For those who still cling to the notion that things don’t change politically in the District of Columbia I suggest they look again. Three years ago, no one would have believed that we would have a new young mayor with only seven years in government and a City Council with the majority having been there for less than three years. The Bowser era, as I predict it will be called, could be great for the District of Columbia.
With the passing of Marion Barry there will be eight members of the Council with less than three years tenure. They include current members David Grosso, Anita Bonds and Kenyan McDuffie and three who will be sworn in for the first time on Jan. 1: Brianne Nadeau, Charles Allen and Elissa Silverman. In the beginning of 2015, two more will be elected to fill open seats. One in Ward 8 left by Barry’s death, and the Ward 4 seat, which will be open when Bowser gets sworn in as mayor. Add a first-time independent attorney general, Karl Racine, and it’s clearly a new era.
While departing Mayor Vince Gray has left the city in good shape, it will be a challenging time. We face continued cuts in federal funding. We are also looking at the turmoil in the nation exemplified by what happened in Ferguson, Missouri. That event will surely have an impact in the nation’s capital. There are already indications that our newly elected leaders are listening to the people and moving forward in positive ways.
Bowser has run an open and transparent transition team and by all accounts the current administration is working hard to make the transition seamless. While Bowser has yet to name any major players, the talk coming out of the transition office is she is seriously looking to find the most qualified people and not fill an administration with patronage. Cathy Lanier, who will continue at MPD, has instituted a review of various body cams for the police and the mayor-elect has committed to a strong focus on early childhood education and job training.
The Council committees chaired by Bowser and McDuffie worked together and passed a modified version of the deal for a new soccer stadium the Gray administration put together. They acted wisely and took the Reeves Municipal Center out of the deal and passed what the Gray administration agreed was an alternative to use eminent domain to get the land they need. While all agree that the Reeves Center has past its useful life, the land on which it sits is more valuable than what was suggested in the original stadium deal. Selling it separately could still finance a new municipal center in Anacostia that could help spur the kind of positive economic change in that community that the Reeves Center did in the U Street corridor.
Bowser has made a commitment to the people of Southeast D.C. that she will focus on the rebirth of that community and the needs of people living there. While change is never easy, it is crucial to the continued development of the District that we ensure the kind of growth that will provide living wage jobs, decent affordable housing, a great education and the chance for a better future for all. The changes need to respect the needs of those persons now living there and also provide the kind of services that will entice more people to move there. We know that some of the most beautiful land in the District is in Anacostia and the Bowser administration along with the Council have the opportunity to develop a plan for its growth.
Bowser has shown she can work with the community in Ward 4 when developing the plan for the Walter Reed site. She understands that step one is always bringing the community together to determine what they want and need. Step two can bring in developers to see how to get it done rather than the other way around. Bowser understands if change is to be successful and welcomed, the community must have buy-in.
D.C. has seen incredible growth in the last 15 years. Our economy is changing and slowly moving away from being totally reliant on the federal government. We need to continue that change and continue to attract the 1,000 new people a month that have been moving here. At the same time we need our government to renew its focus on those who have lived here for decades and have not benefitted equally from changes that have taken place. We all need to support our new mayor and Council who have the chance to get it right.