New Mayor, Muriel Bowser (AP Photo)

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, facing tough, early tests, received plenty of support and advice during a gathering of female mayors, recently. Bowser is a new member of the U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM), who met in the District for their annual winter meeting from Jan. 21-23 at the Capitol Hilton. She is also a member of the USCM’s Women Mayors’ Caucus and had the opportunity to network with female elected leaders of cities from around the country at its meeting on Jan. 21.

“I plan on being very active with this caucus while I am the mayor of the District,” Bowser said. “We host this winter meeting every year and I will participate with this caucus and the U.S. Conference of Mayors for the benefit of the residents of the District of Columbia.”

The USCM is an organization of mayors of cities with populations of 30,000 and above. The organization was founded in 1932 to promote an urban/suburban agenda to the federal government as well as provide leadership training and an idea forum for mayors.

The women’s caucus was founded in 1983 by then San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein, who is now a Democratic U.S. senator from California. Its purpose is to encourage women mayors to become leaders in the USCM and foster networking relationships.

The chair of the women’s caucus is Mayor Mary Ann Lutz of Monrovia, Calif. Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is an active member of the caucus and is serving as the vice chair of the USCM.

There are 68 female mayors in the USCM that includes cities such as Houston (Annise Parker) Oakland (Libby Schaaf), Minneapolis (Betsy Hodges), and San Antonio (Ivy Taylor). Nevertheless, women mayors constitute only 18 percent of mayors in the USCM, according to organization statistics.

Sharon Pratt Kelly, who served as the District’s first female mayor from 1991-1995 and was the first Black woman to lead a major city, was active with the women’s caucus.

Rawlings-Blake was one of the first mayors to congratulate Bowser when she won the April 1 Democratic mayoral primary last year and sat on the front row on Jan. 2 when Bowser took the oath of office. Rawlings-Blake said that she “felt like a proud mother” when she saw Bowser officially become the District mayor that day. Rawlings-Blake said her new colleague is capable of handling the job.

“Muriel Bowser is a seasoned elected official,” she said. Rawlings-Blake, who like Bowser, served as a former city council member, said. “I have certainly made myself available, even though I don’t give unsolicited advice.”

Rawlings-Blake said that she has advised Bowser to get involved in the women’s caucus because “we have this formal network to support each other.”

Shirley Franklin, the Barbara Jordan Visiting Professor of Ethics and Political Values at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, attended the women’s caucus meeting. Franklin served as mayor of Atlanta from 2002-2010 and was the first Black woman to lead a major Southern city.

In 2005, Franklin was named one of the five best big-city American mayors by {Time Magazine}, and was included in the {U.S. News and World Report} “Best Leaders of 2005” issue. She also received the prestigious 2005 Profile in Courage Award by the John F. Kennedy Foundation for her fiscal management and high ethical standards as mayor of Atlanta.

Franklin said she has simple advice for Bowser. “I would tell her to work hard, be honest and listen,” Franklin said. “Listen more than talk.”

Bowser said she consulted privately with Franklin, who has served as chair of the women’s caucus, before she took office.

“I flew to Atlanta and visited Shirley last year and we had a long conversation,” Bowser said. “She has given me some great advice. We talked about what worked for her as the female mayor of a large city and she advised me on such issues as getting the Olympics to come to D.C. and even what jewelry to wear in public.”

Bowser was given a rousing ovation during the meeting and was greeted by almost all of her colleagues after it ended. Many took pictures with Bowser and offered her advice and contact information.

East Palo Alto, Calif. Mayor Lisa Gauthier said that Bowser must stay in engaged with her residents in order to be successful as a mayor. “Even though Washington, D.C. is larger than East Palo Alto and the issues faced by those cities are different, I would advise her to do what works for me,” Gauthier said. “Mayor Bowser needs to stay engaged and to remember that she was elected by the people. She should hold town hall meetings to listen to residents and understand what they need.”