Mayor Muriel Bowser gave the clearest answer yet about whether she’ll leave the District government for an appointment in the incoming Biden/Harris administration. During a renaming ceremony yesterday at One Judiciary Square—now called the Marion S. Barry Building—Herronor said she’s not being vetted for a cabinet appointment.
“I know some may be anxious to get rid of me, Tom,” Bowser said in response to City Paper contributor Tom Sherwood‘s question. “But I’m not going anywhere.”
Despite Bowser’s answer, and the fact that she’s not listed as a contender for a position in Biden’s cabinet, LL was tossing and turning all night thinking about the hypothetical repercussions. If Bowser defects, Chairman Phil Mendelson becomes the mayor.
Technically he’d be acting mayor until the DC Board of Elections could hold a special election for the remainder of Bowser’s term, which ends in 2022. Such a sequence of events would cap off Mendelson’s incidental rise in local politics to become D.C.’s first White mayor.
It started with his election as an advisory neighborhood commissioner in the 1980s. Mendelson was elected as an at-large councilmember in 1998 and fell into the chairman’s seat by a vote of the Council in 2012 after former Chairman Kwame Brown resigned amid a criminal indictment for bank fraud.
Mendelson declined to comment this week on whether he would run in a hypothetical special mayoral election to finish Bowser’s term. He also refused to speculate on his potential cabinet appointments.
But if LL had to guess, Committee of the Whole director Evan Cash would take over as city administrator. Josh Gibson, the man behind the Council’s Twitter account, would be director of communication, and Ana Harvey, former director of the Department of Small and Local Business Development, and Mendo’s partner, would likely take John Falcicchio‘s job as deputy mayor for planning and economic development.
In a Mendelson administration, LL wonders if the Comprehensive Plan will ever get approved, and if Ed Lazere would be excommunicated. Mendelson would also get a slight pay bump. The mayor makes $220,000. The chairman’s salary is $210,000.
With Mendelson gone, Ward 5 Councilmember and chairman pro tempore Kenyan McDuffie would take over initially. Then the Council would choose one of its at-large members as chairman and one to serve as chairman pro tem (sorry Councilmember McDuffie).
This is all speculative, of course, as was the chatter earlier this summer about Bowser’s chances of being Biden’s vice president.
“There’s no question that in the past several months she’s made herself into a national figure,” says George Derek Musgrove, the author of Chocolate City: A History of Race and Democracy in the Nation’s Capital and a professor at University of Maryland, Baltimore County. “And she’s probably one of the most fascinating local politicians who’ve been able to troll the president. But what she does with that is anybody’s guess.”
Bowser sparred with Trump over the summer as protests against police brutality and for racial justice played out in D.C. and across the country. The president sent the National Guard and federal law enforcement to patrol D.C. streets, and Bowser ultimately responded with a street mural outside the White House that reads “BLACK LIVES MATTER.”
Musgrove adds that Bowser’s connection to former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg, whose failed presidential campaign she initially endorsed, could factor in.
“It’s not to say that she’s not a competent administrator. [Biden] could select her for that,” Musgrove says. “But who puts her name in front of Biden? The obvious answer is Bloomberg, but I think if he can do that depends on how much money he spent in the last few days and if that money did anything.”
Although Bowser stopped short of explicitly ruling herself out of the running for an appointment, as former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe has, compare Bowser’s response to D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine, who has been vocal about his aspirations.
“What lawyer would turn that down?” Racine told LL this week when asked about an appointment in the new administration. “If there was interest I would certainly listen and explore, but I also am very committed to the work at OAG.”
Racine endorsed Vice President-elect Kamala Harris‘ unsuccessful presidential campaign, and has raised his own national profile with lawsuits against the Trump’s 2016 inaugural committee and his administration. He’s also friends with Doug Emhoff, Harris’ husband.
Multiple D.C. government employees are volunteers on Biden’s transition team. No D.C. mayor or councilmember has received a cabinet appointment. The farthest a local character has risen in a presidential administration in recent memory is Eric Holder. President Ronald Reagan nominated Holder to serve as a D.C. Superior Court judge in 1988. President Bill Clinton then then appointed him U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia in 1993, and President Barack Obama appointed him U.S. attorney general in 2009.