Cheryl W. Thompson and Mayor Muriel Bowser. Photo by Nick Pasion

Four mayoral candidates challenged Mayor Muriel Bowser and laid out their plans on hot-button topics like crime, affordable housing, education, policing and jobs at a mayoral candidate forum last Wednesday at the George Washington University. 

Mayor Muriel Bowser, Councilmember At-large Robert White, Councilmember Trayon White, James Butler and Rodney Red Grant highlighted their policy plans at a mayoral forum as they make their bids for the city’s top spot. 

The George Washington University and the League of Women Voters DC hosted the Wednesday evening at the event moderated by NPR correspondent and editor Cheryl W. Thompson.

Crime and policing

The city experienced an increase in homicides and gun violence even after District crime fell over the course of the pandemic. The candidates recommended their own improvements to the Metropolitan Police Department like high school recruitment and community-based policing. 

Bowser said her office will try to hire, train and deploy 347 new police officers by the end of fiscal year 2023. She said her office wants to also target women in an effort to increase the percentage of female officers to 30% by 2030. 

“We have that experience in the last two years where our pipeline has completely dried up, because we haven’t been able to hire so restarting that pipeline is important not only to this hiring year, but the years after that,” Bowser said at the forum. 

Bowser’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2023 would allocate $30 million to the Metropolitan Police Department to “put the District on the path” to 4,000 sworn officers and would hire 347 officers in the next year. But after standard attrition the proposed change would only create a 35 officer net gain, keeping the total number of officers at around 3,500. 

Policing has become a contentious issue in the wake of George Floyd’s murder in the summer of 2020. City governments like Denver and Oakland have slashed police funding and removed police officers from schools in 2020, saving the cities a combined total of about $34 million in funds. But some D.C. officials have called for increasing the number of police officers while recommending officers take a “community-based” approach that recruits officers from D.C. and embed them into the District community.  

Last summer MPD officers walked throughout the District to build relationships with city residents, attempting to embody this approach. 

Other candidates like Butler and Grant endorsed the community-based approach. While they encouraged the increased hiring of more police officers, they said they wanted to recruit students from D.C. high schools to improve policing.

“We will make sure they are recruited from our high schools and we will have community-based police officers,” Butler said. “We don’t need to get it from our west or down south when we got probably right in our own communities.”

Trayon White said increasing the number of police officers would not change the amount of crime in the District. 

“We have to put more money in prevention, we’ve got to put more money in education, substance abuse, mental health services,” he said. 

Robert White said if people had stable jobs and income, then they would be disincentivized from committing crimes. 

He promised if elected, he’ll guarantee a job program that would offer a job to any D.C. resident who wants one. The new program would create a 30% increase in D.C. employees and cost an estimated $1.5 billion a year, but he said the city would see climate and public safety benefits. 

“We need to be focused on preventing crime,” Robert White said. “First and foremost, people with good jobs are rarely committing violent crime. That is why I’ve started by focusing on work.” 

Housing

With a decrease in affordable housing availability across the District, officials have pushed to increase the number of affordable units across the city. But the candidates said the D.C. government isn’t going far enough to protect residents from price gouging.

Robert White laid out a plan to stand up to housing development companies to set a standard for affordable housing to ensure D.C. residents aren’t priced out of the city. He said if he’s elected, he will convert downtown office space into affordable housing and create a housing affordability covenant that would impose restrictions and obligations to develop cheaper housing. 

“[I’ll] say to developers, you are welcome to develop housing here, but you are no longer welcome to develop the housing that you want that is best for your bottom line,” Robert White said. “What you need to develop is the housing that we need. We need affordable housing. We need workforce housing and we need multi-bedroom housing.” 

Grant said rising levels of gentrification around the District have led to higher costs of living that has priced people out of their homes. He explained the Median Family Income Index (MFI), which determines what housing qualifies as affordable, should be reevaluated so the system no longer compares pricing to surrounding counties, which bumps up the cost of housing. 

“We’ve got to penalize these [banks and housing developers] who break the rules to come to Washington D.C.,” he said. 

Bowser’s proposed budget would delegate more than $500 million to affordable housing in the District. She said her office has created more than 5,000 affordable units, but will continue to focus on more housing if she is reelected to a third term. 

“I have been very focused on how to make our city more equitable and fairer for more people and have made the creation of affordable housing a hallmark of our tenure,” she said.