On Tuesday, Muriel Bowser worked hard for her mandate. She danced to Nirvana at a pre-dawn rally, mixing with Vince Gray loyalists whom she’d welcomed into her campaign for the general election. She dipped into Ward 6, hardly guaranteed to be rich territory for the Ward 4 councilmember, to eat with defeated primary foe Tommy Wells. She took enough selfies for a dozen Instagram accounts. She publicly thanked the old enemies and future political obstacles that make up the city’s Democratic establishment. And then, when the results showed her beating David Catania by 20 points, she danced again—this time to unofficial campaign theme song “Girl on Fire.”
Taking the stage at her Howard Theatre victory party, Bowser declared that her election landslide meant that some changes were coming. In voting for her, Bowser said, voters were saying that “the status quo isn’t good enough.”
Anyone looking to find out what Bowser plans to replace that status quo with, though, will have to wait a little longer. Repeating her post-primary victory press conference at the National Press Club, Bowser held another to announce that she had a “clear mandate.” When pressed on what she would do with that mandate, Bowser answered only that it’ll amount to a “fresh start.” It’s enough to make you wish someone on Bowser’s victorious campaign team would remind her that she’s already won the election.
It’s not just Bowser’s noncommittal campaign talk that makes her plans for the next four years a little hazy (and no, that’s not a reference to the pot ballot measure). It’s the nature of the race itself.
In the April 1 primary where she thumped Gray, the incumbent, Bowser won biggest in western, mostly white precincts. But in the general election, those precincts switched and backed Catania. Anticipating that might happen, Bowser managed to woo the mostly black precincts that had supported Gray in the primary—the same voters who had been her biggest (theoretical) obstacle to victory in April. So even as she’s planning to shake things up at the Wilson Building, some of the same people who pushed Bowser into the mayoral suite were the ones who tried to keep Vince Gray there in the first place. How fresh a start does the city’s Democratic establishment actually want?
While those dynamics incentivize a certain vagueness from Bowser, just who will be making the decisions in Bowser’s new administration is for now just as nebulous. Bowser says she has the already nearly invisible Gray and D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson on board for transition meetings. Before Election Day, she’d said she’d conduct nationwide searches to fill her cabinet’s top posts.
The transition team for the administration-in-waiting, run out of Judiciary Square, will be helmed by five people Bowser describes as “great Washingtonians.” So far, only one has been named to the transition team, former Pepco exec Beverly Perry. (Apparently, you don’t have to be Bowser’s best pal to make the team—Perry described Bowser in an April Post article as “not someone I would invite to my card game.”)
Perry’s name was just about the only revelation to come out of Bowser’s victory press conference, although she promises more transition details on Friday. Until then, we’re left with the same Zen koan Bowser-speak that won her easy double-digit victories in two elections. On the D.C. United stadium deal, which a new Council report says has the District overpaying by around $25 million? It’s “problematic.” Will she echo mentor Adrian Fenty’s post-election takeover of the schools and use her win to launch her own signature policy push? Maybe, Bowser says.
Obviously, a plan to govern the whole city is a lot to ask less than 24 hours after the victory party, but LL tries to be pushy, after all—and more importantly, Bowser’s transition team has reportedly been operating low-profile for weeks, confident that the results Tuesday wouldn’t hold any surprises. At the press conference, Bowser’s biggest commitment came in what she wouldn’t do: take a cue from Gray and get arrested to protest congressional interference, in this case if the federal government tries to overturn marijuana legalization.
“I’m not in the business of getting arrested,” Bowser said.
Maybe these days, having a District mayor who runs no risk of getting arrested is enough of a change to start.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery