Muriel Bowser has sailed to victory and into history as only the second person to secure three consecutive terms as D.C. mayor.
The only other person to have achieved the feat was Marion Barry.
At Hook Hall in Northwest, Bowser took to the stage to accept her third term and address her supporters.
“Thank you from the bottom of my heart,” she said. “What the voters have said is that they want a woman who knows how to start things and finish things, think big, push hard and get things done.”
After fending off two challengers from the D.C. Council who accused her of mishandling public safety issues, Bowser will head into a third term in a city facing ongoing challenges, including rising violent crime rates, lack of affordable housing and homelessness.
Bowser led with more than 76% of the vote over Libertarian Dennis Sobin, Republican Stacia Hall and independent Rodney Grant.
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What’s in store for Bowser’s historic 3rd term?
Her second term coincided with the coronavirus pandemic, the George Floyd protests and the Jan. 6 attack — all of which profoundly affected the city’s residents, thrusting the District and its governance into the national spotlight.
In a preelection interview with WTOP, Bowser said another four years in office would give her the opportunity to flesh out longer-term projects and ambitions, including the completion of a new hospital east of the river and reforming the city’s embattled housing authority. She also sought a renewed mandate from voters to advocate for local interests on Capitol Hill, faced with the potential of a split or Republican-led Congress after Tuesday’s election.
“It’s important to be counted, especially as we go into uncertain times nationally,” Bowser said in the final days of her reelection campaign. “I want to be able to say, when I go up to the Hill or when I go to speak with businesses, that D.C. residents are with me. Much has been said about third terms, and my experience is that longevity in this job is beneficial for a lot of reasons.”
Against the backdrop of mass shootings around the country, the mayoral campaign reflected a wider dynamic playing out in longtime Democratic strongholds, such as the nation’s capital, with progressives facing off against party traditionalists over rising homicide and violent crime rates.
Bowser campaigned on her eight years of experience and leadership as the city emerges from the pandemic and on her history as one of the faces of the District’s long quest for statehood.
“We lost friends, loved ones, businesses. It was hard, but we stuck together,” she told the crowd Tuesday night.
Another issue she will face in her third term is the rising homicides, which have trended up for four years straight; the 2021 murder count of 227 was the highest since 2003. Bowser has laid the blame on the D.C. Council, including her challengers, for hamstringing her efforts to rein in crime.
For Bowser, dealing with crime is a matter of expanding D.C. police, while continuing violence prevention efforts she started in her second term. Bowser stood by her plan to hire more officers, despite criticism from community activists, and promised to focus on building-block programs that would steer people away from violent crime.
“We have had the approach of investing across the spectrum and strategies to reduce crime, especially making sure we have a police department that is fully resourced and has all the officers that it needs, but also with violence prevention efforts,” Bowser told WTOP. “D.C. residents overwhelmingly said we need a mayor who will make the tough choices, even sometimes when it’s not popular, to make sure the city is protected.”
Affordable housing and addressing homelessness will likely continue to be major issues throughout Bowser’s next four years in office.
In her speech Tuesday night, she touted her administration’s efforts to drive down family homelessness and the closing of D.C. General, a massive shelter for those experiencing homelessness.
She also highlighted the opening of Skyland Town Center in Ward 7 and the opening of the first grocery story in the area in 15 years.
In October, Bowser told WTOP that she was “frustrated” by the persistence of tent camps in the District, despite two terms of transforming support services for the homeless and working to end family homelessness. She expects the Coordinated Assistance and Resources for Encampments pilot program, a voucher system for temporary housing she spearheaded last year, will continue to feature in her strategy going forward.
“What we say is, people shouldn’t be living on the streets. Number one, it’s against our law, but it also isn’t good for them and it’s not good for the community they’re in,” Bowser said. “We’re working this pilot into our operations to get people out of tents and into permanent housing or appropriate shelter.”
In the months before the Tuesday’s election, a 72-page federal report cited dangerous conditions at DCHA properties, including water damage, mold, acts of violence and the presence of lead paint. Bowser responded by ordering a top-down review of the agency.
WTOP’s Abigail Constantino and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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