Last week Mayor Bowser went to the University of the District of Columbia to deliver her State of the District speech. The school is a symbol of the District in many ways and its ups and downs mirror those of the District. Today, like the District, it’s on the upswing.
The mayor has been doing a good job and it’s only gotten more complicated since the election of Trump and the Republican Congress. She has to work with them even if she shares the view of many of us that they are a collective disaster. The threat posed by Trump and Congress could impact a host of services. Any decrease in HUD’s Community Block Grant program could have a devastating impact on affordable housing here. Cuts in Medicaid and other programs at HHS and the dismantling of EPA will impact us as well. The mayor continues to walk that tightrope between working with the feds and the President and opposing what he is doing. She spoke out about keeping DC a Sanctuary City and fought against Congress when they tried to interfere with our legislative initiatives. She flew back early from Austin where she was promoting the city to meet with the President and explain to him how the city and metro work hand-in-glove with OPM during a snow emergency. She coordinated the smooth functioning of the federal and local public safety agencies and the White House during the inauguration and the women’s march and stood tall speaking out and welcoming the nearly one million participants at that march.
One of the biggest issues we face is ensuring the survivability of Metro. The mayor was right to call out Governors McAuliffe and Hogan on their unwillingness to act and instead asking for more studies on what we already know; Metro needs an infusion of cash from the federal government and a reliable stream of income from Maryland, Virginia and the District. The mayor proposed a good one; a one cent sales tax increase.
The mayor is justifiably proud of the budget she will present to the Council, which continues her commitment to set aside a minimum of $100 million a year for affordable housing. She can take credit for the clean audit the District received with no yellow book findings meaning there are no material weaknesses in the city’s procurement, hiring, payment or other critical government systems.
While 2015 saw a spike in homicides that trend has now been reversed. There are many reasons, not the least being smarter policing. The mayor also focused on communities that had seen higher incidences of homicides and violent crime. In 2016 there was a 10% decrease in all violent crime, a 17% reduction in homicides and a 13% reduction in robberies. In addition the Mayor announced for the first time in 20 years there’s no private entity running any part of the DC jail. She announced her next step will be to replace the jail with a facility focusing on the type of re-entry services that will make us all safer.
The mayor and I don’t agree on school vouchers; she supports, while I oppose. But she has continued to oversee improvement in our public education system where DCPS students are making new strides. The mayor’s new chancellor is apparently off to a good start.
One of the most vexing problems in D.C. is the unequal distribution of the benefits of our improving economy. The mayor announced a five-year economic development strategy to take on this issue aiming for inclusive prosperity. She sets a goal of increasing the economic prosperity of African Americans and specifically focuses on reducing double-digit African-American unemployment. While unemployment in Ward 8 was 16.8 percent when she took office and is now at 12.5 percent that is still nearly three times higher than it is in Ward 3. Her plans include expanding training programs for D.C. residents for government jobs like LEAP, Fire and EMS and MPD cadet programs, including requiring D.C. residency for more higher salary jobs in government. The District is also partnering with UDC, WMATA, DC Water, leading infrastructure companies like Washington Gas and Pepco, labor unions, and trade associations to create the District of Columbia Infrastructure Academy.
She created the Green Book of Opportunities listing goods and services D.C. government procures intent on procuring more of them from D.C.-owned and based businesses.
The mayor deserves support for these efforts to improve our city for everyone.
Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBT rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.