Thursday, March 23, 2023

DC mayoral race reflects Democratic dilemma over policing

WASHINGTON ( Associated Press) — Mayor Muriel Bowser was re-elected to the nation’s capital four years ago without serious opposition, and as the city enjoyed prosperous times, the main criticism of his policies was that Washington was growing too fast. , was increasing housing costs and pricing. Carrying out black residents in an uncontrolled gentrification wave.

A turbulent term later, and with homicide and violent crime rates rising, Bowser finds himself in a reelection battle, facing two challengers from the District of Columbia Council, who misjudge public safety issues on him. He accuses her of running out of ways and criticizes her push to hire more police officers.

Against a backdrop of mass shootings across the country, the mayoral campaign reflects a broad dynamic at play in long Democratic strongholds, with progressives pitting against party conservatives on crime.

“Call it sky blue versus tar heel blue,” said Michael Fountroy, an associate professor of policy and government at George Mason University. “There is a concern among people about crime. There’s no question about it.”

This ideological pushback is taking place under the watchful eye of Republican politicians, who are eager to claim that Democrats cannot control or protect their cities. The winner of Tuesday’s primary is the prohibitive favorite in November’s general election.

Crime and public safety dominate the campaign. Murders have risen for four years in a row, and the number of homicides at 227 was the highest since 2003. In January, a D.C. council candidate, Nate Fleming, was killed at gunpoint.

Still, Bowser’s challengers question whether adding more police is the answer.

“I don’t think the police are the ultimate solution for reducing crime,” Counselor Treyan White said during a June 1 debate. “During the height of the rift pandemic, DC had more than 5,000 police officers, and it never reduced any crime.”

Councilman Robert White also criticized Bowser’s crime prevention proposals: “I haven’t heard a short-term (solution), and I haven’t heard a plan either.”

Bowser is campaigning on his experience and leadership as the city emerges from the pandemic and is one of the faces of the ongoing search for the state of Washington on its history. She accuses the DC Council, including her challengers, of obstructing her efforts to rein in the crime.

“I’ve never been to a community where they said they didn’t want the police. Never,” Bowser, 49, said in a radio debate last month. “We need the police we need.”

Longtime district political adviser Chuck Theis identified a turning point in the summer of 2020 as a wave of protests and upheaval following the death in police custody of George Floyd. Some of the mass protests turned disastrous in Washington and elsewhere, while calls to defund the police became more vocal in Democratic circles.

Thijs, who is not affiliated with any mayoral candidate, said the public safety debate “will continue. For Democrats, it’s quite strange.”

A Washington Post poll from February found that 30% of city residents said they do not feel safe from crime in their neighborhoods, compared to 22% in 2019, and the highest percentage in two decades of polling. When asked to name in an open-ended question on the district’s biggest issue to work for mayor, 36% of residents mentioned crime, violence or guns, far beyond housing, poverty or transportation.

Concerns about crime have weighed on other Democratic candidates elsewhere in the local race.

In New York City, Eric Adams, a former police captain, was elected mayor last year at a law and order forum. In Atlanta, after Keisha Lance Bottoms abruptly announced in May 2021 that she would not seek a second term as mayor, issues of crime and police brutality caught her in a quasi-revolt between activists and a police department.

In San Francisco, District Attorney Chesa Boudin was recalled earlier this month after only 18 months following a public outcry over the rising crime rate.

Fountroy said the unique nature of California’s system, where newly elected politicians can face immediate well-funded recalls, makes them reluctant to “draw any conclusions nationally.”

But Ron Lester, a prominent Democratic pollster who worked with the late Washington Mayor Marion Barry, said Boudin’s loss showed a level of public concern over the crime among longtime Democratic constituents.

“Voters didn’t believe that (Boudin) was prosecuting the crimes adequately,” he said.

Lester said that Adams’ victory in New York “clearly demonstrates that people are not helpful, broadly speaking, to discredit the police.”

Bowser has publicly cracked down on policing for years. Local activists, including those with Black Lives Matter, have long described him as hopelessly biased towards the police. Former President Donald Trump and other conservatives have tried to make the case that he is not supportive enough of law enforcement.

In the early days of the 2020 summer protests, Bowser publicly sided with protesters as Trump usurped local authority and called for a massive federal security response. He renamed the center of the protest Black Lives Matter Plaza and painted a mural with Black Lives Matter, painted in giant yellow letters, on a stretch of 16th Street, one block from the White House.

The local BLM aide immediately dismissed it as “a demonstrative distraction” from the actual policy changes, and activists hijacked the venue to make their point.

On the original mural was a yellow outline of the flag of the district – two horizontal lines topped by three stars. Within days, activists erased stars to create the appearance of a similar sign and added their own message, changing the mural to “Black Lives Matter = Defend the Police.”

George Mason Professor Fountroy described Bowser as “not really worker-oriented”. He’s a manager, and the managers try to keep the trains running. ,

Despite public pressure, Bowser has largely stood with her police department, waging a public battle with the DC Council over the police budget. She quietly replaced an older white police chief with a younger black successor and is pushing for funding to build up the Metropolitan Police Department’s workforce over the next decade, which currently ranges from 3,500 to 4,000 officers. A few days before the primary, he announced a $20,000 hiring bonus to help recruit more police officers.

In April, the DC Council’s Judiciary Committee downplayed Bowser’s latest budget proposal to hire more officers. None of his challengers serve on that committee.

Robert White, 40, has a history of successful insurgent campaigns that ousted a largely incumbent in 2016 for a major D.C. council seat. He has proposed tackling crime through a program of large-scale public and private youth jobs, which Bowser sees as untenable.

Trayon White, 38, openly invokes the spirit of Barry, a former mayor and council member who remains a controversial but beloved figure among many Washingtonians. One time a grassroots community worker, White was a shelter in Barrie and now represents Ward 8 as Barrie. It is the poorest and most crime prone ward in the city.

Tryon White, who was accused in 2018 of being anti-Semitic after saying a prominent Jewish family was controlling the weather in Washington, called on more police officers to hire and support community violence intervention programs. Bowser, some say that Bowser was slow to embrace.


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