Get our free newsletter
Muriel Bowser has streetcar jokes. At Tuesday night’s State of the District address, the mayor happily pointed to a problem that wasn’t her fault.
If the mayor had a buck for every person who asked her a dumb question about being mayor, she could fund the entire streetcar line. But hands off, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY).
“Now, we can make fun of the streetcar,” Bowser said. “But we’re not gonna take it from a senator from Kentucky!”
No wonder Bowser loves the streetcar. It’s the rare problem she can’t take the blame for. Everywhere else, it’s been less than smooth.
While the last two mayors bear most of the bill for the $200 million streetcar, Bowser has presided over her own problems. Bowser’s first State of the District promised a “fresh start” after the Vince Gray administration. Now, however, voters can actually blame Bowser—and there’s no shortage of gripes.
Bowser’s fire department medical director quit and put bodies on her administration, while her allies face a walloping at the primaries. LL would lean on streetcar jokes, too.
Bowser scaled down the venue for her sophomore speech. Last year, she delivered her address at U Street NW’s Lincoln Theatre, which seats more than 1,000; she gave this year’s speech at Southwest’s Arena Stage, in a venue that seats half that.
Tickets went fast. People who missed out complained to LL that tickets were gone as soon as they were announced.
That’s convenient when you’re facing a lot of people angry about a plan to close the D.C. General homeless shelter, replacing that decrepit, dangerous shelter with smaller locations in seven wards. Naturally, the plan has angered some site neighbors, as well as those who say that it’s way too expensive or benefits the site owners who double as Bowser donors.
Outside the theater, a handful of protesters waited for Bowser. They griped, accurately, that Bowser’s plan would offer shelter in some neighborhoods for thousands of dollars more than an average apartment in the neighborhood.
Bowser’s protesters also brought a cartoon: The mayor, facing reports that the plan benefits her donors, cowers under her desk. But Bowser had her own jabs, saying in her speech that shelter location opponents “have said vicious things.” If opponents foil even one planned site, according to Bowser’s remarks, they could leave the dismal shelter open for good.
“They’ve threatened those who are trying to carry it out—literally,” Bowser said.
(A mayoral staffer speaking on background tells LL that Bowser was referring to shelter opponents posting personal information about government officials involved in the plan online, as well as an alleged uninvited visit by a project opponent to an official’s home.)
In her other speeches, Bowser has been as subtly combative as ex-Mayor Vince Gray, throwing coded signals about what angers her and what doesn’t. But at the SODA, the mayor struck a conciliatory tone, mentioning all 13 councilmembers with varying degrees of praise. She even celebrated Gray’s beloved construction cranes, touting them as future jobs for the city.
Bowser’s supporters like Metro Chairman and Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans got hefty slabs of beef (“Metro’s new mayor!”), but so did typical foes like Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh, Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie, and At-Larger David Grosso.
D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, who has frequently sided with Bowser antagonists, earned a standing ovation. Maybe the most veiled compliment of the night came when Bowser said At-Large Councilmember Elissa Silverman, who has proposed a city-spending cap on the Wizards practice facility, would someday hold a job fair at the new building.
Bowser wants to make new friends because she could lose a few old ones soon, depending on the outcomes of four June Council races. Bowser’s favorites are threatened in Ward 7 and Ward 8; they’re at least competitively challenged in Ward 4 and at-large.
Even one or two losses could tip the balance of the Council towards Mendelson and Attorney General Karl Racine. With her first year’s plans under attack, Bowser proposed new ones Tuesday night.
Bowser said she will send legislation to the Council pitching a $15-an-hour minimum wage by 2020, after a similar ballot referendum became bogged down in court. And she pitched a takeover of the D.C. Jail’s entire operations, a move that should please sentencing reform activists.
Bowser might have the easiest time handling the city, thanks to a years-long boom. But her promises at the State of the District didn’t deflect LL’s impression that she might become the District mayor who spends the most while getting the least.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery