Vince Gray has given his State of the District address. Now, starting at 9, rival Muriel Bowser will give her response on DCTV. Read the prepared text of Bowser’s speech here.
Good evening, fellow Washingtonians.
My name is Muriel Bowser. I am privileged to represent Ward 4 on the Council of the District of Columbia, and I am a candidate for Mayor of the best city in the world!
Tonight, I am humbled to be in your living rooms, here with my friends, family, and supporters, to offer a response to Mayor Vince Gray’s report on the State of the District of Columbia and to offer you my vision and a plan for moving our great city forward.
Before I do, it’s important to acknowledge that yesterday was a tragic one for DC politics and for our City. Federal prosecutors detailed the worst of kind of corruption: trading illegal, under the table campaign cash for government contracts and personal favors. I am saddened by these revelations. But, I am relieved this mess is almost behind us. And most of all, I am hopeful. I am hopeful because District’s future is bright, it’s growing, it’s progressive, it’s sustainable, and it’s inclusive.
We have made great progress in Ward 4 since I joined the Council in 2007, from community-led development of Walter Reed, production of hundreds of units of affordable housing, and a mixed-use development in Petworth with a brand new Safeway expected this year. I want to bring this experience, and what I learned working in Montgomery County, to the entire District.
For the last 11 months I have knocked on doors in each of the District’s neighborhoods and I have learned what you believe in and care about. My vision and my plan for our city reflect all of what I have heard from you.
We all want our government to focus on getting the basics right —good schools, safe and affordable places to live, decent middle-class jobs, and world-class city services regardless of your zip code.
We expect our Mayor to take this vision and make it a reality by leading effectively and managing the city’s resources.
Here is what we believe:
We believe in education reforms that guarantee every child a quality seat no matter her zip code or her parent’s tax bracket.
We believe that the middle class is an American right and that the government has a duty to ensure a fair and equal pathway to upward mobility.
We believe in housing that is safe, clean, and affordable. We believe in healthcare for all, in marriage equality, a sustainable DC, a level playing field for women, African-Americans, Latinos, and DC residents of every background and belief.
We believe that taxation without representation is un-American. And that corruption at City Hall is unacceptable.
We believe that our Mayor must break new ground and command moral authority. He, or she, must have character, integrity, vision and the management and leadership skills to get the job done.
When I was young girl growing up in North Michigan Park, DC was a very different city from the one we enjoy today.
The District was the murder capital of the world; our schools were spiraling out of control; we were broke; Congress had taken us over; and our political leaders were distracted by scandal and corruption.
Today, we are enjoying unprecedented growth and are on the brink of taking our city to the next level. We must shape our future. We must promote a new round of economic development while keeping an eye on longtime residents threatened by gentrification.
Here’s my first promise to you. As your mayor, I will not be a caretaker. Every day I will bring vitality, hope, vision, and integrity to the office. I will make you even more proud to be a resident of this great city. The District’s time is now.
Specifically, I pledge:
I will invest in schools, job training that works, and expanded hours for recreation centers and libraries by shifting existing, misused and underused money to more effective programs and services;
I will invest in our infrastructure—our fiscal health is threatened by aging public transportation, roads, bridges and public utilities. We must identify a dedicated funding source for Metro and for Circulator. And on this note, I applaud the leadership of Council Chairman Phil Mendelson for creating the Metro Momentum fund to ensure the safety and growth of our transit system;
I will put more money in people’s pockets by creating a middle income tax bracket. I will extend my senior property tax initiatives and fully fund the senior citizens property tax bill proposed by Councilmember Anita Bonds. And I will make it less costly for parents to get their kids to school and to jobs by expanding my Kids Ride Free program.
I will attract more businesses to DC by making our taxes and regulatory environment more competitive with Maryland and Virginia; and
I will make the budget process the most transparent in the country. Mayors express their priorities through their budgets so I will hear from you at the beginning of the process instead of after the cake is baked. I will create an online budget clearinghouse and forum to make it simple to review and provide feedback about how we spend your money. We’ll open up government, that’s a promise;
My vision for education is that there is no more important—no more important—way for DC to break into the future, than by totally transforming our schools. Education reforms begun 7 years ago are beginning to pay off. Chancellor Henderson has made great strides. But with less than half of District students scoring at proficient levels for their grade, so much can be improved with focused leadership from your next Mayor.
We’ve lost ground in the last three years and despite the good test scores announced last year, we are home to the worst achievement gap in the country.
Parents from around the City have told me to focus on Middle Schools, to push good schools on the brink of success over the top so that they are neighborhood schools of choice. And they have asked me to prepare their children for the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math jobs of the future.
I’ve heard from parents all over the City:
Wards 7 and 8 want comprehensive plans for their schools and application high schools;
Ward 5 wants a commitment to their middle school plan;
Moms and dads on the Hill want a commitment to Elliot-Hine and Jefferson;
Ward 4 wants a stand-alone middle school;
Wards 1 and 2 want confidence in their feeder patterns, and an infusion of resources in Hardy Middle School.
Ward 3 wants relief from buildings bursting at the seams;
Children in language immersion schools need a middle school and high school;
High achieving students need access to more educational options just as good as those provided at Banneker Academic High School and the School Without Walls;
Parents of children with special needs want to stay near their homes, but only if DCPS can truly serve their needs. And they don’t want to see Sharpe Health School closed;
Teachers want a seat at the table and to be evaluated fairly; and
Parents want leadership they can trust; great and guaranteed choices, whether DCPS or Public Charter schools, and they want them NOW;
In my first 100 days in office, I will address these problems head on:
1) I will work with the Chancellor for a total transformation of District middle schools by 2020—she will identify the schools that need change the fastest. We will make sure that buildings, leadership, course offerings, extracurricular activities, and parental supports are in place to make our middle schools the envy of the region;
2) We will focus on our Brink Schools; those that are close but not yet achieving to their potential. I will focus on the 45 schools in Tier 2 that are on the brink of being neighborhood schools of choice. But good is not good enough. I want them to be great, and I will fight for them to get the resources they need to become great;
3) I will fight for all schools that serve children well, whether they are traditional public schools, public charter schools, or independent schools, as well as the University of the District of Columbia and our Community College.
When it comes to jobs and the economy, there is work to be done.
While the economy of Washington is doing well overall, we are not ALL doing well. 20% of residents without college degrees are unemployed compared to 12 percent in 2008. And while an unemployment rate of 8% is better than it was a few years ago, it’s far worse than the national average, and nowhere near the sub 6% rate during the previous administration. In wards 7 and 8, the unemployment rate is a staggering 11.6% and 17.7%, respectively. I know we can do better.
Here’s my plan:
I will break new ground for our jobs programs by reengineering how we spend up to $100 million in workforce programs;
I will partner with the private sector to get DC residents working. I will leverage our immense procurement power to provide incentives to DC contractors to hire our workers. The hope horizon for the long-term unemployed is short; they need to be trained while they are earning a paycheck;
I will focus on 18-24 year olds and include them in the summer youth employment and year-round programs;
I will establish a General Services and Public Works Academy. The District spends tens of millions in taxpayer dollars employing custodians, locksmiths, trash collectors, security guards, plumbers, and electricians. The academy will train DC residents to fill these jobs; and
As I go door-to-door in Wards 7 and 8, people tell me about the steep decline in services, job opportunities and lasting progress. I am committed to real, sustained change for our East of the River communities. I will appoint a Deputy Mayor for East of the River who will help me change the trajectory of opportunity for 150,000 residents.
Now, let’s talk about safety. The first job of government is to make our neighborhoods safe. I am proud of Chief Lanier and the 4,000 police officers that put their lives on the line. I am equally proud of the 2,000 fire fighters and emergency medical personnel who serve proudly.
But we know that growth in population and in economic activity presents unique problems that will require focused leadership. If we are to continue on a trajectory of progress we must never regress to a time when homicides on our streets happened without outrage or action. There were 9 daylight homicides this year in a matter of 23 days and there have been a total of 26 homicides since the start of this year. The latest data shows two thousand more larcenies than in the year prior and an increase in forcible sexual assaults of 37%.
As your mayor, I will empower the Chief of Police to hire more officers to meet the safety needs of a growing population, to prevent street robberies, as well as to replace the number of officers who are about to retire.
On the Fire and EMS side, the department continues to be fire-based instead of medically-based despite the fact that most calls are for medical emergencies. This misplaced priority has resulted in a loss of life, and we must ensure that the lives of Medric Mills and David Rosenbaum were not lost in vain. I will draw on the best practices of cities such as Boston and Seattle that have built medically driven emergency responder systems. We need more than a new Fire Chief; we need a new plan for the department.
As our city develops and gentrifies, we MUST do a better job creating affordable, safe housing. One out of five District households spend half their income on housing. This leaves little for other necessities like food, healthcare, and transportation.
As Mayor, I will take a three-pronged approach to the District’s affordable housing crisis: we must produce more, preserve more, and empower DC residents to afford more.
To produce more affordable housing, we need stable funding. So I will commit at least $100 million annually to produce 10,000 affordable units across all 8 wards;
To leverage private sector investment, I will create a local low-income housing tax credit;
And as Mayor, I will do what I’m doing now; support innovative legislation like my Saving Homes from Foreclosure bill. I will also continue to work with Councilmembers, like Kenyan McDuffie, to bring about a robust 30 percent affordable housing goal for all of DC’s economic development projects;
New production isn’t enough; we must also preserve housing. That’s why, as Mayor, I will expand the single-family renovation program so that more homeowners can fix unsafe conditions and afford to stay where they are;
I will also work with the Public Housing Authority on a capital improvement program to leverage private land, and federal and local dollars to transform our 8,000 public housing units;
I will partner with the CFO so that we never again have families lose their homes over minor or erroneous debts; and
The District will never be a cheap place to live. That’s why we must empower residents with jobs to join the middle-class. I will double down on the amount of down-payment assistance available to first-time homebuyers so that more families can realize the American dream. I will ensure rent control to protect thousands of DC renters and I am committed to the creation of a transparent affordable housing database;
Former Mayor Barry puts increasing home ownership opportunities in Ward 8 as one of his top priorities, and it will be one of mine, too.
To end homelessness once and for all, I will increase funding for the Local Rent Supplement and Housing First programs, and continue to focus on housing for homeless LGBT youth. I applaud Councilmember Mary Cheh for a laser-focus on ending homelessness in the District of Columbia. With the right political will, we can do it together.
Four years ago, voters were promised a government built on the platform of “Leadership, Character and Integrity”.
In the midst of indictments of Mayoral campaign aides, allegations of cronyism, nepotism and the resignations of three members of the Council, I was put in charge of crafting a comprehensive ethics reform package. The 109 page law strengthens financial disclosure requirements, improves ethics training, disqualifies elected officials convicted of a felony, and requires the Council to take action when colleagues abuse their position. And, the law set up the Ethics Board, which the Washington Post touted for its strength and independence.
I am proud of my record on good government, ethics, and transparency. I am the author of the Open Government Is Good Government Act. I also funded the Open Government Office and budgeted an additional one million dollars to the Office of Campaign Finance to enhance their ability to investigate and enforce campaign fraud.
Now, we need a fresh start.
As your mayor, I will reform the contracting office so that procurements are above board, fair and professional. I will use the lessons I learned in Montgomery County government to take the politics out of Contracting and Procurement on both the executive and legislative side. I’ve already started. I introduced a Public-Private Partnership bill with Councilmember David Grosso that takes a big step in that direction;
I will strengthen the joint venture laws, small business development staffing and elevate the agency’s mission—to ensure that local and small businesses have an opportunity to work on projects large and small so that they can grow their capacity, hire more DC residents, and contribute to the fabric of the DC economy
And when the work is done, I will pay contractors quickly.
I got into the race for mayor last March because I want to lead our City into a future that will deliver on its promises of thriving schools, a growing middle class and an open, and ethical government.
I believe that we reflect the best of Washington, DC and I sincerely want a District government that will help every Washingtonian achieve his or her highest potential.
I was honored when the Washington Post endorsed me to be the next Mayor of the District of Columbia, but it is your endorsement that matters the most.
The rest is now up to you. I ask you to participate in our common future.
You have the power to move our city in the right direction.
You have the power to ensure that growth does not mean winners and losers.
You have the power to restore the integrity and reputation of our city.
I am asking everyone who wants a fresh start in the mayor’s office with my proven leadership to vote for me to be your next mayor. Vote April 1st on Election Day or vote early, beginning March 17th.
Let’s break new ground together.
Together we will win. Together we can make a difference for DC. And together we can lead the city that we love into a bright and PROUD future.
Thank you and God bless the District of Columbia.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery