DC’s election is a status quo referendum against the Liberal reshuffle

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For eight years, DC Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) led the nation’s capital through booming economic growth, rapid gentrification, a viral pandemic, a revolt for racial justice before a hostile White House to control of the district on its own police force – then an insurrection in the heart of the city where these same policemen rushed to save the democratic institutions of the nation.

Throughout it all, when the country’s attention turned to the district, Bowser, calm and cautious, was the face of the town.

Now DC voters are deciding whether to make Bowser the only mayor other than Marion Barry, once the legendary ‘mayor for life’, to be elected three times – or to vote her out in favor of one of her leftist opponents, who say it has made the city less livable for its longtime residents by failing to curb rising violent crime and soaring housing costs.

Bowser as the next “mayor for life”? She will also need the support of the lukewarm.

“It’s a choice between the status quo, which is a more centrist type of Democratic politics, and the progressive wing,” said Derek Hyra, a professor at American University and author of “Race, Class and Politics in the Cappuccino City”. The district has flourished economically under Bowser’s leadership, Hyra noted, but at the same time “it continues to grow unevenly.”

Analysts say what’s at stake for DC voters in the primary resembles debates among Democrats across the country, where more centrist candidates have clashed with leftists over how best to address key issues. The national mood has changed in the two years since the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, a time when many Democratic lawmakers have vowed to explore alternatives to policing or cut the financing of the departments in the local budgets. In November, New York voters elected former police chief Eric Adams as mayor, despite objections from the city’s liberal bloc to his tough-on-crime policies. In famed liberal San Francisco, voters recalled leftist school board members.

In addition to the mayoral race, the city’s three ward-level competitions council races and the race for council president all reflect the district’s version of moderate vs. liberal Democrat fights, with council and mayoral candidates staking positions on police (hiring more vs. rethinking their jobs), housing (subsidize development versus approaches that rely less on private enterprise) and schools (strict mayoral control or relaxation) that reflect national divides. And in the heavily Democratic district, the Democratic primary effectively decides the outcome of the November election for most races.

Bowser, who has long been a moderate Democrat, drew worldwide attention for painting ‘Black Lives Matter’ in huge yellow letters on the street outside Trump’s White House after Floyd’s murder – but never did. embraced the movement’s “defund the police” goals. A harsh critic of the DC Council’s modest police funding cut in 2020, Bowser has funneled millions more into policing in each of the past two years and pledged to dramatically increase the size of the police force during his next term.

She has courted developers building new housing across the city, spending $1 billion to subsidize the creation of designated affordable units in those buildings. She also defends the city’s current public education structure, which places her firmly in charge of the school system and a large number of chartered institutions.

DC’s development skyrocketed under Bowser. The same goes for housing costs.

Two council members run to his left: Robert C. White Jr., who has held a seat on the City Council for six years and whose chief legislative achievement was giving inmates the right to vote in DC elections, and Trayon White Sr., a strong advocate for the city’s poorest neighborhood, which he represents on the council.

Trayon White and Robert White are skeptical of Bowser’s plan to hire more police officers and focus their own crime reduction plans on alternatives such as professional violence interrupters. Both have vowed to weaken the mayor’s control over the school system, giving more oversight power to independent authorities. They expressed discomfort with Bowser’s kindness to developers and explored alternative housing development strategies, such as community land trusts.

DC mayor’s budget would expand police ranks amid crime concerns

(A fourth candidate, a former ward commissioner and disbarred lawyer named James Butler, won 10% of the vote when he challenged Bowser in a far less competitive election in 2018, but failed to win major support. , fundraiser or name recognition this year. )

The candidates have taken different positions on a host of local issues, some of which do not fit neatly into the national framework of moderates versus liberals. Robert White backs upcoming ballot initiative to pay workers full minimum wage before tips; Trayon White and Bowser object. Bowser and Trayon White want the scandal-ridden Washington Commanders football team back in the district, in a new complex to be built atop the aging RFK Stadium site; Robert White does not. Robert White wants to open more public boarding schools. Trayon White wants to drastically reduce fines for traffic violations.

But for many DC voters, kitchen table issues such as housing costs, education and public safety are the main concerns. Crime and housing topped the list when the Washington Post asked residents about their top issues in February, the latest poll available. Since then, the education-focused group Democrats for Education Reform DC – a branch of a national group that has chapters in seven states and the district — has become by far the biggest outside spender in the election, fueling conversations about DFER’s support for Bowser and council candidate Eric Goulet due of their adhesion to the control and the charter of the mayor schools. Opponents of Bowser and Goulet, some of whom are against mayoral control and charter schools, have criticized the group’s $1 million campaign spending.

Bowser’s wish for better colleges fails in DC’s poorest neighborhoods

Voters’ desire for more police or a strong hand at the helm of the school system could fuel a desire to avoid big changes at the polls.

“If people think the streets aren’t safe, or they’ve seen a change in homelessness or violent crime, even progressives can elect someone who represents a strategy that some consider moderate,” he said. Hyra said. “It’s something in play in our city and relevant to the rest of the nation.”

Others note that voters who see increased crime and expensive rents under Bowser are ready to explore change after eight years.

William Craig, a 36-year-old freelance writer, is among those looking for something new. After voting in early voting at the Cleveland Park Library along DC’s busy Connecticut Avenue corridor this week, he said he thought Bowser made big promises but didn’t deliver on them. outfits – citing, for example, the fact that homelessness remains an issue even though it was among Bowser’s top campaign priorities before he first took office.

In the eight years since, she has brought homelessness to its lowest level in 17 years and reduced family homelessness by almost 80%, but Craig still says she hasn’t. failed — especially when he sees the homeless encampments that have proliferated even as Bowser dismantled some of them.

“I would like to see more attention paid to the homeless. I would like care to be more accessible to them. It’s a promise I don’t think she kept. She made a lot of statements that were really bold,” Craig said. When he spoke to Robert White, on the contrary: “He made me see the future, see the hope of a slightly better future. White won his vote.

Bowser promised to end homelessness. Here’s how it goes.

Bowser’s supporters praised her for her consistent leadership during a tumultuous time. “Muriel did a good job…I think she’s trying. She takes care of people. There haven’t been many big scandals. Overall, I think the city is in a good place,” said Andrew Russell, 79, a Ward 5 resident. He finds local politics a relief from the large-scale harms he sees in the national policy and wants it to continue.

Joanne Craig, 54, voted for Bowser because she felt Bowser was most likely to support the city’s police force, which Craig had worked for for more than 30 years. Craig expressed concern that national ideas critical of the police were entering local politics. “I am really concerned about the way the police department is being treated. It appears that the council, a majority if not all, voted to defund the police. she says. “Even after everything they went through on January 6, they didn’t seem to want to support them.”

Some of Craig’s neighbors east of the Anacostia River, in the city’s poorer neighborhoods, feel that Bowser has neglected their needs. Theresa Wilkey, a home care aide, voted for her ward council member, Trayon White, for mayor, noting her propensity for rushing to the scene of violent incidents in the neighborhood. “I know him from the neighborhood. He seems to help a lot of old people in the neighborhood, and a lot of young people too,” Wilkey, 65, said. help. to everybody.”

Wilkey received his ballot in the mail and dropped it off in a drop box at the Deanwood Library this week. This primary is the first in which the city has mailed a ballot to every registered Democrat, rather than requiring voters to request mail-in ballots. That, too, observers say, could change the type of Democrats who enter the contest — although no one is quite sure how the extra access to the ballot might change the outcome.

“DC is super blue. We’re just different shades of blue,” said Charles E. Wilson, chairman of the DC Democratic Party. “Voters here decide whether the city is moving in the right direction under Bowser, or whether there needs to be a change in approach — and whether one of his three challengers is the right leader to implement that change.”


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