It is often said a crisis can bring out the best or the worst in people. We are confronting two crises at the same time: the coronavirus pandemic and the murder of George Floyd and the ensuing Black Lives Matter protests.
The protests forced us to face the rampant overuse of force by some members of police departments against Black and Brown members of the community. At the same time the pandemic forced us to recognize the healthcare discrepancies faced by Black and Brown communities and the economic inequality that exists often bringing them about.
Polling makes it clear the nation sees that in Trump, these crises have brought out the worst. D.C. is fortunate the crises have brought out the best in our mayor. Muriel Bowser has stepped up to the plate and made residents proud. She has shown herself a leader and handled both crises with a steady hand. She has had the help of some of the best people in her administration, and we must recognize they are people she chose, who have also stepped up. They include among many others the Director of the Department of Health Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt; acting Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development John Falcicchio (also doing double duty as the mayor’s chief of staff); Chief of Police Peter Newsham; and Jeff Marootian, director of the Department of Transportation.
Because D.C. is not a state, the mayor walks a fine line. D.C. is in many ways under the control of the federal government. Often that means Trump. Our budgets and legislation need congressional approval and the president controls our National Guard and, in an emergency, could take over the police. So when the mayor chastised the president she had to be careful not to harm discussions she was having simultaneously with parts of the administration and Congress. She has walked that line brilliantly; including when she had BLACK LIVES MATTER painted in huge yellow letters on 16th Street leading to the White House. It was like giving Trump our middle finger. Then she named the area in front of Lafayette Park and the White House “Black Lives Matter Plaza.” Bowser also spoke out forcefully about keeping federal troops out of D.C., insisting the National Guard the president brought in from other states be removed.
At the same time, Bowser dealt daily with the coronavirus pandemic, facing a nearly complete shutdown of the economy and having to submit a totally revised budget to the Council. Her daily press conferences reporting to the residents gave comprehensive updates on the pandemic’s impact on each neighborhood and also explaining there would be a $750 million budget shortfall this year and an $800 million one next year. She has committed to try to address some of the inequalities rampant in D.C. between east and west. Because the mayor has been leading the city well there was an over $300 million surplus from the previous year so the impact of the cuts won’t be as drastic as they are in many other cities. While not everyone agrees with her response to the cry to “defund police,” she is being rational and standing strong for what she believes is best for the District. Many agree with her and some don’t. I hope the Council will rise to the occasion and work with the mayor to come to an agreement on this without individual members of the Council trying to grandstand for headlines. This discussion needs to be held in an open and systematic way taking into consideration the views and needs of all the people of the District.
In recent weeks, Mayor Bowser has appeared on numerous national television shows including “Meet the Press,” the “Today” show, and “ABC World News Tonight.” She has acquitted herself well and her ability to speak knowledgably and in a way people can understand has brought new and positive attention to D.C. Contrary to the opinion of some Republicans like out-of-touch Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) who spoke out against the winning vote for statehood for the District in the House by attacking the mayor, many like me are proud she is our mayor and would be proud to call her governor.
Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.