Mayor Muriel Bowser‘s cabinet announcements today included a new gig for Chris Geldart, who most recently led the Department of Public Works. Now, Bowser has tapped the long time government official and former Marine to be deputy mayor for public safety and justice.
In his first task as the man in charge of the cluster of executive agencies dedicated to public safety in D.C., Geldart faced a simple question from City Paper contributor and WAMU political analyst Tom Sherwood.
“Your title is deputy mayor for public safety and justice. Will you address the second part of your title, justice, and your views of improving racial justice in our city,” Sherwood asked.
“Sure, thanks for that question, Tom. It’s a good question and a very important question,” Geldart replied. “I think Dr. Mitchell and the team have done a good job, great job in starting to set up and with Director [Linda] Harllee Harper coming in to some of that role, and some of the things that our new chief of police. So I think we’ve got a good team around us now, and I think we need to take a look at those things that have started to be put in place around that and where we need to go for that so we’re truly getting to the heart of how do we ensure that we still do the job we need to do for safety as well as addressing those things that we need to ensure that we’re looking at all that has happened over the last year and ensuring that we have justice within that as well. So there’s a lot of pieces and parts to that, Tom, and I’m very excited of the work the team has started to do. And I’m excited to work with the Council and the team to continue that effort.”
Geldart’s answer starts off strong with an acknowledgement his predecessor, Dr. Roger Mitchell, and Harper, D.C.’s first director of gun violence prevention. But things quickly fall off the rails. Geldart fails to talk with any specificity about “those things that have started to be put in place,” or the many “pieces and parts” that make up the work he’s excited to get started on. By the end, Geldart concludes that both safety and justice are important.
LL notes that the new deputy mayor did not once utter the words “race,” “racial justice” or “equity.”
Sherwood followed up with a question for Bowser: “Any thoughts on that, mayor? The team you put in place with [new city administrator Kevin Donahue]?”
“Well, I think Chris said it exactly right,” Bowser replied. “We’ve always, in our administration, view[ed] public safety not just as enforcement. Enforcement on one side and opportunity on the other. And in the course of the last six years, we’ve also added the violence prevention efforts. They’re kind of disparate around the city right now, quite frankly and one goal, task that I’ve given Chris and Linda [Harper] are to make sure we are maximizing those millions of dollars and human resources to save lives.
“None of us can be satisfied with the loss of life in our city to gun violence. We take that very seriously. Dr. Mitchell and his team have developed some strategies that we will talk to you a little bit more about next week and that are really focused on driving down gun crime and homicide and shootings in our city.”
LL gives Herronor points for providing more specificity than her deputy (though it was a low bar). But Sherwood’s specific question about improving racial justice remains unanswered.
Before his stint at the head of the Department of Public Works, Geldart led D.C.’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency from 2012 to 2017. He resigned from that post following a report from the Office of the Inspector General that substantiated two ethics allegations. The first violation found that Geldart used his government office to benefit a “close personal acquaintance.” Geldart later confirmed to City Paper that the acquaintance was his then-girlfriend, now wife. The second violation had to do with his unauthorized use of a government vehicle. Although the OIG substantiated the allegations, the D.C. Board of Ethics and Government Accountability, whose members are appointed by the mayor, dismissed them for lack of evidence.
Bowser announced several other cabinet appointments today. Dr. Francisco Diaz will replace Dr. Roger Mitchell as chief medical examiner. Mitchell is leaving the District government for a professor gig at Howard University.
Kevin Donahue is the new city administrator. He most recently served as deputy mayor for public safety and justice. DPW’s general counsel Christine Davis will replace Geldart as the agency’s interim director.
Harper was a senior deputy director in the Department of Youth and Rehabilitation Services before her appointment today. Bowser also tapped Emile Thompson as her nominee for the Public Service Commission, a three-member body that regulates public utilities.