Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Poverty Politics: Mayor Muriel Bowser -- Part IV of IV in 20-yr. Plan to Gentrify DC


Councilwoman Muriel Bowser won DC's Democratic mayoral primary yesterday. She will face off with Councilman David Catania (Independent – at-large) in November with him being a strong contender for the mayor's seat. I'm inclined to believe that Catania will do less harm to and possibly more good for the poor of our nation's capital than Bowser will do. But this is a Democratic city and since “Home Rule” was passed in 1973, the winner of the Democratic primary has become mayor. Pity.

But, as I said in my blog post yesterday, who becomes the chief executive doesn't determine the direction of the city. In much the same way that the primary job of the sheriff of Philadelphia is to evict people from their homes, the primary job of the mayor of Washington, DC is to push poor people out of the city through a mix of draconian policies. I see a 20-year plan which was devised by the business community behind closed doors coming to fruition. Mayor Anthony Williams (1999-2007) started the ball rolling. Mayor Adrian Fenty (2007-2011) was slightly more draconian toward the poor. Mayor Vince Gray (2011-2015) is the worst of the three. Unless she breaks the pattern, Ms. Bowser would be the fourth and final part of the business community's plan.

Muriel Bowser was a Fenty shoe-in. She was a personal friend of Fenty's who gained his council seat when he became mayor. All of this raises the question of which way Muriel Bowser will swing if she wins in November. Will she become anything like Adrian Fenty whose protege she is or continue the downward spiral by becoming even more draconian than Mayor Gray??? Even if she attempts to become “a woman apart”, she's liable to be bought and paid for by the behind-the-scenes but ever-powerful forces in the business community – and this in spite of her role in passing legislation to create a code of ethics for the DC Council. It therefore behooves the local advocacy community to court the present and most likely future mayors – Gray (71) so as to help him seal his legacy by doing good for the city's poor, thus checking another item off of his political bucket list; Bowser so as to prep her for the daunting task of assisting the city's poor and to feed her some ideas.

It is important to note that there was another primary election yesterday whose result more directly affects the city's poor. Ward 1 Councilman Jim Graham who chairs the Human Services Oversight Committee (a city-wide, at-large committee that oversees the delivery of social services to the poor) lost to political newby Brianne Nadeau. He also chairs the CCNV/Federal City Shelter Task Force which held its first meeting in October 2013, will be dissolved in July 2014 and will offer suggestions to the council and the lame-duck mayor as to what should be done to the facility and its 1,350 homeless people – slightly under one-fifth of DC's homeless population. This raises a few questions: When the mayor receives the task force's recommendations, will he make a decision before leaving office??? Will the new mayor honor that decision or make a new one??? If the project is not budget-neutral, will the new council adequately fund the mayor's proposal???

But irrespective of who wins any of the races in November, the advocates need to inundate them with our demands, hold their feet to the fire and ensure that they keep their campaign promises. We need to step up our advocacy in other ways as well. Consider this analogy:

The average person eats four pounds of food per day. The government has been providing a certain poor person with one pound per day. The mayor decides to cut two more ounces from this pound but threatens to cut four. The advocates succeed at getting the council to return two ounces, bringing it to the figure that the mayor intended all along. These 14 ounces of food per day are still woefully inadequate but represent a smaller cut than was initially threatened. The advocates feel useful. The council seems effective at mitigating some of the mayor's draconian policies. The mayor seems less cruel and willing to budge. All of them maintain their employment. But the poor person still doesn't have anything close to what they need.

The point of the analogy is this: We need not compare the council's final decision (cutting two ounces) to the mayor's initial threat (cutting four ounces). We need to compare the final result (14 ounces of food/ day) to the actual need (four pounds/ day). Furthermore, we need to stop merely reacting to the mayor's budget and start putting forth our vision of a just city and what its poorest, most vulnerable citizens should have access to on any given day. Lets stop being reactive and start being pro-active. On that note, I'll be communicating with the aforementioned politicians within 24 hours so as to begin the conversation around how they'll serve the homeless for the remainder of this year on into next year.

Hhyperlinks to be added later, as I'm pressed for time.

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