D.C. mayoral candidates gathered at the School of Media and Public Affairs to discuss their plans for affordable housing, crime, policing and education if elected into the city’s top spot.
Mayor Muriel Bowser, At-Large Council member Robert White, Ward 8 Council member Trayon White, James Butler and Rodney “Red” Grant presented their plans to address crime in the District and bring D.C. out of the pandemic. GW and the League of Women Voters D.C. partnered to host the in-person forum that Cheryl W. Thompson, an associate professor in SMPA and a senior editor for investigations at NPR, moderated last Wednesday.
Mayor Muriel Bowser cited accomplishments during her term like increasing enrollment in D.C. Public Schools as a reason for her reelection to a third term as mayor. She said her next goal for D.C. is to focus on bringing the city out of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have to really know how we’re going to bring our downtown back, how we’re going to fill spaces, how we’re going to change spaces, how we’re going to bring more people toward downtown and get our business economy going again and working with our federal partners to do exactly that,” Bowser said.
Bowser said she plans to hire 347 new Metropolitan Police Department officers in the next fiscal year if the Council approves her proposed budget. She said the department is also aiming to hire more women into its ranks and hopes women will make up 30 percent of MPD by 2030.
“We have based that hiring on incentives to be able to recruit officers,” Bowser said. “We’ve done the research, we know what’s important to young people who are considering departments around the country.”
Robert White said his experiences as a “fifth-generation Washingtonian” and his support for the District through roles like working with Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., prepared him for the position of mayor.
“My life has been defined by overcoming obstacles,” White said. “Like so many native Washingtonians, I grew up in a city that was difficult, and I watched my family struggle for decades just trying to get footing in this city that we love.”
White said the lack of affordable housing in the District is reflected in the fact that his father, who he described as one of the “proudest Washingtonians,” can’t afford to live in D.C. due to the high cost of housing.
“These are people who belong here who should be able to stay here,” White said. “And so when I think about the issue of affordable housing, I think about my family, and I think about the other families that no longer can afford to live here.”
Butler, a former advisory neighborhood commissioner and the former head of a law firm, spoke about his plans to stop the use of illegal guns in the District and his proposal to hire an additional 700 police officers into MPD to make D.C. one of the “safest cities” in the country.
“D.C. is at a 20-year high for gun violence,” Butler said. “If we give the present mayor four more years we don’t know if it will be at a 30-year high. Both of my opponents are ‘defund the police,’ have moved to strip public safety budgets and they’re all career politicians. It’s time we get someone in with a plan.”
Butler also spoke about his disbarment from the D.C. bar in 2009, after officials found the law firm he used to run mismanaged the representation of its clients. A report from a D.C. Court of Appeals hearing committee said that the firm’s employees obtained retainers from clients but did not speak with the clients when the clients called and later handed the case over to associates who were unprepared to handle cases.
“I’ve learned a lot from it,” Butler said. “I didn’t run from this problem. I’ve stayed in the community. I’ve stayed invested in the communities. I’ve given so much back to this community, and I continue to give back to the community”
Trayon White spoke about his observations through his time as a Council member working on problems like police-community relations in the District.
“I’m not a politician,” White said. “I’m just a guy from the community.”
Trayon White talked about using a “public health” approach to public safety through actions like District-provided mental health services for victims of crime. He said through his visits to crime scenes, he sees a need for people who witness violent crimes to receive some form of mental health support.
“I don’t see anybody working with the kids after just seeing somebody get shot or stabbed or whatever,” White said.
Rodney “Red” Grant, a humanitarian, comedian and film producer, spoke about his role as an independent candidate and how his experience in different lines of work differentiates him from the other candidates.
“As an executive, Viacom entrusted me to employ thousands of people, work with millions of dollars in budgets and 25 different television shows from behind the camera,” Grant said. “My career experiences have taken me different places, unlike the party-line politics that’s going on here in D.C.”
Grant said MPD officers need to be trained to be more “sensitive” to their local communities through community policing. He cited his experiences growing up in Southeast D.C. as helping him understand the perspectives of both police and D.C. citizens in conversations about policing.
“I’m sensitive to both sides because I come from my side of the track where it was a lot of danger, a lot of crime,” Grant said. “And thank God I got out of it. But you know my wife, and we talk about it all the time, I think we all have to be sensitive to this situation.”
Kathy Chiron, the president of the League of Women Voters D.C., gave closing remarks and talked about how the forum “exemplified” the organization’s mission to empower voters and defend democracy.
“I want to take this opportunity to thank the candidates for taking time to be with us tonight, so we could get to know you and learn about policies and ideas,” Chiron said.