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Mayor Muriel Bowser said Wednesday that she is happy to be home after traveling to Amsterdam for a summit where she talked shop with mayors from around the world. But given the steaming pile of problems she’s dealing with upon her return, that’s either a one-star review for the great city of Amsterdam or a testament to D.C.’s own booming drug market.
During an impromptu press conference Wednesday afternoon, Bowser announced that she had accepted Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice Chris Geldart’s resignation. Geldart was charged with assault in Arlington following a physical altercation in a gym parking lot; surveillance video shows him grabbing the neck of another man. The altercation reportedly started after Geldart allegedly banged his car door into another vehicle.
Bowser declined to say directly whether she asked for Geldart’s resignation or he offered it first. “I’ve accepted it. That’s all I’m going to say about it,” she said. She also would not go as far as to call his work as deputy mayor for public safety and justice “satisfactory.” Instead, Bowser said Geldart “has been earnest in his work on public safety,” and “he’s worked very hard, as we all have, in driving down crime.”
Geldart is scheduled to appear in court in Arlington on Monday.
City Administrator Kevin Donahue will take over Geldart’s responsibilities until Bowser finds a replacement. Donahue immediately preceded Geldart as deputy mayor, and noted multiple pieces of legislation he will work to implement, including reforms to the criminal code, reforms to the Department of Forensic Sciences, and reforms to policing. “I did the work for nearly six years,” he said, “so I’m still proficient in most, if not all of it.”
Wednesday’s gathering was also the first time Bowser addressed the devastating audit of the D.C. Housing Authority. The report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development makes 82 findings that amount to “serious violations” of federal laws and regulations and says the agency is failing in nearly every one of its responsibilities, including the Housing Choice Voucher Program and management of the city’s 8,000 public housing units, more than 1,600 of which are vacant. HUD’s report calls for top-to-bottom reform and basic training for DCHA Director Brenda Donald and the board of commissioners on how to do their jobs.
Bowser said she is “saddened” by the report and “embarrassed” by the conditions of D.C.’s public housing. But she says she still has confidence in Donald and board chair Dionne Bussey Reeder, two of her closest allies at DCHA.
Although Bowser said she takes responsibility for making changes going forward, she sought to minimize her role in how the agency got to this point.
“There are a lot of agencies under the mayor’s control,” she said. “This is not one of them.”
But in fact, Bowser has a total of seven allies on the 13-member board, including her chief of staff and Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development John Falcicchio, who serves as an ex-officio member. Reeder, whom Bowser appointed, replaced Neil Albert, another Bowser appointee, who resigned amid federal and ethics investigations into a contract he approved for his girlfriend.
Before Albert departed, he worked to quickly install Donald as director following Tyrone Garrett’s departure in 2021 over the objections of multiple board members who were starting the process to launch a national search.
The Washington Post reported last year that three of Bowser’s board appointees (Reeder, LeJuan Strickland, and Jose Ortiz-Gaud) run “businesses and organizations that have received D.C. government contracts and funding since Bowser took office in 2015 and while they have served on the board.”
HUD’s report reveals concerns among some DCHA commissioners that the mayor’s appointees vote as a bloc and “without individual review of the action requested.” But Bowser instead said she is concerned about the commissioners who are “appointed by advocacy groups and are accountable to no one,” in a thinly veiled jab at commissioners Bill Slover and Ann Hoffman, two of the loudest critics of Donald and the agency. Slover is appointed by the Consortium of Legal Services Providers, and Hoffman is appointed by the Metropolitan Central Labor Council.
“I do have some concerns about that, and I’ve had concerns about that,” she said.
Bowser also highlighted the District’s $50 million investment in DCHA in each of the past three years to help pay for public housing repairs. She said she has yet to receive a briefing from Donald, the DCHA board, or HUD about the audit, but she plans to meet with them.
“I’m the mayor, and I want everybody to have safe and affordable housing,” Bowser said. “So I take it as a challenge to get right with the public housing authority.”