By Jana Curry
On Saturday, June 22, 2013, about 100 Ward 7 and Ward 8 residents, along with other residents of the District, congregated at the residence of Calvin and Barbara Nophlin of DuPont Park. The Nophlin’s hosted Muriel Bowser’s East of the River Rollout, to kick off Bowser’s “East Washington” campaign for Mayor of the District of Columbia.
A native of Northeast DC and resident of Michigan Park, Bowser won a seat on the Council in 2007 following a special election to replace then-Mayor Adrian Fenty. She was re-elected in 2008 and again last year as Ward 4 Councilmember. She was the first candidate to openly declare a run for Mayor in this election cycle, announcing in mid-March. Since then, she has stepped up and really showed the District’s residents where she stands on the issues and her vision for the future of the District.
When Bowser arrived at the Nolphin’s residence, she made sure she spoke to everyone at the event. She went to different tables, spending at least 10 minutes talking to Ward 7 and Ward 8 residents. Bowser personally got to sit and speak to residents, hearing their problems and concerns, something other candidates have yet to do or even will do.
Calvin Nolphin had the honor of introducing Muriel Bower before she spoke. Nolphin explained that he personally sought after Bowser asking her if she was interested in running. He said to her, “I am concerned about what’s going on in our city. I am very very concerned. This is the most important election that I think we all should participate in. When in fact you look at the poverty level, what’s going on in our schools, we still have a long way to go, and I think you can help our city get there.”
Even though longtime Ward 8 activist Phil Pannell says Bowser’s mostly an unknown entity in his ward and should expect “healthy skepticism” from voters who feel that they are often ignored once a politician gets elected. But Bowser spoke to residents at the roll out and told them what she is committed to everyone in the District of Columbia.
The crowd cheered as “This Girl is on Fire” by Alicia Keys began to play and Muriel Bowser walked to the microphone. Bowser began by stating, “We want to focus on all of our neighborhoods and all of our children, no matter where they live or where they happen to be born, or who happen to be their parents.”
She continued to say, “A focus on making sure that everybody in the District of Columbia really has a fair shot, because I know I represent Ward 4, but I’m in Ward 7 and Ward 8 and other wards.”
Bowsers stressed the fact that she thinks everybody pretty much wants the same things. They want to be proud of their neighborhoods, they want to be proud of their city and their government and they want their kids of have a shot in this city; to take advantage of the prosperity that we are building in the District of Columbia. “That’s exactly why I am running for mayor,” she said.
Joining Bowser was her mother Joan and father Joseph, her aunt and her brother. She jokingly said her brother came all the way from Hillcrest and aunt came all the way from Fairlawn, both neighborhoods in Southeast. She told the audience that her parents taught her and her brother that, “we owe a debt to our city and if you are able you should figure it out and how you can get back to your city too.”
Bowser frequently talks about being a “many generation” Washingtonian, and says, “I don’t say it to divide us from anybody else who may have moved here recently. I really say it out of the sense of pride. I say it because I have a tradition of knowing what it is to have DCPS work. I look at my folks, Armstrong, Cardozo, McKinley…[pointing to her parents and aunt].” She goes on by saying that she knows what it means to be able to go to your neighborhood and get a quality education. She says that because I know what it means to have things changed.
Bowser commented, “My mother was raised in Foggy Bottom and it was different then, right mom? [As her mom shakes her head in agreement] And even my dad who lived in LeDroit Park, it was different then, but we know in our city that things have to change,” Bowser said. She continued to say, “If things don’t get better they will only get worse. We have to be committed to growing our city and having a renaissance in our city in all of our neighborhoods, but also doing it in a way where no one is left behind.” That is central to Bowser’s campaign. She stresses, “how can we grow and prosper, but bring all of our wards and all of our people with us along the way.”
During Bowser’s East of the River Rollout, she discussed important topics, including seniors and young people, the importunity of change and growth, housing, and jobs. As mayor, she believes that with the appropriate policies put in place, all of these matters can be addressed. Tax policies, for example, could help older people stay in their homes or help young families with childcare. Regarding jobs, there must be stimulus that prepares the unemployed with the skills necessary to get jobs and make good money. In essence, residents need to be better plugged into our economy and everything that we are doing in the District of Columbia.
The audience responded with applause on Bowser’s strong stance of her vision and her awareness of things that need growth and change. She emphasized being committed to growing our city, but also being mindful about how we perceive the policies that help us protect the diversity that we love about the District of Columbia,
Bowser took the opportunity to ask the audience some questions. They included topics such as opinions on living in a city with wealthy residents where middle class families might not be able to afford to stay; living in a city where senior citizens who have lived here for decades are pushed out of their homes or are living in sub-standard housing. The response from the audience was a resounding “NO!”
Bowser then commented that that’s not the Washington she was raised to protect. She continued that her fear is the direction DC is going will continue if the right leadership is not put in place.
Bowser then spoke directly to East of the river residents. She said there is one thing that she hears most from Ward 7 and Ward 8 residents – schools. She told a story about a woman she met living on Alabama Avenue who takes her daughter to Murch Elementary School, which is located in upper Northwest near Chevy Chase, Maryland. It’s an hour-long drive both ways every day. “We know and I heard and we see that neighbors are leaving their neighborhoods every day for their kids to go to school… more closures here than we’ve had good ideas… I rather have that little girl in her neighborhood school, but a neighborhood school that is working for her,” Bower stated.
Everyone asked Bowser what is she going to do differently – Is she going to keep this or is she going to do that? Bowser responded by saying, “I am not running for mayor because I want everything to stay the same. I recognize that we may have to make some tough decisions about leadership. I recognize that we may have to make some tough decisions about funding because the biggest thing I can see is that we have this idea of funding every child equally, when we should have the idea about funding every child at the level that they need it.”
Bowser commented that she feels for the past 2 years, Mayor Gray has taken his eye off of education and DC residents let him. She said that the government has all the building blocks, but needs to refocus their energy and make those tough decisions in order for growth in this community.
Bowser asked the audience one very important question relating to the future of the city by simply asking, “Are we ready?” In the future she estimates that there will be 6 million people moving into DC and around 800,000 people in the next 20 years in Washington, DC. There are people now who need affordable housing, but are on a 70,000-person waiting list. She goes on by saying electricity goes out every other time the wind blows, we need water pipes that cost $4 billion, and we need $26 billion for metro. She asks again, “Are we ready?”
Bowser answered her question by saying, “we are going to get ready, we have the building blocks, but what it takes is good focused leadership and big ideas. I know a lot about a lot of things but I will not stand here and tell you I know it all. And I know my job, as mayor is to be able to attract people to run our agencies that have the best ideas. In the last 2 years I am going to tell you, we haven’t been able to attract the best… We have to have a government that attracts the best and the brightest and the hardest working people because I know that in 2013 we can focus on all of our issues now.”
Before ending, Bowser readdresses her vision and some of her goals for her future of the District of Columbia. “We are a world capital, 30,000 people work for us, we have a 630,000-person city, we have a $10 billion budget, and I want to set the big goals for our city. We can be the most age friendly city anywhere in the world and we are going to set that goal today… We also have to do some things around our businesses and also have a focus on our people. Not just our seniors, but also our young people, those 18-25 year olds, that we need to reengage and get back into our system and make sure they have quality jobs, a chance to support their families.”
She continues, “When we talk about affordable housing, we certainly have a focus on it, but affordable housing is only one half of the equation, the other half of the equation is how do we better equip our residents to get great jobs so that they can support their families and afford the housing we are creating in the District of Columbia. So that’s what we are going to be working on, we are going to be working on that from here and until next April 1, when we have a big Democratic Primary. “
Bowser is eager to convince the skeptics and gain support from residents East of the river. Bowser knows that Ward 7 and Ward 8 are left on the back burner, as other wards are getting new development and are growing. Her major campaign plank is restoring public trust in city government. By going to the rollout, Bowser now knows exactly what residents want, need, and are missing in their community and needs them to trust her that she will succeed in almost everything she spoke about.