D.C. mayoral candidates on stage at Georgetown University. Photo by Jasper Smith

Georgetown University’s Institute for Politics and Public Service hosted a D.C. mayoral debate on June 2.

Candidates Robert White, Trayon White and the incumbent mayor, Muriel Bowser debated on education, police funding and future plans for the District.

The debate opened with the moderators questioning how the candidates would choose to respond to the growing rate of violent crime, as the District is currently up 17% in violent crime within the last year.

“I’m going to be the only one to tell you that I’m going to make the tough calls when it comes to violent crimes, including making sure we have the police that we need,” Bowser said. She added that her plan includes hiring more D.C. residents and women as police officers to combat crime in the city.

According to reports made by the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, the D.C. Council reduced the Metropolitan Police Department budget for fiscal year 2021 by 1.7%, removing $9.6 million from its approximately half a billion dollar annual operating budget.

Ward 8 Councilmember Trayon White responded with a different view on crime and said if elected, he would implement a plan to provide “wraparound services that address the whole community, not just locking people up. … Police is not the end all solution to crime in Washington, D.C.”

At-large Councilmember Robert White accused the mayor of having “no plan” to address crime rates in the District.

“The mayor has told us she has a plan, but throwing money at everything is not a plan. … When the mayor talks about defunding the police, that’s a dog whistle,” he said.

Bowser also touted her record in creating affordable housing in the District, drawing on the city’s recent record $1 billion investment into the Housing Production Trust Fund (HPTF).

But both councilmembers critiqued Bowser’s strategy for creating affordable housing, and one member of the audience exclaimed to the mayor, “Affordable for who?” An Office of the Inspector General audit from last fall shows that the city misused a large portion of the funds that were meant to be reserved for the District’s lowest income residents.

Councilmember Trayon White suggested rehabilitation for D.C.’s deteriorated properties to provide more affordable housing in the District.

“D.C. has a plethora of vacant and blighted properties in our own portfolio. We have to invest in those houses, build them up and get people in those houses. We know when we don’t do that, we exacerbate the homelessness and the hopelessness here in Washington, D.C.,” Trayon White said.

Councilmember Robert White echoed similar sentiments, and said the problem in affordable housing is rooted in developers not providing affordable housing that D.C. residents need.

The candidates were also asked what decision they regret the most in their current positions, and what they would do differently. Trayon White and Robert White reflected on the personal growth they have made as councilmembers.

Bowser described her regret as political, in her decision to oppose At-large Councilmember Elissa Silverman in 2018.

“I don’t regret standing up, and speaking up and defending myself and my administration, but I do regret that it got personal,” she said.

The debate was well received by some of the audience members.

“My biggest takeaway from the D.C. mayoral debate was that we have a lot of people who feel like the budget isn’t being used appropriately, and who would like to see it used differently. We have a lack of trust with some of the candidates and the incumbent, and it was displayed on stage, it was displayed in the crowd, it was very prominent during the debate. I learned that there’s tension, more tension than I thought there was within this race,” Abrahm Cleveland, who attended the event as an audience member, said.

The debate was the only broadcasted mayoral debate of the election season, and provided many D.C. voters with the opportunity to see the candidates interact with each other and answer questions regarding their plan for the District.

“I really wish they talked about downtown and the housing a little bit more, because it seems like at times in those topics, they were more so combating each other than explaining their position on things. I wish they would have expanded, or had time to expand more, on their topics,” Cleveland added.

Fria Moore, a D.C. resident and treasurer for Trayon White’s campaign, was very vocal during the mayoral debate and was heard multiple times voicing her opinion from the audience.

“I was very passionate about my responses because I’m a resident of D.C., I have children, I have a husband, I’m a wife, I’m a mother, I’m all the things they try to identify and speak for. I just was like ‘that’s not true’ because if it was, I think I would be the first to be able to recognize some of the things that they were claiming, most especially the mayor. … I had the opportunity for her to just hear me,” Moore said in an interview with Street Sense Media.