AMAC Exclusive – By Andrew Abbott
Throughout 2020, as riots and the COVID-19 pandemic swept through the country, Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser courted a reputation as a far-left progressive icon, championing “Defund the Police” and stringent lockdowns. But now, following the disastrous consequences of those policies and a high-profile battle with the Democrat-dominated D.C. City Council, Bowser has been left in the awkward position of both calling out President Joe Biden and relying on congressional Republicans to save her city from ruin.
Earlier this month, Bowser made headlines by vetoing a crime bill passed unanimously by the D.C. City Council last November. The radical overhaul of the capital’s criminal justice system eliminates most mandatory minimum sentencing, reduces maximum penalties for crimes like robbery and carjacking, and provides opportunities for early release for violent criminals, including child sex offenders. However, the council overrode Bowser’s veto on a 12-1 vote, despite loud objections from both law enforcement and victim advocacy groups.
For Bowser, the veto was a complete reversal and admission of defeat following her embrace of the “Defund the Police” movement two years ago. D.C. saw some of the worst rioting anywhere in the country in 2020, violence that was only encouraged by Bowser in an attempt to lash out at former President Donald Trump. Even as multiple statues were defaced or toppled and many historic buildings and local businesses damaged and some even burned, Bowser called for less funding for police.
In another performative act that spurred on the rioters, Bowser also had “Black Lives Matter” painted in giant letters across two city blocks just north of the White House – another clear attempt to antagonize Trump. The city would ultimately spend millions of dollars making “BLM Plaza” a permanent fixture in the nation’s capital, even as the DCPD struggled to fill their ranks. Amid the worst of the riots, Bowser was forced to enact a curfew amid major property damage, but nonetheless maintained that the riots were “peaceful,” and even called on President Trump to remove National Guard troops from the city.
Unsurprisingly, Bowser was celebrated as a hero by the mainstream media for “sticking it” to Trump. But the harmful effects of her full-throated endorsement of lawlessness soon became clear in the following months and years, as crime in the District soared to historic levels. The number of murders crossed the 200 mark for the third straight year in 2022, up more than 25% from 2019. Carjackings and robberies also continued a sharp uptick. So far in 2023, robberies, arson, and other property crimes are up double digits from the same time in 2022.
While Bowser gave a free pass to rioters, however, she forced businesses and schools in the District to remain closed throughout 2020 and into 2021, devastating the downtown economy. As many states moved to lift lockdown orders, Bowser reiterated that people “should only be going out for essential work, exercise, food, medicine, and supplies” – even as she was caught breaking many of her own lockdown mandates, including traveling to hotspots, attending large gatherings indoors, and visiting family for holidays.
Once again, Bowser’s policies proved disastrous. Dozens of restaurants, the city’s largest movie theater, and multiple large corporate retailers closed their doors in 2022. In 2021, D.C. had the largest national percentage drop in population. D.C.’s downtown business area is now often a ghost town even in the middle of the work week, as prolonged lockdowns encouraged many employers – including federal agencies, law firms, and consulting companies – to move to an apparently permanent work from home model.
Things have gotten so bad that Bowser has even criticized President Joe Biden. In her third inaugural address earlier this month, Bowser called on the White House to “either get most federal workers back to the office most of the time or to realign their vast property holdings for use by the local government.” After being one of the staunchest proponents of pandemic lockdowns and work from home for two years, Bowser has now found herself demanding Democrats “get back to normal.”
In an ironic twist, Bowser’s most important allies in reversing the damage her own policies have done to D.C. may be congressional Republicans. Though the D.C. city government has a large degree of autonomy, Congress still has the ability to block its legislation. Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-GA), for example, has introduced a bill that would undo the recent changes to D.C.’s criminal code that Bowser attempted to veto, before being overridden by the City Council.
Though the measure appears unlikely to pass the Democrat Senate and be signed into law by President Biden, House Republicans could also include budget riders into funding bills that would effectively force the City Council to reverse itself. That strategy could put Democrats in the uncomfortable position of having to shut down the entire national government to allow the Council’s radical crime law to remain in place.
Republicans have also lent Bowser a hand in returning federal employees to the office through the introduction of the “SHOW UP” Act, which would require all federal agencies to return to their pre-pandemic work arrangements. Rep. James Comer (R-KY) the chairman of the House Oversight and Accountability Committee, has said he plans to bring the bill up for a vote soon.
Yet even as she increasingly finds herself aligned with congressional Republicans in opposing radical criminal justice “reform” and getting federal employees back to work, Mayor Bowser has continued to profess allegiance to progressive orthodoxy on virtually everything else – apparently failing to recognize the direct link between far-left policies and the crises facing her city. Until Bowser – or the voters of D.C. – make a true course correction, America’s capital city will likely continue to suffer.
Andrew Abbott is the pen name of a writer and public affairs consultant with over a decade of experience in DC at the intersection of politics and culture.