Mayor-Muriel-Bowser-dcgov1

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (Twitter Photo)

Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said that 2015 was a good year for her administration, but she wants to do more for District residents in 2016.

In a wide-ranging interview with the AFRO on Dec. 21, Bowser discussed her initiative to completely end homelessness in the District in the near future, her plans for economic development and to make the city safer for residents and visitors. She was also upbeat when discussing her first year in office.

“It has been a thrilling year,” Bowser said. “I am very proud to be mayor. We are working hard on the promises that we made to the residents of the District of Columbia.”

No stranger to public service or District politics, Bowser served as an advisory neighborhood commissioner for 4B09 in Ward 4 representing Riggs Park from 2005 to 2007. In 2007, she replaced Adrian Fenty as the ward’s council member when he was elected mayor of the District in 2006.

Bowser won the Democratic Party mayoral primary on April 1, 2014 and went on to win the general election on Nov. 4, 2014. She is the District’s second elected female mayor—the first was Sharon Pratt Kelly, who served from 1991 to 1995—and has been on a whirlwind since taking office in Jan. 2.

While running for mayor, Bowser pledged to come up with a strategy to “make homelessness rare, brief and non-recurring.”

“In order to end homelessness we went out and recruited the best team in order to do that and I am proud of the work of our human service director ,” she said. “We are also implementing our Homeward D.C. plan and we are working to give it the resources that it needs to be a success.”

“The plan calls for us to make sure homeless individuals and families are housed first and we will close D.C. General Hospital ,” Bowser said.

The anti-homelessness plan calls for the much-criticized D.C. General Hospital shelter to be closed sometime in 2016, and for the establishment of shelters in all of the city’s eight wards. She understands that some affluent residents who reside in Wards 2 and 3 may not want homeless people nearby.

“The message that we are getting from residents in all wards is that they want emergency housing that fits within their neighborhood,” Bowser said. “Everyone in the city understands that D.C. General is not the answer in terms of stopping homelessness. We want to put the homeless in smaller and more humane facilities.”

Bowser also said that homelessness is “not a downtown problem, but a city problem.”

The mayor said she recognizes that homelessness may be a symptom of a lack of economic opportunities for some residents in the District. She has charged her Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development Brian Kenner to work to expand employment opportunities for District residents, particularly in the high-tech sector.

“We want our technology sector to be more inclusive,” the mayor said. “The tech industry in our city hasn’t been very diverse and we want to expand opportunities for residents east of the Anacostia River.”

Bowser said that an arrangement was reached with Howard University to set up a tech and innovation hub on Georgia Avenue. The prior mayoral administration under Mayor Vincent Gray planned to set up a tech hub at the St. Elizabeths East campus in Ward 8, with the possibility of such companies as Microsoft being the lead tenant. However, Bowser said that won’t work because no firm commitment was made by Microsoft.

“It was an idea, but there are no leases by Microsoft or any of the other companies that were mentioned at that time, to come to St. Elizabeths,” she said. “St. Elizabeths needed a tenant. When you have a tenant, it is easier to get others to come in.”

On Sept, 15, Bowser announced that a large portion of the St. Elizabeths East campus will be devoted to the building of a professional athletics facility that will host Washington Mystics games and Washington Wizards practices, among other events. The mayor said that athletic facility could attract other tenants to St. Elizabeths; the U.S. Coast Guard is already on the St. Elizabeths West campus and is slated to be joined by the huge U.S. Department of Homeland Security headquarters in the future.

Bowser said that her economic development team will continue its work to push the D.C. United Stadium in Ward 6, the Walter Reed Hospital site in Ward 4 on Georgia Avenue and Skyland Town Center in Ward 7.

The professional athletic facility is close to Congress Park, a neighborhood that has experienced a spike in crime within the last year. She said that her goal is to make sure that all District residents live in a safe city.

“The community in Congress Park cried out for help and we responded,” she said.

The mayor announced her crime initiative at the shuttered Malcolm X Elementary School in Congress Park on Aug. 27. While her plan was well-received by many residents, there were concerns about her allowing police officers to go into the residences of some returning citizens who are former felons to search for firearms without a warrant.

That part of her plan is still up in the air, and faces opposition in the D.C. Council. However, the council recently passed a police body camera bill that she largely backs.

“Next summer, we will have 2,800 officers that will have body cameras,” she said.

Bowser said that the District’s police department’s much-praised community policing program has helped the city avoid heated confrontations between the police and neighborhood residents.

“We have a come a long way with our police department,” she said. “We have professionalized our police department and it has great leadership. However, relations between the community and police are fragile and we cannot rest on our laurels.”

In 2016, Bowser said that she will work to see that District residents get quality jobs, and re-iterated her desire to close D.C. General and invest more in the District’s public schools system, regardless of whether the school is public or charter.

“They are all public schools,” the mayor said. She noted that there are plans to open a modernized Theodore Roosevelt High School and the school for young males of color in Ward 7 next year.