This toddler had some tough opinions on Muriel Bowser. Standing outside the Congress Heights Metro station, the baby carried a sign saying “#IDFWU, Muriel Bowser.” For the hashtag-illiterate, that’s “I don’t ___ with you,” with the “F” being a word LL hopes a baby doesn’t know.
That child—or at least the sign-making parent—represents a problem for the mayor, and they marched with roughly a hundred other problems for Bowser’s young administration Tuesday night in Congress Heights to oppose Bowser’s new crime bill.
Unlike previous Black Lives Matter-centered marches in the District, Bowser and her crime bill—with its warrantless search provisions—were at the center of this protest. As the march headed towards the 7th District police headquarters on Alabama Avenue SE, protesters carried signs that declared Bowser “know[s] better” and, cribbing a line from Nicki Minaj’s feud with Miley Cyrus, asked “Muriel Bowser, what’s good?”
After months of glowing national TV interviews, stadium announcements, and electoral wins, Bowser is hitting a rough patch. And she isn’t just getting heat from the streets. Instead, Tuesday night’s protest comes as part of a wave of opposition to Bowser from both outside the Wilson Building and inside it.
Ward 7 resident and protester Travis Ballie tells LL he started out as a fan of Bowser’s administration. On Tuesday night, though, he carried a sign declaring Bowser’s bill—referring to it by its official number in the D.C. Council’s legislative system—was “that -ish I don’t like.”
Another sign listed Bowser’s big campaign donors, like developers Blue Skye Construction and Chris Donatelli. “How can Bowser fight for the people,” the sign asked, “if she is paid by big business?”
In other words: This is getting personal.
Ballie and his fellow protesters have an unlikely ally on the D.C. Council dais. Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie—who has managed to be one of the Council’s least predictable members when it comes to Bowser’s agenda—opposes parts of Bowser’s bill. The most controversial part of the legislation would let police conduct warrantless searches of violent offenders on probation or parole.
That makes McDuffie the surprising ideological ally of Eugene Puryear, the socialist and former at-large candidate who crashed Bowser’s announcement of the crime plan in August. Thanks to McDuffie’s opposition, the warrantless searches will likely die in the Council.
It’s a little stunning to LL that Bowser, who helped elect two of her closest associates to Council seats in special elections earlier this year, is having so much trouble pushing through her public safety bill after a summer of homicides. But McDuffie and the protesters aren’t the only ones giving the mayor a hard time lately.
Instead, much of the flak the mayor has taken lately is a result of FreshPAC, the political action committee associated with her “Green Team” coterie of political operatives and well-heeled donors.
The PAC has managed to raise more than $300,000 in six months. Led by Bowser associates like treasurer Ben Soto, lawyer Thorn Pozen, and Chico Horton, a pal of former Mayor Adrian Fenty, it’s meant to support Bowser’s agenda, which will likely translate next year into backing Council candidates who will go along with the mayor.
FreshPAC has an advantage that regular candidate committees don’t. As long as it doesn’t support candidates this year (and there aren’t any to support until next year’s primary), the PAC can take unlimited contributions from individuals and corporations.
In a ward race, the maximum contribution to a candidate is $500. One FreshPAC donor, on the other hand, gave $20,000 in a single contribution. FreshPAC offers Bowser the opportunity to put compliant councilmembers on the dais and threaten incumbents, bolstered by even more than the usual fundraising advantages that come with being mayor.
That doesn’t sit well with the kind of councilmembers that Bowser could choose to target when they’re up for re-election, like D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson. At-Large Councilmember David Grosso, whose upcoming 2016 campaign offers an intriguing target for a Green Team takeover, co-introduced a bill Tuesday that would stop FreshPAC from taking unlimited contributions in non-election years.
Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh, who along with Grosso has become one of Bowser’s most persistent Council opponents, co-introduced the bill. From the dais, Cheh framed FreshPAC as only the latest in a series of alleged Bowser misdeeds, from land deals advantageous to developers to the administration’s settlement over the Pepco and Exelon utilities merger. An exercised Cheh, who previously compared the Pepco deal to trading Manhattan for beads, asked whether the District was becoming Tammany Hall.
“I think it’s about time now that we should be asking, ‘What’s going on in the District of Columbia?’” Cheh said.
Bowser spokesman Michael Czin says he isn’t concerned about the mayor’s recent problems.
“It’s safe to say that folks have a thick skin, and we remain focused,” Czin says.
Indeed, Grosso and Cheh have good reason to oppose more money flowing to Bowser-backed candidates. What’s most surprising for LL, though, is how the Washington Post editorial board—normally the Green Team’s most loyal scribes—has turned on the mayor over FreshPAC.
In theory, the Post’s opinion set should be thrilled that Bowser will have more money to install her school reform-minded candidates. They’ve been on board with the Green Team since Fenty, and they backed her picks in the special elections. But on Sunday, the Post urged Bowser to disband FreshPAC. The PAC, the Post moaned, “undermines” Bowser’s promise to give the city a “fresh start” after the federal investigation into Vince Gray.
The Post’s anguish reminds LL of put-upon medieval peasants assuring themselves that their beloved king can’t be behind their woes. No, the thinking goes, it has to be his treacherous advisors.
Making that comparison a little on the nose, Post columnist Colby King wailed this week that Bowser needs “a true friend” to save her from the inequities of her cronies in FreshPAC.
Good luck. After the recent wave of opposition, LL thinks Bowser has a few fewer friends to choose from.
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Photo by Darrow Montgomery