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For an election year oration, her remarks were brief, clocking in at just over 30 minutes.
Then again, no viable candidate has emerged to challenge her position at the top of D.C. For local Democrats, the window of opportunity to do so will close in less than one week.
On Thursday evening, Mayor Muriel Bowser delivered her annual State of the District Address at UDC, the District’s only public university. She brimmed with self-confidence.
“The District is doing so well that I am the envy of mayors across the U.S.,” said Bowser, who is up for re-election this year in the June Democratic primary. But, she added, “we don’t take our growth and prosperity for granted,” including a resurgence in population.
D.C.’s unofficial 700,000th resident—a baby boy named Kooper—was in the audience with his mother, Janille Thompson. As a Ward 7 resident, she introduced the mayor.
Bowser pitched a vision of the District that balances basic good governance with future ambitions. “As we stay focused on the day-to-day—the trash pickup, the rat abatement, the pothole repairs—we’re also focused on exploring the big ideas that will keep D.C. moving forward and at the forefront of innovation and change,” she said. What ideas?
Autonomous vehicles, a Hyperloop that would connect cities along the East Coast, and tech companies like Yelp that would provide D.C. “good-paying jobs for years to come.”
But Bowser didn’t mention Amazon, whose second headquarters her administration is trying to attract through tax breaks, tax credits, and other, still undisclosed incentives.
She also didn’t offer detailed ways to address the root causes of recent education scandals that have tarnished the stature of D.C. Public Schools, like improper graduation rates, potential residency fraud, and pressure on teachers and administrators to doctor data.
The former DCPS chancellor’s resignation due to a school lottery abuse didn’t come up, either. Nor did how her administration plans to search for a new permanent chancellor. Nor did investigations into school issues by the federal government and local agencies.
“There have been bumps in the road. Frankly, there have been some pretty big bumps,” Bowser said of the District’s education system. “But now the Band-Aid has been ripped off, and we understand better than ever the challenges we face.” She said “there is trust that needs to be rebuilt between our school system and parents” through accountability.
Earlier in March, Bowser said she wouldn’t testify at a hearing about the circumstances surrounding the exit of the ex-chancellor, Antwan Wilson—that is, if one ever occurs. She told theWashington Post editorial board that it would likely be a “political circus.”
Before her speech, a diverse coalition of about three dozen advocacy, faith, and union groups rallied against “money for Amazon,” inequality, and the uprooting of longtime residents that a shortage of affordable housing is spurring, despite public investments.
These activists held handmade signs outside UDC’s Theater of the Arts on Connecticut Avenue NW, where Bowser’s speech took place. Inside, some heckled the mayor when she touted her efforts to produce affordable housing and close the D.C. General shelter.
Some advocates for low-income and homeless residents say Bowser hasn’t done enough to stem the related tides of gentrification and displacement sweeping across the District.
In her address, Bowser said her administration “has delivered more than 5,300 units of affordable housing” and plans to “deliver at least another 10,000” in the next five years.
She pointed to a 2014 campaign promise to replace D.C. General with smaller facilities, three of which are anticipated to launch later this year, according to the administration. Homeless advocates say all the replacement shelters should be open before D.C. General shutters so families face minimal disruption—otherwise, some families may end up at hotel sites.
“I know some folks think we’re moving too quickly, or that we’re only trying to free up land,” Bowser stated. “But let me say this: When it comes to closing D.C. General, we cannot move fast enough. That shelter is an embarrassment to our city, and I will not be the mayor who passed up an opportunity to demolish it. That has been my plan” always.
The District included the land on which D.C. General sits in its Amazon bid, though the administration denies any link between the January closure announcement and the bid.
Bowser plugged the D.C. Infrastructure Academy, which opened earlier this week in Ward 8 and is meant to train residents for careers with utility companies. She also mentioned a development in Ward 8 to be unveiled later this year: “a partnership to build a new hospital on the St. Elizabeths campus,” offering residents decent healthcare.
“Councilmember [Vince] Gray and I won’t accept anything less,” Bowser said, naming the Ward 7 representative and former D.C. mayor whom she unseated from office while federal prosecutors investigated Gray’s 2010 campaign finances. Gray was not charged.
He chairs the Council’s health committee and has been conducting probing oversight of United Medical Center, D.C.’s only public hospital as well as the only hospital east of the Anacostia River. Gray has not said whether he will run against Bowser this year, but on Wednesday night he delivered his own Ward 7 speech and criticized parts of her record.
At her event, Bowser turned briefly to national politics. She said Congress should fund a D.C. tuition assistance program that is now on the chopping block in Donald Trump’s proposed budget. She additionally spoke in support of the Affordable Care Act, the Paris Climate Accord, and immigration policies like one that helps many Salvadorans in D.C.
Bowser said she intends to travel El Salvador in July “to begin a Sister City relationship,” adding: “As President Trump builds walls, we will continue to strengthen relationships.”
But she expressed the greatest ire toward Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who sponsors a bill that would gut D.C.’s gun laws thanks to the District’s unique status with Congress. She cited the mass school shooting last month in Parkland as well as local gun violence.
“It is bad enough,” Bowser said, “that Senator Rubio is the worst example of saying one thing to his constituents at home and doing another thing here in Washington. What makes this legislation particularly egregious is that he continues to move it forward even as he calls for more sensible gun control nationwide. That, my friends, is hypocrisy in action. And that, my friends, is what it looks like when you legislate without values.”
You can read the entirety of her speech as prepared below.
This post has been updated.