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Today is the first full business day of the Muriel Bowser administration, but already we have plenty of indications of the policy directions her mayoralty may take. That’s because, with Bowser’s campaign platform lacking in specifics and her D.C. Council tenure lacking in concrete legislative agendas, it was clear following her November election that the most important decisions she would make as mayor were likely to come early, in the form of senior appointments. In the past couple of weeks, Bowser has announced most of the people who will be filling top administration spots. Here, for those who weren’t keeping count over the holidays, are the appointees who will shape the Housing Complex beat in the years to come.
Office of Planning: Eric Shaw
This one hasn’t been formally announced yet, but expect formal word soon. Shaw comes to the District from Salt Lake City, where he served as director of community and economic development from 2012 until this past September. He’ll have his hands full at the Office of Planning: His two predecessors crafted the first comprehensive update to the city’s zoning code in a half century, and with that update working its way through the Zoning Commission now, it’ll likely be up to Shaw to oversee and implement the changes. Not to mention all the planning efforts that will go into Bowser’s stewardship of major development projects across the city. Shaw has some D.C. experience, having worked under Mayor Anthony Williams as a Capital City Fellow from 2000 to 2002. But the city now is a far cry from the city then, and a farther one from Salt Lake City. Shaw will have to do some quick learning on the job.
Department of Housing and Community Development: Polly Donaldson
DHCD is an agency with a number of roles, from real-estate development to neighborhood revitalization. But Bowser’s pick of Donaldson to head the department indicates a shift in focus, toward ending homelessness. For more than 10 years, Donaldson has led the non-profit Transitional Housing Corporation, which provides housing and services to hundreds of homeless families each year. With the city once again facing a greater number of homeless families this winter than it can accommodate in its shelters, and struggling to place an adequate number of homeless families into housing through the rapid rehousing program, Bowser surely hopes that Donaldson will spur the creation of affordable housing and transitional housing to ensure that next winter won’t face the same spike in family homelessness as this winter and the last one.
Department of Transportation: Leif Dormsjo
Bowser tapped current DDOT Director Matt Brown to be her budget director. Taking his place is Dormsjo, who most recently served as a deputy transportation secretary for the state of Maryland. DDOT has hit a number of recent milestones, including a record-setting bike-lane expansion in 2014, and has grand plans for the next 25 years of D.C. transportation. But the elephant on the streets is the not-quite-yet-operational streetcar. Bowser has said she wants to “right-size” the streetcar program, shrinking it from its currently planned 22-mile priority network and 37-mile eventual system. It’ll be up to Dormsjo to execute the surviving portions of the streetcar network better than his maligned predecessors, and to help figure out just how much of the the system will survive.
Department of Human Services: Laura Zeilinger
Like Donaldson, Zeilinger brings a homeless-services background to a multifaceted agency. Zeilinger was most recently executive director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, coordinating homeless policies among federal agencies and state and local jurisdictions. She also has a D.C. government background, having worked as a deputy director of DHS. The department handles services beyond shelter and housing for the homeless, including child and family services, but with the arrival of Zeilinger, it appears the focus will be on the most pressing issue facing DHS.
…and a few more from before the holidays:
Alexandria city manager Rashad Young takes over as city administrator, Kaya Henderson sticks around as public-schools chancellor, Child and Family Services Agency chief Brenda Donald becomes deputy mayor for health and human services, and E.L. Haynes Public Charter School founder Jennifer Niles takes over as deputy mayor for education.
But two key positions remain unfilled:
The biggie is deputy mayor for planning and economic development, a position with broad oversight of the city’s real-estate portfolio and the development of public lands. But equally intriguing is a position of Bowser’s creation, which she originally called deputy mayor for east of the (Anacostia) river but has rechristened as deputy mayor for greater economic opportunity. We’ll see if a geo-targeted deputy mayor position actually helps revive the city’s poorest area, or if it merely demonstrates to residents there that they’re being taken seriously.
Photos, from top to bottom, by Darrow Montgomery, via LinkedIn, by Aaron Wiener, via Maryland Economic Development Association, and via U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness