WASHINGTON – Muriel Bowser’s national profile had never been higher, thanks to a Twitter beef with President Donald Trump and a renewed push to turn the nation's capital into the 51st state. Now Washington's mayor must pull off a public juggling act as the city budget becomes a battleground for the country's debate on overhauling law enforcement.
An activist collective led by Black Lives Matter is trying to capitalize on shifting public opinion, and the demands include major cuts in funding for the Metropolitan Police Department. The District of Columbia Council had indicated it would push for up to $15 million in cuts, but Bowser is defending her 2021 budget proposal, which includes a 3.3% increase in police money.
With conservatives painting her as a radical riot-supporter, Bowser must thread this needle with both Black Lives Matter and the White House watching her every move. It's a similar dilemma to that faced by other urban mayors of protest hot spots who must balance competing pressures without alienating either the activists or the police. In Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti has faced criticism for not going far enough on law enforcement changes while the police union has called him “unstable.” In Atlanta, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms is dealing with mass police no-shows over her handling of police violence cases.
Bowser is also finding herself one of the public faces of Washington's quest to be a state. The House of Representatives on Friday, voting largely along party lines, approved a bill to grant statehood. It was the first time a chamber of Congress had approved such a measure.
But there is insurmountable opposition in the GOP-controlled Senate, where Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., singled out Bowser out on Thursday as a reason that Washington cannot be trusted with statehood. He called her “a left wing politician … who frequently takes the side of rioters against law enforcement.”
Cotton lumped Bowser in with the late Marion Barry, a former mayor who was caught on video smoking crack cocaine in a 1990 FBI sting. Barry, who died in 2014, remains a beloved figure in many parts of the district and he emerged from federal prison to serve additional terms as both a mayor and a councilman. A statue of him was erected in front of the D.C. government administration building in 2018.
“Would you trust Mayor Bowser to keep Washington safe if she were given the powers of a governor? Would you trust Marion Barry,” Cotton asked.
Granting the predominantly Democratic city statehood would likely increase the party's numbers in Congress. And that's what led Trump to tell The New York Post last month that “DC will never be a state.”