D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and the three men who hope to move into her office in the Wilson Building laid out their visions Wednesday for the District’s future. In a mayoral candidate forum, Bowser’s challengers also took aim at her as they tried to convince voters that their path forward is best for the nation’s capital.
The Democrats challenging the incumbent mayor in the upcoming June 21 primary are At-Large Council member Robert White Jr., Ward 8 Council member Trayon White Sr., and James Butler, a former D.C. Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner. Also taking part in the forum was D.C. comedian and humanitarian Rodney “Red” Grant, who is running as an independent.
The debate — hosted by both the League of Women Voters of the District of Columbia and the George Washington University — tackled issues from solving homelessness to curbing rising crime in the city.
On the topic of crime, Butler said his plan for curbing crime includes hiring more police officers.
“My plan is to just to bring an additional 700 police on our streets. Well-trained, community-based police officers. We will get from our cadet program; we will make sure they’re recruited from our high schools,” said Butler.
He also called for 24-hour recreation centers for youth and year-round jobs programs, including the Marion S. Barry Summer Youth Employment Program.
Robert White claimed D.C. is a “city without a plan” when it comes to dealing with crime.
“There are a small number of people committing the vast majority of violent crimes in our city,” he said. “We can and we must identify them, get to them with a clear alternative on one side that we will get you any and every support that will get you off the path of crime, whether it be assistance with jobs, with housing with mental health, addiction, whatever it is. It is in our best interest to address that.”
Bowser said the District needs more police officers to combat a spike seen in crime, and that her budget proposal in front of the D.C. Council calls for 347 additional officers over the next year.
“I see our call times for police response going up year over year; I know we don’t have the right number of officers,” Bowser said.
Bowser was also asked about a story first reported on WTOP, the troubles at the D.C. crime lab, which remains sidelined after its accreditation was pulled a year ago.
On the topic of education, Grant, who bills himself as a humanitarian, said there needs to be more opportunities for children to learn trades in schools, since some may not want to go to college.
“You know, some kids just want to work,” Grant said. “We got to delve into that situation really serious right now.”
Trayon White said more needs to be done to ensure success for all students in the city.
“We have to ensure that we can create opportunities for our families because what happens is that when you get a poor education, you go to a poor performing school, you get a poor paying job, you get poor housing, and you have kids in that same poor community. So we have to break that cycle,” Trayon White said.
Bowser was questioned about low enrollment and poor academic outcomes seen at some schools in the city, many of which are east of the Potomac River.
The mayor said there has been improvement since she took office, including stating that there are 4,000 more students now in the District’s public middle schools compared to when she became mayor. She also claimed many parents would abandon public schools during the third grade.
“I think that I may be the only one that’s talked to you tonight that believes that looking back over the last 15 years, our schools are better off than they were 15 years ago,” Bowser said.
Robert White said bills he has sponsored in the past would have provided affordable housing quicker by working with existing landlords to provide lower rent units.
“A lot of good bills and good ideas are dying in this administration because it is not an implementing administration,” Robert White said. “This is a ribbon-cutting, slogan, hashtag-having administration and we need a serious mayor,”
Butler was asked by moderator Cheryl Thompson with NPR about his disbarment while he owned a law practice in D.C. The firm, she said, received “scores of complaints of fraud and malpractice” and resulted in settlements with former clients.
Butler said that he chose to give up his license during what he called “one of the toughest times of my life” and did not break any laws.
According to the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, Butler was “disbarred with consent” in 2009. The DC Bar website said that the move happens when a lawyer facing an investigation “acknowledges that the material facts upon which the allegations of misconduct are predicated are true” and that “that the attorney submits the consent because the attorney knows that if disciplinary proceedings based on the alleged misconduct were brought, the attorney could not successfully defend against them.”
“I didn’t run from this problem. I’ve stayed in the community. I’ve stayed vested in the community. I’ve given so much back to this community,” Butler said.
If voters in the primary election and the general election in November give Bowser four more years in office, she would become the second mayor in the District’s history to have three consecutive terms.
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