As last November’s midterms swept women into offices nationwide, Mayor Muriel Bowser also made electoral history of her own in the nation’s capital.
Bowser, 46, became the first woman ever re-elected Mayor of Washington, D.C., not to mention its first top official to be re-elected in 16 years.
“I’m honored and humbled to be mayor of my hometown,” she told ESSENCE.
Bowser leads a city of some 700,000 residents, one that gained the famous nickname “Chocolate City” for its once predominantly Black population. Today’s D.C. is comprised of a diverse mix of people and cultures from around the country and world, set against a backdrop of the White House, Capitol Hill, monuments and museums.
After being sworn in back in January 2015, Bowser spent her first term focused on such issues as employment, health care, homelessness, and investing in programs and policies aimed at helping families.
As her second term gets underway, the Mayor shared some of her priorities with ESSENCE. Bowser emphasized what she termed “making the city’s prosperity more inclusive and giving more residents a fair shot.”
“That means we have to be focused on a broad range of issues,” she said. “It means we’re looking at how our schools are preparing our young people for higher education and careers that are available when they graduate. It means we’re thinking about adult education. We’re thinking about how we make it more affordable to raise a family in D.C. It means that we’re focused on getting people connected to preventive care so that they are physically and mentally healthy and able to work and go to school.”
As with other major urban communities around the country, reducing violent crime is also a key focus. Recently, Bowser joined D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine in announcing a $6 million dollar investment in the district’s workforce development and violence prevention efforts.
Of the $6 million dollars, officials said $4 million will support the work of the D.C. Infrastructure Academy (DCIA). Bowser launched the academy in 2018 with a goal of providing more residents a pathway to careers. In partnership with area employers, DCIA coordinates, trains, screens, and recruits residents to fill infrastructure, energy and utilities, transportation, and IT jobs. In addition to offering various training programs in one central facility, there’s also access to other key support; i.e. resume development, workforce readiness, hiring events, and job referral services.
The other $2 million will go toward supporting Attorney General Racine’s “Cure the Streets” program. It is based on the CURE Violence model which uses a public-health approach and treats violence as a disease; officials say in just the past five months, shootings and homicides have been reduced.
“We know that breaking cycles of violence requires more than just law enforcement,” said Bowser. “These investments recognize that as a government and as a community, we must stay focused on how we connect more Washingtonians to good-paying jobs and careers, how we prevent violence before it happens, and how we expand opportunity so that every person in our city feels a strong sense of hope, purpose, and dignity.”
Another longstanding issue for the mayor: the fight for D.C. statehood. Eleanor Holmes Norton is a non-voting Delegate in the U.S. House of Representatives, but Washingtonians, in Bowser’s words, “lack a vote in Congress.”
Bowser was vocally opposed to the recent government shutdown and has occasionally criticized policies (i.e. immigration) of the Trump Administration, but she signaled a willingness to engage the White House and others on behalf of her constituency.
“I must work with all leaders, and ensure that they understand the great injustice that is happening in the nation’s capital,” she said, specifically noting the statehood issue. “The District’s lack of representation is not only unacceptable, but it is also unpatriotic. …the District deserves and demands statehood.”
Bowser, who earned a B.A. in History from Chatham University and a Master’s in Public Policy from American University, entered public service as an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner.
With deep roots in the city, she was raised to be of service and give back to the community.“Growing up, my parents instilled in me and in my siblings a responsibility to use our talents and passions to make our communities better places for everyone,” she said.
“I ran for Mayor because I knew it was the way to help the most people the fastest. I have always been a bridge builder – whether between different parts of our city, between new residents and longtime Washingtonians and now promoting how every [resident], regardless of zip code can thrive.”
Bowser, who is single, made national headlines last year when she announced on the Today Show she’d adopted a baby girl, named Miranda.
These days, Bowser is devoted to her daughter and career. “I wake up each and every day, committed to working on the tough issues and making the best decisions for the District of Columbia as a whole–with a relentless commitment to ensuring that every single resident gets a fair shot, and achieves the prosperity that is growing in our city.”