D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser has overseen years of growth and fiscal stability, but has also struggled to address gentrification and displacement — and now a rising homicide rate.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced early Thursday that she'll run for a third term in office, making the expected leap into what's shaping up to be a competitive race for the Democratic primary in June 2022.
"We've pushed for more affordable housing, for better schools, for women's rights, for public safety, for #DCValues, for #DCStatehood. Our finances are excellent, and our government is ethical, accountable, & transparent. We managed through a pandemic & we are making a comeback," she wrote on Twitter. "But there are still challenges for us to tackle, and we have more work to do. That's why I am running for reelection to be your mayor of the greatest city in the world, my hometown, and soon to be the #51stState."
Bowser also announced that she'll be participating in the city's new public financing program, foregoing what could have been a significant advantage in raising campaign funds traditionally from well-heeled supporters and businesses — but matching the decision made by Councilmember Robert White (D-At Large), who is challenging her. (Ward 8 Councilmember Trayon White has also said he will run but has not yet filed paperwork to do so; former Ward 5 ANC commissioner James Butler is also in the race.)
In formalizing a decision that had long been rumored and teased as recently as Wednesday, Bowser seeks to become only the second mayor in the city's history to win a third term in office. When she won in 2018, she was only woman ever re-elected to a second term since D.C. gained home rule in 1973 — and the first person to be re-elected to the city's top office since former mayor Anthony Williams in 2002.
She enters the race as a formidable incumbent — a household name across D.C. that drew national attention when she publicly took on former President Donald Trump; a chief executive who has presided over years of fiscal stability, population growth, and development while cautiously managing the city's rough ride through he COVID-19 pandemic. She's also been one of the city's most effective advocates for statehood, pushing a 2016 referendum on the issue and marshaling support on Capitol Hill that resulted in two House votes on a bill to make D.C. the 51st state.
A poll commissioned by the D.C. Police Union over the summer put her citywide approval rating at 71%, roughly consistent with what prior surveys of voter opinion had found.
But she also faces headwinds that she didn't in 2018, first and foremost in that she actually has motivated challengers with their own name recognition. (White announced earlier this week he had raised more than $88,000 from 1,400 D.C. residents.) The city is also in its fourth-consecutive year of rising homicides (a problem other cities are also seeing), and despite Bowser's frequent reminders that she has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in building affordable housing, there is growing displeasure in some quarters over the gentrification, displacement, and the stubborn gap between rich and poor.
Robert White and Trayon White have already indicated they will run campaigns focused on spreading the city's wealth more evenly across its neighborhoods; Bowser's first two campaigns for mayor centered on the same themes. While Robert White has so far declined to criticize Bowser directly — he said last month that he would wait until she formally announced her plans — one of his most prominent supporters, Attorney General Karl Racine, laid out the likely lines of attack during White's campaign kickoff in mid-October.
"What's going on in the District of Columbia goes far beyond gentrification. There's an intensity of displacement in the District of Columbia. There is no other place in America that has experienced more displacement of its native residents," Racine said. "I don't think if one's goal was to achieve intense displacement, it could have been done better than what the numbers show today."
Bowser was born and raised in Northeast D.C., becoming a Ward 4 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner before being elected to the council in 2007 to fill the seat once held by her political mentor, former Mayor Adrian Fenty. She served two terms on the city's legislature before running for mayor in 2014, when she defeated incumbent Vincent Gray.
She has since focused her efforts on bringing down the number of families experiencing homelessness, famously closing the long-troubled D.C. General shelter and replacing it with six smaller shelters located across the city. She has also increased spending on affordable housing, secured funding for a $375 million hospital east of the Anacostia River, and worked to attract businesses and residents to the city's neighborhoods.
But she has been criticized as being too close to developers and having misspent funds for affordable housing. A recent pilot program to clear homeless encampments has drawn pushback from advocates and elected officials alike. Bowser has also shown that her political coattails may not be as long as she hoped — multiple allies on the council have been defeated by progressive challengers, and challengers she backed to take on incumbent lawmakers also lost.
The Democratic primary is on June 21, 2022.
This story was updated to reflect that Bowser would be only the second mayor in the city's history to win a third term in office.
This story is from DCist.com, the local news site of WAMU.