The Honorable Muriel Bowser, Mayor of Washington, D.C. on the District’s Economic Revitalization, Statehood, And Reopening Efforts

On September 23, Meridian hosted its latest virtual Insights@Meridian with Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser. In conversation with Lulu Garcia-Navarro, NPR’s host of Weekend Edition Sunday and Up First, Mayor Bowser discussed a wide range of issues impacting the District including the city’s ongoing COVID response, D.C. statehood, the widespread demonstrations against police violence, and resources for embassies looking to safely reopen.  

Below are the top takeaways from the conversation: 

  1. INVESTING IN ECONOMIC RECOVERY. While D.C. is projected to lose $800 million of its $15 billion budget this year, the city has largely been able to combat the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic because it entered the crisis with the largest prepared reserve in the city’s history. Mayor Bowser believes that this positioned her well to protect D.C. citizens and her city-wide pandemic response expenditures have resulted in a low 1.7% COVID-19 positive rate. She remains hopeful that D.C. will make a speedy recovery due to the city’s allure to both individuals looking for a place to live and those looking to conduct business. The official fiscal report will be published on September 30 at the end of the fiscal year and will be found here. 
  2. EMBASSY REOPENING. Currently, D.C. is in Phase Two of reopening, with robust contact tracing and containment practices allowing for a safe reopening of key city activities. Mayor Bowser encouraged embassies to examine the official D.C. COVID-19 website for guidance and recommendations for reopening, and urged them to reopen like a normal business, with the slow reintegration of remote workers back to an in-person setting. Before doing so, however, it is imperative that appropriate measures are taken to examine the safety of the building, confirming that physical spacing requirements are met, tracing methods are possible, and that the ventilation is working properly. Mayor Bowser recommended that embassies utilize city testing services, which offer a two-day turnaround time and are available to all those who live or work in D.C. The Mayor also noted that the city is looking into reducing the 14-day quarantine for those who travel to COVID-19 hotspots.  
  3. “I SEE MYSELF AS A DIPLOMAT.” As the mayor of America’s capital, Mayor Bowser is uniquely positioned as the face of Americans globally. She has emphasized increasing global activism and engagement through economic and cultural missions. that develop networks for sharing information.  By accepting invitations to represent D.C. across the world, she believes the city has been able to create more effective policies addressing areas like climate change and transportation. In addition to her foreign engagement, she has worked to strengthen domestic connections between local leaders and global leaders. Resources and reports compiled by mayors of recent economic activity and the impacts of COVID-19 can be found here and serve as an example of how local priorities shape national responses.  
  4. NATIONAL RACIAL PROTESTS AND POLICE REFORM. “We are the heart and soul of political protests in our country as the nation’s capital,” said Mayor Bowser. The District is well-equipped to deal with large protests, given its historic role in hosting mass events like the Women’s March, the March for Our Lives, and the March on Washington, which bring in millions of people annually. Over the past few months there has been a wave of nationwide protests against racial injustice and police violence. Since a Department of Justice ruling in 2000, D.C. has undertaken comprehensive policing and justice reform helped to professionalize the police and train more effectively against the use of excessive force. Mayor Bowser has helped implement robust regulations to ensure police officers are held accountable for their actions against citizens. She also understands the importance of balancing funding in public investment and crime prevention, which can be seen through her recent budget proposal.
  5. “IN OTHER NEWS, WE’RE ABOUT TO BECOME A STATE.” D.C. is currently the only capital in the free world whose citizens do not have equal voting and representation rights. However, despite not having the political benefits of statehood, the District still functions as a state. Citizens in the District of Columbia pay more federal income taxes per capita than any state, yet they have no voice in the legislative process that determines how those tax dollars are spent. However, support for D.C. statehood is at an all-time high. Democratic leadership in the House of Representatives recently passed the Washington D.C. Admission Act, a historic bill that would make D.C. the 51st state. Mayor Bowser argued that statehood is an issue of fairness and equal protection, not a partisan issue. Especially with the upcoming Senate nomination and confirmation of a new Supreme Court Justice following the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Mayor Bowser believes it is more important than ever that D.C. has a voice in processes that directly impact its people. 

BONUS: VOTER CONFIDENCE AND PROTECTION. Public confidence in the integrity of the electoral process is essential to smooth democratic transitions of power. Mayor Bowser points to the District of Columbia Board of Elections, an independent agency supported the city government, to ensure free and fair elections. In addition to ensuring fair voting procedures, governments need to ensure that citizens are aware and confident of the options available to them, like mail-in ballots and early in-person voting. Despite the hope that the stakes of this election will draw a large voter turnout, Mayor Bowser notes that individuals must remain vigilant about methods of voter intimidation, “don’t let anybody tell you, you can’t vote...you demand your vote,” she stresses. Having citizens that understand their voting rights is essential to safeguarding democratic processes, and an example of how to clearly display that information can be found here on the D.C. website. 

Insights@Meridian is designed to provide ambassadors and other senior diplomats with an intimate opportunity to hear directly from Administration leaders, members of Congress, policymakers and business visionaries on vital policy issues of the day.  

Project summary

The Honorable Muriel Bowser, Mayor of Washington, D.C. on the District’s Economic Revitalization, Statehood, And Reopening Efforts | September 2020
Number of Attendees: 83
Regions: Africa, East Asia and Pacific, Europe and Eurasia, Western Hemisphere
Countries: Andorra, Australia, Botswana, Brunei, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Canada, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Ecuador, Germany, Greece, Grenada, Honduras, Italy, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Liberia, Libya, Liechtenstein, Mauritania, Mozambique, Nepal, Nicaragua, Panama, Philippines, Rwanda, Singapore, South Africa, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Sierra Leone, Bahamas, Gambia, Marshall Islands, Togo, Turkey, Ukraine, Zambia
Impact Areas: Civic Engagement, Foreign Policy
Program Areas: Convening
Partners: Private Sector