Photo by Wayan Vota on Flickr.
Muriel Bowser kicked off her campaign this weekend, and as usual for a campaign kickoff, had a lot of inspirational-sounding phrases but few specifics of what she would do as mayor. As residents start to evaluate her, they need to ask for clarity about her views.
These are especially important questions for Bowser, because she has not taken clear stances on many issues while on the Council. That’s an approach that can pay off strategically, since you avoid angering any constituency, but voters and reporters need to insist on specifics.
Here are a few questions reporters could ask:
Will Bowser affirm Mayor Gray’s sustainability plan? If not, what would she change?
Bowser said in her speech, “We settled into managing the status quo, riding the success of our past instead of shaping the landscape of our future.”
I’d like to see DC move faster on many things, but Mayor Gray just put out a very strong plan that shapes the landscape of our future in some extremely critical ways. Will she maintain the same goals and targets from the sustainability plan, change, or abandon them?
We could ask the same about other good plans, like the economic development strategy. A lot of planning has happened, and while Bowser derided “task forces” (many of which, indeed, often lead to little), there has been some really good planning in the last few years. Would she implement or scrap these plans?
What isn’t the District doing today that it should be?
Bowser said that, because of scandals, DC has lost “our focus, our momentum, our need to think big and act swiftly.” She said, “We need a change.” That’s what every candidate says. The logical follow-up needs to be, what change?
Being ethical is an absolute necessity, but it’s only a foundation. What big thinking should DC swiftly act upon? How would a DC after a 4-year or 8-year Bowser mayoralty look different than it does today or would under a Gray or Wells mayoralty?
How should we manage growth?
Bowser told the Washington Post that how to “manage growth” would be a centerpiece of her campaign:
You’ll find that a lot of people who have lived here for a long time — white and black — feel like that the growth is pushing them out or causing prices to go up, the senior citizens to get hurt. How do we manage it to the point that D.C. is welcoming to people who have lived here for five decades or people who have lived here for five months?
That’s all true. I look forward to seeing Bowser’s ideas for helping the District grow without displacing existing residents. A lot of people believe that the most important thing to do to avoid displacing residents is to add more housing, but Bowser is only okay with accessory dwellings in basements and not in carriage houses, for instance.
Thus far, in most of her statements on the council, she’s shown a bias toward managing the growth by not wanting to have a whole lot change from the way things are today. Most of the time when I’ve interacted with her on a piece of legislation, she’s “concerned” about a particular type of change because some of her constituents are “concerned.”
Bowser doesn’t want to make people shovel their sidewalks, didn’t want bus parking in her ward but doesn’t want any buses cut, and so on. Is everything fine the way it is? If so, what is the “urgency” she mentioned? Urgency to do what?
A big test of a leader is not what they will do when all residents are clamoring for action — everyone wants the trash picked up on time or potholes filled, for instance — but when residents are divided, or the loudest voices oppose a change that might be best for the city as a whole. That’s where you need to know a leader’s values and beliefs.
Mike DeBonis and Nikita Stewart wrote that “Bowser is open to attacks that her résumé and legislative record are thin compared with those of her potential council challengers.” Personally, I’m not as concerned about her résumé or record per se. I’m interested to hear, however, what she really believes and would do as mayor. So far, she hasn’t made that clear, and we need to know in order to form opinions.
What other questions would you like asked to better understand Bowser’s positions?