easily veer too far.
It’s not so long ago that the District government verged on bankruptcy. Federal government appointees decided what could and could not be done financially.
Though we wish less of the wrangling over budget matters and other legislation would occur behind closed doors or at the last minute without opportunity for public comment, Mr. Mendelson’s leadership has helped usher in continued improvements to our finances, which are now considered to be among the most solid of any large city in the country. Mr. Lazere has criticized these budget policies that have built up the District’s reserves — which we consider essential to save us when the country next faces a major recession. We would not want to see the District government end up short on the resources necessary to operate essential services for all of us, including the homeless and others in dire need.
We urge Democratic voters to nominate Mr. Mendelson for another four-year term in next week’s primary.
For D.C. Council at-large seat
At-large D.C. Council member Anita Bonds was first elected to the council six years ago, but her experience in District affairs stretches far before that. She served in several mayoral administrations, she led a Ward 5 advisory neighborhood commission, and she chaired the D.C. Democratic State Committee — a position she still holds.
Throughout her time in office, she has shown an overriding desire to help improve the lives of D.C. residents. That has been on display in legislation she has introduced and shepherded into law, such as limits on rent increases for low-income seniors and disabled tenants and funding to support the aging-in-place “villages” across the District. It is also on display in the Community Cornerstones Awards she has given to residents, businesses and groups that make a positive impact on the District.
In her re-election bid for the Democratic nomination, Ms. Bonds faces two lesser-known but eager challengers: Jeremiah Lowery, who has worked at the Chesapeake Climate Action Network and Common Cause on various environmental and social issues; and Marcus Goodwin, whose work experience has included the financial services company Morgan Stanley and the real estate firm JBG Cos.
Though we agree with Mr. Lowery on some matters (unlike the other two candidates, for instance, he supports banning political contributions by firms doing business with the city government), we were more impressed with Mr. Goodwin’s breadth of knowledge on key issues such as affordable housing and development. We also believe his considerable business experience — far more than any of the sitting D.C. Council members — would be a major asset.
We only wish he had more governmental experience, perhaps as an advisory neighborhood commissioner. Though many of his responses in our interview were thoughtful and well-crafted, there were quite a few questions where a lack of familiarity showed through.
Ms. Bonds, in contrast, was unstumpable in our interview — hardly surprising given her background and thorough understanding of the issues facing the District. We believe she has earned her party’s nomination for another term.